From the Ground Up

Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And I find myself in the strange position of rebuilding my life from the ground up. I thought my life would be somewhere completely different at this point. I never imagined I would be starting over in so many areas. I’m starting from scratch in my career; I’m going from being a homeowner to renter again; and most notably, I’ve gone from being married to single.

I had so many other plans for this time in my life. But it turns out that all the plans I made, all the hopes I had were built on the wrong foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Oh there was some rock mixed in with the sand. But as the sand began to shift, my life became unstable. I spent too many years taking a little bit of God’s word and a little bit of my own “wisdom,” and mixing them together, making a very insecure foundation on which to build my life.

When a building is demolished, it is completely destroyed. But it is only to make room for something new that will be built there. It’s the same with my life right now. So much of what I thought I had built has been decimated. As painful as it has been to watch what I’ve built be razed to the ground, I know that it is necessary to make room for the new thing God wants to do in my life.

Part of the rebuilding process is letting go of what was in the past and what I thought life would look like so that I can embrace the new thing God is doing. Isaiah 43:18-19 captures this perfectly: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (ESV).

I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild, this time on the right foundation. But instead of doing it on my own, I’ll allow God to lay the foundation and create what He has purposed for me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay up in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).

 

Making Sense of Pain

Recently, I’ve been reading the major prophets. And if I’m honest these are some of the hardest books in the Bible for me. There are some beautiful promises in them. But there’s also a lot of doom and gloom judgement of the idolatry by the people of Israel and Judah.

I’m currently reading Ezekiel. While reading recently, I came across a passage that left me scratching my head, and truthfully second-guessing what I know of God’s nature:

“‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:16-18 ESV).

I struggle with these verses. Through out this book, Ezekiel has done nothing but obey the voice of the Lord. And God gave him some pretty strange instructions, like eating bread baked over cow dung (see Ezekiel 4:12-15). But this is where it feels like God crosses the line to get His message to Israel.

Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. And, according to these verses, it was done by God. Not only that, but the Lord told him he couldn’t mourn. Looking at it in isolation and from a human perspective, it feels cruel. But I know that is not God’s nature. So why would He take Ezekiel’s wife?

Reading the rest of Ezekiel 24, it’s clear that God was using Ezekiel and his wife’s death as a message to the people of Israel. Stepping back, I can see God’s purpose in it. But again, I think of the pain Ezekiel must have felt–I think about my own pain–and I find myself wondering again, “Why?”

“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).

As I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand, the one thing that continually comes to mind is how God can use our pain for His greater purpose. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “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” (ESV).

I won’t always understand why God allows pain. But I know He has a view of eternity, while my perspective is limited to the here and now. He sees how all of the pieces of my life work together. I know that cruelty is not in God’s nature and I am convinced of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). So I can trust Him even when I don’t understand, agree with or like what He is doing or allowing in my life. My hope and prayer is that, like He did with Ezekiel, God will use every thing in my life, including my pain, for His purpose and to help others.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

The enemy of our souls thrives in secrecy and lies. It’s how he keeps us bound. Shame and condemnation keep us from seeking true freedom in Christ. He can convince us that we are unworthy. The truth is, we are unworthy, except through the blood of Jesus. But secrecy also keeps us isolated from other people.

I learned this lesson recently, as I took a step of transparency with a dear friend. God had been dealing with me about being open with her about an area in my past. You see, when I was 15 years old, I decided to rummage through my older brother’s belongings. He had been known to hoard candy. However, what I found was not candy. It was a pornographic magazine. (This was before the proliferation of the Internet.) What I saw in that magazine ripped through my innocence and began a pattern of secret sin that I lived with for years–sin I brought into my marriage.

At the time, I didn’t know why God would have me “dredge” this up. After all, I rationalized, I’ve been delivered from that pattern of sin. I sat with it for a few days, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a prompting of the Holy Spirit. But the topic of truth and being a person of truth kept popping up. At that point, it would have been an act of intentional rebellion not to do as the Holy Spirit was directing me.

So I swallowed my pride, called my friend, and confessed this blotch in my past. Then, to my surprise, she responded with a meek, “Me too…” Even though God had set us free from the sin, we still lived under shame and condemnation. But in that moment of honest transparency with one another, we both experienced a deeper level of freedom.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32 ESV

It was then that I could see so plainly the enemy’s scheme. John 8:32 says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (ESV). Satan doesn’t want us to walk in truth, because he knows that there is freedom, real freedom, in that. If he can keep us bound by guilt, even if we’ve put a particular sin behind us, we won’t be able to experience full liberty. He knows that there is nothing he can do to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). But he can sure keep us from accepting and receiving that love, if we let him. It’s like I can hear him saying, “Gotcha!”

To destroy the chains of shame, we must break the silence and live in transparency with one another. We have to remember, one of the weapons of our warfare against Satan is truth (Ephesians 6:14). Revelation 12:11 says, “And they defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die” (NLT, emphasis added).

Today, I choose to be a person who walks in truth. I will no longer be bound by shame or condemnation. “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).

God’s Grace is Sufficient

I recently went back to work after being home with the kids for nearly 10 years. It’s been an interesting transition. It’s been a boost to my self-esteem to feel like a contributing member of society again. But it’s also been really hard being mom and employee, and the million other roles that I fulfill on a daily basis. I find I’m less patient than I’d like to be and more tired than I’ve been since the kids were waking up in the middle of the night. I also have less time to do things I love, like writing this blog. I have frequently complained to God about it, essentially asking how I’m supposed to do this. Then I read 2 Corinthians 12:8-10:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (ESV).

I know it should, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with warm, fuzzy feelings. It frustrates me. I don’t want to boast in my weaknesses. I don’t want to be content with hardships. I want God to say, “Oh honey, I understand. You don’t have to do that anymore. Let me just handle that for you.” And sometimes He does that, for which I am eternally grateful. But this ain’t one of those times. This is a “put-on-my-big-girl-pants-and-trust-God-to-give-me-what-I-need” time.

“God gives grace to people and He is faithful.”
– Faith Tyler, age 7

When I sat down to write today, my sweet daughter, Faith, decided she would “help” me. She started giving me ideas of what to write. I humored her as she gave me different ideas, not really expecting her to say anything profound (she is, after all only seven years old). But without knowing what I was planning to write, she said: “God gives grace to people and He is faithful!” It’s so funny how God will drive His point home, if I allow myself to be tuned in.

I’m no more thrilled than I was before with the idea of being weak. But being reminded of God’s grace and faithfulness by my precious child, is just another way He shows His grace is truly all I need.

Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

Possessing the Promise

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it'” (Numbers 33:50-53 ESV).

God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance from their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs…no doubt about it. But God didn’t simply just hand it over. He instructed them through Moses, to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” He could have destroyed the inhabitants  ahead of them. But instead, He gave the people of Israel the opportunity to partner with Him for the possession of the promise.

What if the people of Israel didn’t actually take possession of it? What if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan, looking out at the land that was theirs, but never doing anything about it? That’s kind of like receiving a check for a million dollars but not cashing it. Sure, that money is mine and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I have a million dollars. But unless I actually deposit it into my account, it’s of no use or value to me.

The same is true for the promises God has for me. His word is chock full of promises for you and me. But unless we take possession, we will not experience all that He has for us. So we must take possession. That sounds pretty daunting and it would be if God expected us to do it on our own. But the awesome thing about this is we don’t have to do it on our own. He has said, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV). He’s also said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

How Do We Take Possession?

What does it mean to take possession? Is it enough to believe and even agree with God about His promises? I think that’s a great first step. But I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply believe. There have to be action steps we each take to partner with God. I’m reminded of James 2:17 which says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What do those action steps look like? I think it’s different for each person. For me, it’s to continue in my obedience to whatever He tells me. It’s to “…not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It’s also to continue to contend in prayer with thanksgiving.

For you, it may be taking a leap and doing something that’s been on your heart to do. It may mean discontinuing doing things that God has told you to stop doing. But no matter what the step is that God is calling us to, we won’t possess the promise until we move.

So what steps of faith is God calling you to take in order to possess His promises?

Details Matter

Details matter to God. You only have to read Exodus 25 through 30 to see how important they are to Him. In these chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for the tabernacle and its furnishings. God was very specific about every aspect of the tabernacle. He didn’t miss one detail. And at no point was Moses scratching his head at something vague God had told him. It was all spelled out clearly, in such intricate detail–down to the type of raw material that should be used.

For me, the details in these chapters can be overwhelming. Do I really need to know that the ephod “shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together” (Exodus 28:7)? Part of me wants to skip this whole section, wishing it simply said, “God gave Moses the plan for the tabernacle and he built it.” But one of the things I love about the Old Testament is how it shows God’s character. And what this shows me about God is how much He really cares about details.

But why is it important for me to know that details are essential to Him? First, when I know that He was that specific about the manufacturing of inanimate objects, I can only fathom how much He cares about the details of my life. There’s not one aspect of my life that He’s forgotten or not made plans for.

Secondly, it helps me to understand why it’s important for me to follow His instructions. He told Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:9 NIV, emphasis mine).

There have been so many times in my life when I’ve been frustrated by my assumption that God isn’t giving me direction. I had one of those moments this week. One of my biggest challenges with Journey is getting him to stay focused on a task. It’s been a source of much consternation and a frequent point of prayer. So when I read Exodus 25:9, I plainly asked God, “Why haven’t you shown me exactly how to help my son?” But in His loving way, God used this same verse to correct me. He reminded me that He’d given me instructions, but I hadn’t followed them exactly.

I have heard it said, “If you’re not hearing from God, go back to the last thing He told you to do and do it.” And I think there is such wisdom in that. I know in my own life, it has often been the case that when I’m not hearing from God, it’s because I’ve chosen to ignore something He’s instructed me to do. Just as He told Moses to make the tabernacle and furnishings precisely as He had directed him, God expects me to obey His instructions without compromising.

So I’ve been doing a lot of backtracking this week–seeing where I’ve missed God’s instructions. It’s a humbling process. But if I’m going to be serious about being His disciple, I need to make sure I’m following His directions exactly.

The Long Way Around

Sometimes I feel like God is taking me the long way around to fulfill His promises for my life. And it can be frustrating. I know He’s working. But sometimes it feels like there has to be a more direct route.

But as I was reading in Exodus recently, I noticed that God did the same with the children of Israel after their release from Egypt. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).

So why did God take them the long way? I think one reason is the children of Israel were just starting to learn they could trust God again. They had been in captivity for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). In that time, I’m sure they had grown suspicious of God’s intentions toward them. They even showed their faithlessness when they saw the Egyptians chasing after them: “And they said to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, “Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!”‘” (Exodus 14:11-12 NLT).

“… So the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” – Exodus 14:31

But because God hadn’t taken them by the shortest, most expedient route, they didn’t really have the option of trudging back to Egypt. This gave God the opportunity to remind them of His power so that they would learn to trust Him more fully. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

I believe another reason God led the Israelites by the long way around was to display His glory to the surrounding nations through His miraculous intervention. “The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia. The leaders of Edom are terrified; the nobles of Moab tremble. All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them. The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord, until the people you purchased pass by” (Exodus‬ ‭15:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

Our world tells us that the best way is the quickest, shortest route from Point A to Point B. But God’s not so worried about expediency. He’s more interested in my development in the process. And He’s more concerned with using my life to display His glory to those around me. So sometimes that means taking the long way around. But in the end, I am convinced it will be worth it.

Please note: I left out a lot of the details from the biblical account, assuming a basic familiarity with the overall story. But if you haven’t read it before, it’s definitely worth reading. It can be found in Exodus 13-15.

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