A New Start

 

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If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;

Isaiah 1: 19

When the Israelites first came out of the wilderness, before they entered the Promised Land, they encamped at Gilgal.  It was a stopping off place for the Israelites. They were no longer in the wilderness where they had been for the last forty years, but they weren’t in possession of the promised land either.

The forty years leading up to this time in Gilgal had probably been marked by frustration ( when God when?) and unanswered questions (why God why?) and may have left them wondering if they would ever get out of the wilderness. Ever feel that way? You thought you were headed somewhere but it has taken so long to get there that you have given up hope?

These Israelites  were born in and grew up in the wilderness. They didn’t learn about faith from their fathers, they didn’t learn about fighting or even hunting. Basically, their skills for survival were limited. Their skills for taking possession of enemy owned land, even less.

But God brought them to Gilgal where He rolled away the reproach of Israel, all the shame and dishonor that came from being slaves rolled off leaving them better prepared to start afresh in a new life, one they could barely imagine.

It is easy to think when we go through a wilderness time, that our live will never be good again. That we will never get out of this, never have another chance and nothing about our life will amount to anything. That this time spent in the wilderness is such a waste. But that is not the message of Gilgal.

As God cleaned up the people and began preparing them to start a new life, I picture him looking over their resumes for transferable skills that would be useful in the promise land.

First, He would see that they know how to grumble and complain.

Second, He would see that they know how to set up and take down tents.

Third, He would see that they know how to gather manna.

Not terribly useful skills for their new adventure, but then He saw it:   they know how to wander; they had walked in the wilderness for forty years.

And so, He came up with a battle plan to take their first city – Jericho.

All these Israelites had to do was walk around the city with their mouth shut until God said to let loose the battle cry! These men knew how to walk and God saw a way to use that to lead them to victory.

God would do the rest.

They did what they could do, God did what only He could do and they took possession of their first city in the new land! They were willing and obedient and God used them to take possession of Jericho.

If you are in the wilderness, don’t lose hope. God isn’t angry with you nor has He abandoned you or forgotten you. He can take what seems like waste and use it to lead you to the victory you may have given up hope of every seeing.

It’s a new year and this could be your year to take hold of what God has planned for you! Hang in there!

 

 

pic credit: relentless.taketheinterview.com

Oops! My Bad!

 

The ball went sailing over the fence, crossed the street and rolled through the back lot of Target before it came to a rest.  The kids had been playing soccer, the fence was the goal and someone just scored a point and everyone should have been excited, but they weren’t.  They thought they were in trouble because of the ball being across the street now and began looking for someone to blame.  You shouldn’t have kicked it so hard.  Really?  The goalie should have stopped it.  Unlikely.  Well, you should have kicked it lower.  Maybe so.

I jumped in and blamed the teacher whom we all knew to be me.  A good teacher would know that the fence bordering the school property isn’t the best goal.  I hoped that by placing blame squarely where it belonged that they would get off each other’s backs, we could retrieve the ball and continue to play.  No harm, no foul.  But that wasn’t to be.  They had made a new game and were enjoying it too much to stop.  When the blaming escalated to yelling, I separated the kids and said they had to find somewhere else to play some other game.

Blame is so easy to get caught up in and deflected to others.  If I can blame you, then I can’t be at fault, right?  Blame leads to shame and condemnation and those things separate us from our Father and the people in our lives.  A live that could be filled with joy and peace can deteriorate like that soccer game all because of blame.  And who wins then?

Taking responsibility for our mistakes is one thing, blaming and beating ourselves up over it is another.  Jesus showed us that forgiveness is available, forgiveness to cover our sins and free us from shame. Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery?  Jesus told the accusers that they could blame her only if they were totally free of sin.  That silenced them and stopped their condemnation.  Then Jesus told the woman that He didn’t condemn her and to go her way and sin no more.  The blame game stops with forgiveness, forgiveness for me when I want to accuse myself and forgiveness for others when I want to accuse them.

Jesus, how amazing it is to read of Your forgiveness extending to that woman and to know that You are no respecter of persons. What You have done for others, You will do for me.  Help me when I want to blame myself or others to see You standing over us saying go your way and sin no more.  Thank You for not condemning me  Thank You for setting me free from the blame game and the consequences that come from it. You are so merciful and gentle, please help me to be merciful and gentle to myself and my family and the kids in my path and all others you have put in my life and thank You for each and every one of them.  In Your name, I ask. Amen.

pic credit jasonbondpicks.com

Good King, Bad King

I read the Bible for the first time in 1983. I was a brand new Christian and wanted to see what God had to say for Himself. I started at Genesis and read through to Revelation. It took about 3 months. When I closed the book I lay my head down and cried.

I grew up in a Presbyterian Church.  We went on Sunday mornings and almost every other time the doors were open.  I remember a lot of things but I don’t remember learning anything about God.  I am sure He was mentioned but I’m just saying, for me, church wasn’t where I discovered God.   I did, however, have an opinion of God. I envisioned Him with a large blackboard where with white chalk, He made tally marks of each of my sins.  Probably yours too, but in all honesty, I was way too self-absorbed to be concerned about your sins.  Mine scared me.  Terrified is a better word.  I lived in tremendous fear of His judgment.  I had no idea what His judgment would be like and I had no idea if it would be brought on by the sum total of my sins or one big, bad one that would tip the scale. Only that it was imminent.

I also had no idea of what sin actually was. I had enough knowledge of the Ten Commandments to know that I wasn’t supposed to steal, or murder or commit adultery and I wasn’t doing those things. But still I felt those tally marks being made and I had no idea how to stop them from being made or how to erase them. I lived with condemnation and fear that was crippling.

But then I read the Bible.

It was the kings of Judah and Israel that helped me see God.

And myself.

Reading through I and II Kings was an emotional roller coaster ride for me.

These books record the history of the reign of kings over the Israelites.

Some were good and some were exceedingly bad.

A chapter might begin something like this:

“Now Ahaziah was twenty -two years old when he became king…and he did evil in the sight of the Lord”  II Kings 8:26-27 .  

And I would cringe.

And then a new king would come to power and it would read like this:

“Then Jehoash became king and …. he did right in the sight of the Lord all his days”  II Kings12: 1-2.  

And I could breathe again.

But then the next king would come to power and it would read like this:

“Jehoahaz …became king and… he did evil in the sight of the Lord”   II Kings 13:1-2 

And I would fear for them.

This continued for chapters and chapters and years and years and years of their history.

And I couldn’t take it.

I just knew the tally marks were winning and they were doomed.

Like me.

Each time an evil king came on the scene I would want to scream at them the way I might do watching thriller movie when someone is in danger and doesn’t see it.

I wanted them to stop their sinning; I wanted to believe it was possible.

For them; for me.

I didn’t want to see what God would do to them because whatever God would do to them wouldn’t He surely do the same to me when my tally marks exceeded His limits?

What God did do surprised me.

He allowed consequences for their sin; sin always has consequences but His heart for them was always merciful, compassionate.

He stood with open arms to welcome them back.

To forgive them, to wipe away the tally marks.

Listen to His heart in this passage from Isaiah:

“For the mountains may be removed

and the hills may shake,

but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you,

and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”

says the Lord who has compassion on you”

Isaiah 54:10

God isn’t watching over me to keep track of my sins; He is watching over me to find ways to tell me once again just how much He loves me.

Is it any wonder I cried?

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Time Out

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The other day at work,  a fifth grade boy behaved inappropriately and I asked him to remove himself from the kickball game.  He did, but not without creating a scene and deliberately disobeying me when I told him to do something.  Typical behavior for him.  When he calmed down, I walked over and the first thing he said was, “I know, I know there is going be a consequence”.  I asked him what he thought it should be and he replied, “Five weeks of no kickball or group game”.  Pretty radical form of time out, I thought.

I told him I was kind of thinking no group game for the rest of the day and he looked at me shocked.  So I said if you really want five weeks you can do five weeks and he agreed to the remainder of the day instead.

I find this is very typical working with kids.  When given the chance to pick their consequence for inappropriate behavior, they almost always pick something way more drastic than I ever would.  I believe they sincerely feel a need to be punished.

I remember feeling that way.  Somehow being punished was tied up with getting over it and moving on.  A form of penance, if you will.  When I have felt badly enough, long enough, or been punished enough, than I can accept forgiveness.  I see this in kids who tend to choose poor behavior quite often; a sense of shame that seeks a way to redeem themselves. After their consequence has been taken care of, they tend to trip over themselves trying to prove their goodness.  I tell them repeatedly that poor choices don’t make them a bad person, but they turn deaf ears to that.

How hard it is to accept grace.  To simply say I’m sorry, accept the forgiveness that Jesus paid such a tremendous price for and let it go.  We tend to want to make it complicated; we want our just dues.  Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve – forgiveness, healing, love, acceptance.  Mercy is not getting what we do deserve – punishment, abandonment, judgment.

This kind of thinking just doesn’t line up with the Word of God or His heart.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  I John 1:9

untitled (23)Remember the Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly?  Jesus taking our sins is our get out of sin free card.  Only it wasn’t free to Him.  He paid a great price and it must warm His heart to see us humbly accept what He purchased and continue in fellowship with Him.  Shame and a need for punishment keep us distanced from Him and unable to receive the benefits He bought for us on that cross – healing being one of them.

Let’s don’t let shame and guilt and a need for penance stop us from receiving all that He has for us.

Gracious Lord Jesus, I humbly come.  I know what I deserve and it isn’t mercy, but You give it anyway.  Thank You for setting me free from the bondage of sin and shame.  Forgive me for the times I would rather wallow in shame than just let it go.  Help me to be merciful to others and to  myself and to these kids in my care as together we learn grace in spite of poor behavior choices.  In Your name, Amen.

Did You Ask?

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…You do not have because you do not ask.  James 4:2

I was serving snack the other day at work to a group of kids.  I had some pieces of cheese left over and a girl asked if she could have them.  I said yes and gave them to her.  Her brother listening got upset and asked why didn’t I give the cheese to him.  I told him I didn’t know he wanted it because he didn’t ask.  He got more upset and said I should have known he would want some.  I would have asked how I was supposed to know that but I know better; attempting to reason with an angry child is not wise. I explained I would have gladly given him the cheese had he asked and left it at that.

I have been around people who are very uncomfortable asking for what they want or need.  You probably know people like that.  I have been like that at times.  Sometimes it’s because I really don’t know what I need but other times it is a matter of pride.  I don’t like being needy.  What about you?  Do you find it easy to ask for what you need?

One of the blessings (if I could call it that) of chronic pain is learning to realize and accept my limitations with grace.  Sometimes that means some things just don’t get done.  Other times, it means I ask for help.  UGH!  While it may be pride that makes asking people for help extremely difficult, I find that it is shame that makes asking God for help.  I am all too aware of my failings and  shortcomings and don’t feel worthy of His attention, much less His help.

But, He has promised to be my ever present help in time of need.  No strings attached; I don’t have to earn His help, in fact, I can’t.  Neither can you.  I am needy; I need His help daily, sometimes minute by minute.  It’s possible that help is delayed simply because I didn’t ask.  I let shame keep me from coming to Him for the help I need.  Have you ever done that?  Been so aware of your mistakes that you felt you just couldn’t possibly ask God for help one more time?

Would you like to read what God says about that?  He says “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”.  Psalm 103:12 .  Whatever record we are keeping of our sins, isn’t it good to know He isn’t?  We can ask freely for the help we need from Him.

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Gracious and forgiving Father, thank You for removing my transgressions from me.  Thank You for allowing me to come to You in my time of need and know that You are willing and able to be my help.  Forgive for the times I have hesitated to ask because I felt so unworthy and thank You for declaring me worthy because of Your Son and His sacrifice.  Help me to be able to ask others for help and help to be a help to others who are experiencing limitations.  Amen.

Do you need healing?  Can I pray for you?  Please let me know.

Do you have a healing testimony?  I would love to hear it and share it with others if you are willing.