Monday, August 7, 2017

Fat Guys, Long Hair, and Gang Bangers: Judges, not Game of Thrones

      This post is an odd one, mainly because I'm still reeling from this book, the book of Judges. I finished reading it last week during the youth camp at which we were helping to lead worship when the Spirit was moving and I was engulfed in flames of holiness. Now I am home in Franklin with the aura of an Emmaus Walk's fourth-day surrounding me, wondering where God is, what the heck He is doing, and why, when everyone around me is moving forward, am I still in my jammies on the couch.
      It's been a rough morning, y'all.
      So I am reflecting on Judges and praising God for promises kept because He inhabits the praises of His people, and I need Him to inhabit my praises, even when they are weak and wandering. I am so blessed to be one of God's peeps. Subsequently, I am providing a brief rundown of this fabulous book for your reading pleasure, in the hopes that you, too, will tackle it. In addition, I am being totally wrecked by this reflection on Judges. While this is not an exegetical representation of the book, it is an effort to spark your interest. Exegesis will come later...
      Before I begin, allow me to fill in some blanks. The author of Judges is never named and therefore has no definitive identity. Some scholars believe Samuel wrote the book, but I have not yet made it to 1st. Samuel and am not familiar with his voice or style to make an educated guess of my own. For now, we'll go with "unknown." I will say this much, whoever wrote it has no filter, which I rather appreciate.
     The gist of the book is that God called select people as judges for the Israelites because, let's face it, the Israelites weren't all that great at following directions. The book states a couple of times that "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,"(17:6 and 21:25), thus reneging in their covenant with God. In other words, the preceding books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and parts of Joshua) contained laws put in place to help them understand God's will and ultimately His love for them. They were covenant vows between God and His people that Israel blatantly violated. They worshiped other gods/idols and did their own thing apart from Him. In response, God allowed foreign oppression to take them over. What did the Israelites do? They turned back to God and he provided a deliverer or judge. It's a constant merry-go-round that will inevitably irritate the living daylights out of you causing you to ask questions such as, "Dang, Israel! Can't you get your life together already?!" Later you will cross examine yourself and whether or not your own life is falling in line, and you will cry out in repentance and possibly pain. I'm just forewarning you.
      At first glance, Judges sounds kind of repetitive and boring, let us be honest. But it's not. Trust me. I already Instagrammed about the king who lost his thumbs and big toes and was made to pick up crumbs, and I already posted about the other king who was so fat that when he was stabbed, his fat rolls wrapped around the hilt of the sword inside of his gut and his bowels emptied, both through the first two judges. I dare anyone to tell me this book is boring.
      From the outset, we are supplied with an overview of Joshua's legacy and death leading to Israel's many screw-ups as they attempt to do life on their own, outside of God's handy-dandy "Set Apart for Dummies" guide provided through the priests and prophets. The stage is then set for understanding the purpose of these judges. (The first two judges chronicled are Othniel and Ehud, which we've previously noted. See "big toes and the fat guy" above and on Instagram.) Israel continues to follow its own agenda. Finally, knowing what they need before they even ask, who does God send to judge these fools? A CHICK, y'all.
      Deborah is a judge and prophetess who rocks Israel like a wagon wheel, takes up her buddy Barak to war with her, and defeats some aforementioned oppressors, then promptly spends a chapter singing about it because she loves God, her job, and she's a BA like that.
      Shortly after Deborah's gig, God calls Gideon because there is yet more oppression, this time from the Midianites. I like Gideon because he is so fickle and flawed before his faith finally kicks into overdrive. He spends the majority of his call from God trying to decipher if God really means what He's asking of Gideon, or if He's just messing around with him. Meanwhile, Gideon is constantly referring to Him as "Lord" or "God." Why would anyone question God's plans or motives? I'm just gonna leave this right here...
      God sends Gideon into battle with an army of twenty-two thousand men, but He dilutes the army to three hundred men, all based on how they drink water from a river. With just those three hundred men and Gideon, God defeats the Midianites.
      I found much that was interesting in the story of Gideon. And while this next tidbit may not interest you, it certainly fired up my nerdy research side: In chapter 8, Gideon has captured two kings, killed them, and taken the precious metaled ornaments from their camels. These ornaments were crescents. As I read over the verse I got a little hung up on it but was having trouble following why this shape, let alone a bunch of camels, was of any importance at all. Sometimes I'll stop and question things I read, pray about them, and I encourage you to do the same. God always shows up with the answer. If He sparks your attention with a certain detail in His Word, it's for a reason. Write it down and go back to it in prayer and analysis. Remember, the Word is alive and active. Within three to four verses, I had most of my answer for this one.
      The writer goes on to say that Gideon makes an ephod, which is the garment worn by the priests. Now, this is an exegetical arena that I don't want to venture into because it's part of Gideon's downfall and a whole host of other issues (one being that this is supposed to be "brief"), but I do want to pull out a section of it that corresponds with the crescent ornaments mentioned earlier.
       Verse 22 says that the men of Israel requested Gideon to rule over them because they respect him for delivering them from the Midianites. He takes up their jewelry, and they had much of it because they were from the Ishmaelites, meaning they descended from Ishmael. Part of this jewelry, particularly earrings, were the crescents that hung around their camels' necks. I looked up the significance of those crescent medallions because we are very familiar with this symbol as it is the symbol of Islam. Now allow me to jump back in time to the book of Genesis and Abraham. Abraham's first son, the one by Sarah's handmaid, was Ishmael, and Islam believes their faith originated from Ishmael. Lots of questions here, one being, was the spirit of Islam already conceived at this point?
      Moving on...
      Gideon was a pimp, y'all. No, I'm just kidding, but he did have seventy sons and I'm pretty sure that number did not come from one woman, especially given the marital and cultural practices of the day. One of those sons, Abimelech, eventually goes postal and kills sixty-eight of his brothers on the same stone because he more than likely has daddy issues and he desires to be the head honcho. However, the youngest brother Jotham escapes and convinces Israel to revolt. A battle takes place and because Abimelech was an egotistical control freak, he of course participates. In a twist of fate, a woman climbs to the top of a tower and drops a stone onto Abimelech's skull below, delivering a fatal blow to his enlarged head. Still puffed up with pride in his dying state, Abimelech asks his armor-bearer to run a sword through him so no one knows that he was killed by a girl. And yet someone still found a pen and posted it on the social media of the day so we can all read it 2,000 plus years later. Poor Abimelech.
      For the sake of time, I'm going to skip ahead to Samson. When we talk about Samson, we always couple him with Delilah, and not the Plain White T's "Delilah." Let's back up a bit. Samson was consecrated by God before he was even born. An angel actually came to his parents and said, "This kid doesn't need a haircut and he certainly can't drink any alcohol or eat any unclean foods."  You can find a list of these foods and practices labeled as "unclean" in the previous books. Unclean foods at this time were foods, usually animals, that the Israelites were ordered not to even touch, specifically bacon, I mean, split-hooved animals such as pigs and some other specific animals*.  Praise the Lord for Jesus because of salvation and bacon, y'all. Amen.
       Samson grows up, he's buff, and he makes man-buns cool before Nashville and hipsters can get a leg into their skinny jeans and walk on over to Starbucks for open mic spoken word night. But Samson, in all of his calling, has an appetite like any other red-blooded man, and he falls in love with a hot Philistine, whose nation was ruling over Israel at that time. Therefore, mom and dad did not approve.
       On his way into town to obtain this woman as his wife, he runs into a lion. I love how Judges narrates what Samson does next in 14:5: "...And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat." Samson was a beast. However, he also broke a few rules in his itch to get to this new gal, such as touching a dead carcass which was considered defilement of the law.
      A few days later, he passes the same carcass, only this time it's full of honey bees. Samson reaches in for the honey and eats it, also taking it to his parents to eat, both unknowingly participating in the sin of eating unclean food. (It's "unclean" because it's inside of a dead animal carcass.)
      In order to proceed with a marriage ceremony, there are different marital customs to be practiced, one of which is for Samson to present his fiance's family with a riddle they must solve. When she coaxes the answer out of a drunken Samson, again violating what the angel has ordered, and the Philistines solve it, Samson becomes angry and refers to her as a "heifer." As some know, a heifer is a virgin cow, one that has never been bred. As engagements went historically, a fiance was already considered a wife, but the marriage had not yet been consummated. Samson leaves angry and his "wife" is married off to another man. Either way, if my man called me a heifer, I might run in the other direction, too. It's not a great precursor for what's to come in that marriage. Serious premarital counseling would be required. In retaliation, Samson kills one thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey.
      Delilah enters the picture next and we see just how weak Samson really is emotionally and mentally. He's a boy trapped inside the large frame of a man, and his downfall exemplifies how no man or woman can do anything by his or her own might, regardless of physique or man-bun status.
      Judges is wrapped up in the brutal gang rape of a Levite man's concubine, for lack of a better phrase, that provokes a war between Israel and one of its tribes, the tribe of Benjamin. The last verse leaves everything to be desired as there is no closure, no pretty bow, and no happy ending: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." 21:25
      Did I just watch Conan? After reading the last verse I turned the page expecting a chapter 22, but instead, I found Ruth 1. Maybe my Bible was missing a page. Maybe pages were stuck together. No, that was the end of Judges. Then I realized, again, the entire Old Testament is leading up to the penultimate of our faith and that is Jesus. He is the final judge that gets it all right, He is the final king. But in this reading of our historical and present faith, I'm finding myself in the pages. I am Gideon profusely asking God, "Are you sure," laying out fleece after fleece and still not seeing the miracle in the dew, clothing myself in the things of this world that will melt into nothingness and not make me prettier or wiser or more desirable, spiritually or socially. I am Abimelech, expecting a position at the top because my head is so swollen with pride that the rest of me, all that God wants from me, is crushed under it and hidden in the darkness of a humiliating death. I am Samson, assuming I am so strong that I don't need God to rush upon me and fight my battles for me. I have a theology degree, scholarly muscles that supersede all else. I don't need Him to help me, and i don't need those He sends my way.
      I am Israel.
      I run to God.
      I run away from God.
      I run back again when I am oppressed.
      I'm a freaking spiritual roller coaster.
      But God...
      The thing I'm learning most in reading these books that He continually reveals to me is how fragile my patience is with the human race. I am seven books in and I'm ready for God to wash His hands of Israel and start all over again. Why did You continue with this, God? You could have started over from scratch, dude. It never fails. God always returns that question with one of His own for me: "Think about all the times Lilli has hurt you or disappointed you. Why didn't you start from scratch?"
      Gosh, how I love Him. And He loves us so much. My heart quakes in its home to read this love letter. I don't even have to research anything to enjoy it. I don't care about my degree and the things I learned; they're great and they're a blessing, but nothing compares to just soaking in His logos to me. I imagine God's mouth as He forms these words, as His rich timber pulsates in my ears. And I fall for Him all over again.







   
*Unclean animals: certain birds, rodents, crustaceans, and creepy, crawly, slimy things that nobody wants to consume anyway (just in case you were wondering).
      

Friday, July 21, 2017

You came. I knew that You would come.

      The other night I had the most incredible dream. As many of you know, we recently moved into a new apartment. But you may not know that in spite of it not being my "dream house," I'm kind of growing to love this new place. It's cozy. It's cute. It has a pool. It has a workout facility. And, praise the good Lord Jesus, I'm no longer having to hike my booty up three flights of stairs to get to it. We also recently figured out that the previous tenants must have been Christians. There's a sweet spirit in this place, and their leftover mail constantly brings in reminders of their missional mindedness and the work they were doing while here to further the kingdom. Now, I know that does not a Christian make, but the peace in this apartment, y'all. That sweet spirit. . .
       I've been doing my best to really sink in here, to decorate, and to make it feel like home. I was never quite comfortable in our last place even though I decorated it, even though we anointed and prayed over it, even though we lived there for an entire year. I was always unsure of the space there. I would wake up several times a night, and only partially slept, always unsettled in my spirit. For the first time in a year, though, I'm sleeping through the night soundly again. And I'm dreaming.
      This particular dream took place in the present; it wasn't futuristic or in the past. It was very real and very now. Jordan, Lilli, and I were standing in the middle of a field--a hay field to be exact. The day was sunny but slightly overcast; nevertheless, it was bright and beautiful, and the grass, rich and green, rolled in the breeze like water moved by a wake. Everyone we know was around us: our family, friends, and I distinctly remember specific faces of those in the crowd. The people who have prayed and stood in faith with us, and those who have been supportive but have also lovingly told us to "be realistic" about our spiritual and ministerial endeavors and call, were all there.
      A man came through the crowd to us and handed us a gold-colored sheet of paper that read "Deed" at the top of it. The three of us looked at each other questioningly; we had no idea what was happening or what the paper meant. Then someone said, "It's yours."
      This man that we do not know--all I remember is that he was bald and wore glasses--bought and gave us a farmhouse and fifty acres of farmland. He was inspired by our ministry and faith and felt led to purchase the property for us. I kept thinking, "But we haven't done anything to deserve such a gift." He gave it to us anyway and was no longer a part of the dream. He left as quickly as he came. There was no debt to be paid; the house was ours, free and clear. And the joy that followed was a kind I'll never be able to describe.
      I never saw much of the house; it was as if it was only in the corner of my eye because I was too focused on God and astounding joy that nothing else mattered, not even the periphery. I held the deed in my hand and looked up to the sky with my arms raised in worship and sang out, "You came! I knew that You would come!"
      As I mentioned in a previous post on Instagram, this song, this particular line, has come to be my theme over the past week or so. I have been spiritually screaming, "Everyone! Look! He's going to do this great big thing! He's going to provide a house and it will be our miracle house!" In my dream, God did just that. But when I proclaimed my message and thanks to Him, it was not in the spirit of an "I told you so," or vengeance, or even vindication in response to those who did not believe along with us. No, my song rang out over those hay fields in praise and awe and hope at what God had done because I already knew that it was done, but now, now everyone could see His glory. He was being magnified and no one could take any credit for His hand's amazing work. He came! I knew He would come! I knew! I knew! I KNEW! Jordan, Lilli, and I saw it from the beginning and now everyone could all see it with us and share in His glory.
      Prior to this dream, I had been wanting to paint something to hang over the fireplace, but I couldn't decide what to paint. I am a huge proponent of incorporating the Word and prayers and Christian quotes and lyrics in my artwork and around my home. They serve as constant reminders for my family and me. I had been praying about what to paint as this would be a serious reminder because this is the focal point of the apartment. When I awoke from my dream, I was in tears of joy; I was beyond elated about God being so glorified, about His goodness and His love for us. You know that awesome cry you have after waking from a happy dream? Yeah. That was the kind of feeling I was still cradled in while swimming in pillows and sheets. I knew then what I would paint.
      Something surprised me more than anything about my dream. I didn't wake up thinking about my house that had been given to me for free. I wasn't excited about proving anyone wrong, or the fifty acres of farmland that I could do a thousand cartwheels on and Jordan could farm for days. I was overjoyed by God being glorified. This feeling was an intense, deeply rooted fulfillment in Him that only lifted my faith and reignited my fire in Him.
      I'm finding that moving forward in God is about better understanding what glorifies Him and that blessing that I receive in return by being allowed to soak in His glory. In that few minutes of REM sleep that God so sweetly shared with me, He taught me that as happy as I may be in my new dream house, that happiness will never amount to the sheer delight I'll swim in when I see that He is glorified through it all. It'll never amount to the joy I'll receive when my "I knew" comes to its full maturity.
   
     
      

Monday, July 3, 2017

Blind Devotion: Bold Prayers and a Psalm of the Griffins

      When Jordan was younger he always said he would have a band called Blind Devotion. I thought it was cool. It represented trusting in the "unseen hand" of God. As we have grown in our walks with Him, we have come to find that there is no blindness to our devotion to God. Our vision is enhanced by walking with Him, and His hand is always visible, therefore a devoted heart cannot and will not blindly beat for Him. Our devotion is based on faith but faith is strengthened through trials, promises from God, prophecies, His Word, and His peaceful presence. When reading the book of Psalm we find that much of it is praise for God's faithfulness and the signs, wonders, and miracles He brought forth in the past. These gave the writers of the Psalms the faith to know that they could ask for help or blessings because they had previously seen God do amazing things for them in the past; why would He not do them again?
      My family and I have been in this boat before. Many times. The waves are knocking us down, the boat groans under the weight of the water, us, and our spiritual baggage that God begs us to toss overboard. Yet God always saves us. Why would He not do it again? Our boat is not large. In fact, it is pretty small. It serves the purpose of getting us from one season to the next; we are not meant to carry spiritual baggage from the previous season along with us. We are to leave it behind us. We only need what we learned. But it seems that I, in my spiritual frailty, always carry the worry, the anxiety, and the lack of faith with me, inevitably slowing our trip. Why must I torture myself this way!
      Yet, God, in all of His mysterious and glorious ways, waits on me. 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Here, He is speaking of salvation in the last days. Does not all that we do in our lives push us toward our calling in Him, which is to share salvation's promise with everyone who does not already know?
      As some of you know, our house we lived in when we first moved to Nashville was sold, and done so practically out from underneath us. We were devastated, to say the least. This house had offered so much comfort and was my dream house, but upon the selling of it, we learned how God was actually saving us from it. The house had more problems than we could count and would have cost us around $50,000 in repairs. While it was magnificently beautiful on the outside, the guts of it, the things unseen, were not so beautiful. The many windows that I loved about the house needed to be replaced. The roof had, maybe, two year's worth of life remaining in it. The HVAC units were calling it quits, and the foundation was so corrupt the entire house was shifting by more than just a few inches; there was a leak under the house that would inevitably result in mold if it had not already and we had previously been on the mold vacation once. That is not a place I want to visit ever again. On top of this, a crooked realtor was in charge of the house's selling and I was terrified to get anywhere near her for fear she would curse the whole place even more. While the old adage says that inside beauty is what counts, we seem to only apply that to people and faces. I believe the statement proves attributable to anything in life, and therein lie the blessings God has for us.
      While this house was my dream, part of my spirit would say, "No, it isn't really my dream house." I felt so ungrateful as if I was smacking God in the face for all He had done for us when He gave us this house. But those feelings of uncertainty were not necessarily my own, but a check from the Holy Spirit: "I want more for you, and this simply isn't it." Sometimes for God to get His message across to us, because we cannot see past our own desires and because we settle, thinking we are not worth more to Him, He will break our hearts to prove otherwise. But in this glorious moment comes new revelation and where James 1:2-4 kick into overdrive. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." Now catch this; verse 4 is going to knock your socks off: "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (If that don't light your fire, your wood's wet.)
     The Greek for "steadfastness is ὑπομονή pronounced hupomonay. It is also translated as endurance, enduring, patient, patience, constancy, depending on the part of speech. All of these words have to do with waiting, one of the most difficult actions I could ever perform because to me, it is not an action, but a lack of action. I cannot be still in any situation. I even move in my sleep. In James, the word is specifically translated at patience. Y'all know I have the patience of a gnat, right?
      After the selling of our house, which was heartbreaking no matter what I knew about its innards, we moved to a tiny apartment in Brentwood. It is a nice apartment, but it is not my home. We have been unsettled for a year, our things scattered across two states, most of my pots and pans still in a box in the backseat of my car, and our creativity has been stifled beyond belief.
      Again, our place of residence was sold. Out from under us. And by crooked realtors. We found an apartment in Franklin; however nice it is, it still would not be home. We have not signed the lease on it due to the limitations of our current lease on the condo. The whole ordeal, from strangers running through our condo unannounced for repairs or viewings, to the shadiness of Nashville realty has been a disgusting mess of which I want to never be a part again.
      But God...
      I do not rely on luck to get me from Point A to Point B. I rely on God's hand. So often, though, I forget about the "to" in between the two points, the journey, and how His hand is also there, probably more so than at any other point. That place in between is exactly what James is referring to, the reason why we need endurance, patience, and steadfastness. The reason why the lack of action is so imperative. When I am moving constantly, God cannot.
      God gave us a word from two different people, neither of whom know the other. My new friend Nicole challenged us to pray for God to provide a house within three weeks. "He can do it, " she said. "Your past is proof of that." Our family is a walking Psalm and somehow we missed it because we were too busy focusing on rearranging the junk in our boat instead of getting ready to dock. She then prayed over us; having only just met a week before and not knowing everything about each other, Nicole began prophesying over our lives, ministry, and new home, saying things only friends and family could have known about us, some of these prophesies so personal, that they were pillow talk between Jordan and me, no one present but the Holy Spirit. She specifically said, "In this house, worship will be had, people will come to rest in You, God,  sermons will be written and preached, songs will be written, and books will be written." Nicole did not know that I preached. She did not know that I write and that my dream is to be Beth Moore when I grow up. No one knows those conversations that Jordan and I have privately about this deep groaning to write music, and not many people know that Lilli writes music almost daily. (This waiting has affected her in a much different way than it has me or Jordan.)  That sweet check in my Spirit sparked to life as God made it clear we should pray for a house, and I remembered we had not signed the lease on the new apartment. We were in the same position as before when God initially moved us to Nashville. This is no coincidence, folks.
     As I reported the word to Jordan, he replied with, "Repeat that for Rico. I have him on speaker phone." After I finished, Jordan asked Rico to tell me what he told Jordan a week before. He said, "I feel like God's saying you won't be moving into that apartment. I don't know what it is, but I don't think that's where you're gonna be living."
      For the past week-and-a-half, we have been praying boldly for a house. Not a house to rent, but our house that we have been waiting on for all of our marriage, but mainly for the past three years. When we prayed boldly like this before, no one believed God would make good on His promises. In fact, people flat out told us we were crazy, that we needed to be logical, sensible, and think realistically. To me, that sounds like a lack of faith in God, and I do not want that in my boat. Shall we Boston Tea Party this mess? I think so! He came through, with a bang, the day we moved into our house in Hendersonville, as a house, $8,000, and numerous miracles fell from the heavens and bubbled up through his ground. Every heart in His wake was stunned.
      This is my Psalm. And because of my Psalm, others have joined in and their faith has been recharged. Friends are already asking when they can schedule worship nights with us, and my friend Rachel messaged me with a picture of sliding barn doors, something I have always wanted in my dream house, but again, held it close to my heart. She said, "God told us to make you some doors for your new house. What color stain would you like?" How could she have known?!
      Folks, God is not a God who forgets His promises. Nicole reminded me of a verse God gave me one year ago. Recently He was prompting me to write HIS words to me, His message for our family, but I was missing what He was saying. (Again with the rearranging...) Habakkuk 2: 3 says, "For the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay."
      We are set to move in nine days. I watched this unfold before and missed the signs until after it was all said and done. My assignment this time has not been to get from one point to another, but to wait in the in-between, hoping, expecting, knowing that our next stop is going to be exactly what we have prayed and hoped for, relishing every single moment of the next nine days in sweet confidence that my God is going to perform miracles again. My endurance will be out of this world until time for me to wait and beef it up again. Now I go back to James 2:2 where that testing is proof of my endurance, where the waiting comes to fruition.
      Some of you may be wondering how my dream house has anything to do with faith or ministry. Our dream house is not based on a subway tile backsplash in the kitchen, bookshelves, acreage, or a bay window for Lilli. While I know that God wants those things for us, because He has proven that even the tiniest of important details to me are even more precious to Him, God wants our ultimate dreams to come true inside of this house. The creativity that overflows with a space in which to create, the worship, the writing, the sharing and fellowshipping, these are our dreams and inside of our house is where most of them will come true. Dreams are not wishful thinking or Disney movies, they are burdens placed strategically in those precious places in our hearts that no one can reach except for God. When He calls us, our hearts are filled with promises from Him and those promises are realized in our goals and dreams.
      I had not planned to write about any of this for reasons God had shown me recently; it just was not the time to write about certain things. But today, God has ignited a fired under me and I am not sure I will be able to stop writing. I feel as if the release He promised me a week ago may have been activated. I cannot promise that everything will be posted here, though. God's plans for me are moving forward and I honestly do not know if the blog will be a part of it anymore. I can assure you that you will be reading His words to me soon. For now, I am excited to see what He is about to do in our lives and in yours! I feel total peace writing this!
      God, thank You so much for the opportunity to write and reach people through blogging, Instagram, and every other outlet You've given us, Your children, to commune with one another. I pray that we would all be united in You and that the promises You've fulfilled in the past would ignite all of us to welcome Your blessings, to not withhold our desires and dreams from You, but to present everything that You have laid on our hearts with boldness and expectation, with a hunger to please You through it all, with a passion for reaching our communities and pulling the lost into them so that they may find hope, blessings, love, fullness, and completeness in You. Father, You are so magnificent and wonderful, and Your glory is reaching the ends of the earth. Every eye will see Your faithfulness, God, and every ear will hear of it, and every tongue will sing and praise Your name and worship You. You have never failed us, God, You are the God of miracles, signs, and wonders, and Your hand does not tire from blessing us, leading us, comforting us, and loving us. You will be glorified in everything that is to come, God. We are Your tools and Your workmanship. Have Your way in our lives, Father. We are so blessed to be called Your children, Your precious sons and daughters. We love You, we love You, we honor You, oh, God. In Your name we pray, Jesus, amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

City of Children Update #3: Fundraising Goal MET!

      Hello, all! This is just a very quick update on the City of Children fundraising; I do hope to post something longer later this week, but right now I'm swamped with a big Greek exam, graduation forms, tons of reading and writing, Lilli's softball tryouts and dance, and meetings galore! Jesus is keeping us pretty busy!
      As promised, a financial update: Since my last post we have received the final amount for Lilli's cost in full as well as a donation for our deposits, all from one family! Praise the Lord for using these generous people to help further the kingdom! What an impact they have made in our lives, but more importantly in the lives of those to whom we'll be ministering in just a few weeks! In addition, we received another generous donation that we just found out about yesterday from the Bible office here at Lipscomb. You people are incredible! God is SO good and our family is loving watching Him work in your lives! A "thank you" can never cover how grateful we are to everyone who has donated whether it be through monetary gifts, prayer, encouragement, or support. No price tag can fit any of these precious gifts from you.
       If you still have a burning itch to donate, we have a several girls who have not met their goals as of yet. Later today you will be seeing one of those girls as I feature her story on the blog. I can't wait for you to meet her! For now, check out the photo below for a glimpse of our team. This picture was taken (via selfie stick because I'm cool like that) at our first team meeting. Since then, we've added three new members and a couple have felt called to tend to other areas and will not be going with us. However, as God continues to shape this team we know that each person, those staying and those who've left us, have served an important part in the spiritual growth of our little team, corporately and individually.
      Thank you all again and stay tuned for more updates, photos, blog features, and blessings!



Sunday, February 7, 2016

City of Children: Update #2

      It has been an overwhelmingly, crazy, busy few weeks. I do apologize for not posting an update sooner, but I have hardly even had time to sleep let alone type a blog post. It kills my soul to not be able to write whenever this hyper, joyously-nerdy heart wills it, but any free time that I have is so precious, I must reserve it for my family and my Jesus. As a result, writing falls last on the list. Oh, but when graduation finally arrives in May, I will drive readers (a.k.a. you) and every publishing company insane (hopefully) with my words.
     Since my last post we have been riding on what seems like a never ending roller coaster at the Disney World for Missionaries. At times I've wondered if we were going to be knocked out of the coaster car in which we're strapped due to the many twists, swerves, and unexpected side-to-side, whiplashing jerks. However, the ride has never stopped. In fact, it seems to be getting faster and faster.
      The week after we agreed to follow God's call and lead the trip to Mexico, the bottom of the sky fell out, as Jordan likes to say, and the floods began to overtake us...both good and bad. We received an enormous $500 donation from family that still has us reeling. We are in complete awe of their faith in us, in God, and their faithfulness to God. It's been beautiful to watch Him work in their lives, and they have blessed us more than they can imagine with their gift, and most importantly their prayers. After this we received three more gifts of $100 a piece from friends, all beyond sacrificial, all so important in the furtherance of the kingdom. We are undone by their willingness to support and encourage us in this missional endeavor, and our cups overflow at their generosity. Again, we know they're consistently praying for us, showering our family, our team, and the City with intercessory prayer. What a blessing these people have been! As a result, we are to the halfway mark in our fundraising! PRAISE THE LORD! We only lack about $450 until we reach our goal. However, there is still the need for our $450 deposit that is solely our responsibility. Please pray we come up with this deposit quickly. This leads me to the latter of what we're referring to as "undercover blessings."
      The Holy Spirit had been conveying to mine many things to come over the weeks leading up to the trip discussions. I felt Him readying me one day and I looked at Jordan and said, "I feel like something big is about to happen...it's going to be good but it's also going to be tough. But i have no idea what!" He immediately knew what I was talking about as he'd been feeling it, too. Sometimes God communicates these things to us to prepare us. So we prayed. Shortly thereafter we were approached about leading the trip, and the coaster ride began.
      As I said earlier, we've had some downs to accompany our ups; that's par for the course with ministry, though, isn't it? We traveled home a few weeks ago to specifically visit with my extended family, when an opportunity for Jordan to make some extra farming cash while home in Georgia presented itself as well. Excited and blessed, we talked about using it for our deposit. Then, like a ticking time bomb had exploded in our faces, the trials came tumbling in, one right after the other. Stop for a second: did I really think we were gonna come out of this unscathed and not have to work for it all? 
      The following weekend I was supposed to go on the leadership trip to Mexico. Coincidentally this was the same weekend of the 2016 Blizzard in Nashville. But the week's beginning had already gotten off to a rocky start. A few days before, I had visited family to be with my Uncle Vic for what would inevitably my "goodbye visit" with him, though I didn't know it at the time. He was sick, so his death wasn't surprising, per se, but the loss of a loved one is never expected no matter what. I don't believe the heart can truly let go until the sick are no longer suffering, but walking eternally with the Savior. Grieving away from family rather than with them is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do on my own. I hope to never have to alone grieve like that again. I had Jordan and Lilli, and they understood as best they could, but they weren't very close to Uncle Vic; I needed to be with my Nanna (his sister), my aunt and my cousins, and my parents and Chase.
      The funeral was scheduled for the following weekend, the weekend I was to travel to Mexico for training. I was so torn: did I go to the funeral, or did I fulfill my responsibility to my calling? On paper it looks like a no-brainer, but in the midst of the decision-making it was heavy burden to bear. I spoke to my aunt the day after Uncle Vic died; her words are still with me: "He's proud of you. He would rather you be doing what God wants you to do than be here at a funeral." Her encouragement offered more of a release than she'll ever know. So I made my decision to continue forward, and I was able to grieve properly. The day of the funeral I spoke with my cousin Chrissie, Uncle Vic's daughter, and she relayed the same heartfelt message. Oh, my heart...how I will be forever grateful to them all for their encouragement and support.
       That Thursday Jordan went to change a headlight in his car, a routine maintenance that takes all of ten minutes and a screwdriver. When he reentered his car to crank it, the starter no longer worked. A $78 tow-bill to LaVergne, Tennessee revealed that it wasn't the starter, rather it was his engine. Poor ole Henry Honda had bit the dust for good and we were out a good $6,000 and a car. Thankfully, the man holding the car was willing to buy it off from us, although not at full price. Nevertheless, Jordan's aunt was selling her car and we scored a pretty sweet deal on it. Needless to say, but a blessing just the same, the previous weekend's farm earnings went toward the down payment on the car. As a result, we are the proud new owners of a 2003 granny car, as Jo likes to call it. We were able to meet his parents in Manchester a few days later and get the car from them so we didn't have to drive all the way to Atlanta for it, praise God!
      The following Friday morning our yard was clear as was the 6am sky, and we were leaving for the Nashville airport. I was to board an 8am flight headed for San Diego, then a bus ride down to Mexico for the leadership weekend at the City. Within ten miles from leaving our house the sky opened and the greater Nashville area became a snow globe. We had no choice but to turn around and head to the house. It took us forty-five minutes to get back home after braving giant snowflakes, icy roads, and stranded cars jammed against telephone poles, each other, or just sitting in the road. It was a miracle from Jesus that we made it home at all. When we arrived, we slid into our garage, not to leave for two days. There was no leadership trip for me. And there was no movement at all for Nashville.
      Within all of this we had another family member and family-friend death one week exactly after my uncle's passing. I couldn't be home with my people for any of these. And in this chaotic whirlwind we've had some issues surrounding our house. I'll write about these at a later date because this post is long enough and I'm emotionally exhausted from writing it. To keep your hearts at ease, everything is okay with the house; but please, keep us in your prayers concerning it and God's will with it in our lives.
      All of the above occurrences have remained interwoven with each other. One day we'll get a donation, the next we'll be knocked down by the enemy. Lots of face-planting, but lots of face-praising, too. We're counting it all joy and we're remembering our faith is being strengthened in the process.
      Over the weekend we had our team retreat at our house. This was a time for fellowship with our team (ALL GIRLS!) and a time when we were to get some planning accomplished for the City's VBS. I only have one word for the weekend's outcome: WOW. The girls opened up spiritually and socially, we discussed trials and the blessings within, salvation experiences, callings, they ate and ate and ate some more...like a football team! They became more comfortable as a team and with our leadership; walls came down and the Spirit moved in our living room around a circle of almost 20 young women and our little family. It was a such a blessing to see the fruits of our waiting on God for the past year begin to ripen before our very eyes. I am in awe of Him and His hand.
      You will soon be meeting some of the girls from the team. We are going to feature their stories on the blog here! If you feel the need to donate or just to share their stories further, please do! As younger people, their boundaries only go so far and their connections are still limited. We thought we'd help them out in their fundraising and prayer circles by sharing our territories to increase theirs. It's going to be exciting so get ready!
      In all, the past few weeks have been a hurricane of opportunity, busyness, grief, pain, blessing, wonder, joy, loss, and excitement all rolled into one! We can't wait, again, to see what all God has in store for this trip to the City. We know it's huge or we wouldn't be dealing with so many distractions and so much opposition from the enemy. But we ready ourselves with the full armor of God knowing that He is with us, guiding us and directing our steps so that our feet don't stumble. Sometimes He's carrying us, and sometimes He walks alongside us. Bottom line, as hard as it has been He's never left us. He's met every single need. And we know He'll meet the rest of them.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Leviticus is my favorite book of the Bible," said no one. Ever.

      A few months ago (okay, let's be honest. . . in 2012) I made a commitment to read the Bible all the way through, from covereth to covereth, as I like to say. Well, here we are. It's 2016. . . and five months ago I was still working on Genesis 35. Winner, winner, chicken dinner right here, folks.
      Like a good girl, my Bible was almost color-coded it was so stuffed with notes, highlights, doodles, pictures, and dates, all from studies, revivals, services, blessings, and anything else you can imagine spanning over a 15 year period. Some of the pages in my Good Book were so worn that, feeling their importance, they detached themselves from their original home altogether. When visiting a nearby church body in January a year ago, my New Testament, as if prodded by revelation, sprouted forth and left  his brothers behind, shed the old leather binding, and chose to lay prostrate on the floor, I'm assuming to worship Jesus.

      It was time for a new Bible.

      Oh, how I didn't want to purchase a new Bible. I writhed in pain over this decision, friends. It wasn't because I'm cheap. I am. But that wasn't my reasoning. I had developed a relationship with my Love Letter.
      I believe with all of my heart that the Word of God is alive, not just inside of us, but on the very pages we read. For example, I can read John 3:16 a hundred times and get a different message, with the same unchanging root purpose, every single time. It's how God works. He's rich with creativity, kind of like food. Take the pizza for instance: by no means is pizza as yummy as the Bible, but for metaphorical purposes we're using it. I like to think I can pack the food pyramid onto a supreme pizza, allowing for my daily dose of nutritional goodness, but let's not get too crazy here. My point is, pizza is so delicious that we continue to eat it, crave it, and it never really gets old. The best is leftover pizza that has been nuked in the microwave. It's the same pizza we had the night before at dinner when mom wasn't feeling up to cooking, but there's something different, almost better about it when we reheat it and devour the leftovers. The Word isn't much different. Only it's fresh out of the oven, never tasting like one has had it before. We can chew on it, swallow it, and be filled, but when we go back for more, it's even better the second time.
      This relationship with my Letter is like that. I had several verses highlighted so many times that the original color was indecipherable and the thin paper it stained was beginning to bald. For me, those verses kept getting better and better with every spiritual bite, and my need to highlight and mark only grew. When asked about the significance of any color or mark, I could always recall every single situation. It was like that with my Teen Study Bible from middle and high school as well. . . the one that Kirk Cameron signed circa Winterfest, Audio Adrenaline, and way before Fireproof . . . but we won't go there. And the same for my Precious Moments Bible I'd asked for repeatedly every year for Christmas, and finally I found it in my Mom's used white Volvo trunk hidden with the rest of my Christmas presents including the Boyz II Men album. . . but we won't go to that place either.
      My Bible meant the world to me. I didn't leave home without it. For years I had waited for this particular Bible. I grew up in Holly Creek Baptist Church in Chatsworth, where those holy baptismal waters were constantly stirring, be they from baptisms or youth kids hiding there during services. Our youth group was large, loud, and proud, and we were a tight-knit circle of 12 to 18 year-olds who knew too much about each other, but loved unconditionally in spite of it all. We were there for one another through thick and thin, up and down, and every rite of passage.
      At graduation time every year, each passing senior was awarded a new Bible from the pastor/church family on the Sunday before graduation, and their future plans were announced to the church body. Following the service was a fellowship meal because, well, Baptists eat. Why else? Boy, was I excited about that new Bible from the time we joined the church at 11 years old. I was excited to be presented with such a gift, to hear the fluttering of the new, crisp, golden-edged pages as I flipped through them. I was excited to highlight everything I had memorized and then to make more notes and marks. This Bible represented one of those rites of passage for me, although I don't really know which one or even why. Maybe it marked the beginning of me taking charge of my walk with God without an adult leading me.

      I don't much remember that anticipatory day. I just remember the Bible itself. The cool of the leather binding in my eager little hands. My name written beautifully in the front flap in Baptist church secretary cursive. The number 19  slashed like so because it was only spring in the new millennium and the 2000 models had not yet been published. I couldn't wait to get my highlighters in on this thing.

      That was in May of 2000. For 15 years my Bible has gone everywhere with me. I took it to Mississippi College and on tour with the Continentals to 13 states and 26 cities; it went every single day with me to Dalton State College, always tucked safely in my bookbag as I referred to it daily. It was with me the day I found out I was pregnant with Lilli, the day I married my sweet Jordan, and I took it on my honeymoon. It was with me in the hospital the day our precious Lilli made her glorious entrance into the world; I clung to it when my Granny Stella, Lilli's namesake, gracefully exited and passed into eternity. I read it when Jordan was grieving so helplessly as his PawPaw passed. It was my shield through every difficult storm, and its promises were what helped me continue to walk by faith when MS arrived on the scene in attempt to steal my joy. My Bible was there when I thought a spiritual trial was the end of this world as I knew it, as my husband spiritually spoon fed its words to me so that I wouldn't starve. Finally, my Word moved with me to Nashville and carried me through an entire semester of a new major at a new school, showing me new things I'd never seen before, no matter how many times I'd marked them.
      When I finally got the nerve to move forward with a new Bible, I prayed about it. I had no idea what to get and I compared everything to my Old Faithful. I wanted something I could take notes in and something small. God showed me the ESV journaling Bible. I'd always had NKJV or NIV, and I loved the latter. But as a theology student I needed to move toward the ESV due to Greek translation purposes.
      As I stood in Lifeway I trekked back and forth between three different Bibles. I bought one, then when I got home I realized it didn't have a concordance, so I took it back. I had finally narrowed it down to two and ended up going with the ESV Journaling Bible. But you don't understand how hard this choice was for me! I felt like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I just knew I was gonna end up like Walter Donovan and that my hair would look like Ramen Noodles as my skin melted off of my face, right there in the Lifeway! I had to choose wisely. Finally, I made my decision. And oh, how wonderful and perfect that decision was.
      As soon as I bought my Bible I ran to the WalMart for a brand new, shiny box of Crayola colored pencils. I got home and pulled out my best highlighters, pens, and pencils, and I began reading.
      I picked up right where I left off in Genesis, determined to read this Letter through all the way to the end. I drew pictures and made a few notes, but I didn't highlight anything just yet. In the past I had gone back and copied what was highlighted in my previous Bible. But this time was different. I want to experience it all over again, new and fresh. If there's anything in this life that one wants to "do-over," reading the Bible is it. It's not like leftovers; it's fresh.
      I kept going and made my way through Exodus. Did you know there were giants and fallen angels that slept with human women? Oh! I just sparked your interest didn't I? That's right. Go read it. You'll love it. Good stuff. I drew pictures as God gave them to me. I made notes in my computer about things I'd never really considered before. And the questions. . . They were overwhelming. But God, in His mighty ways and this incredible relationship we have, answered every single question.
      I stopped to pray while reading and I'd ask God to show me, speak to me, reveal things to me. Within a chapter or two He'd do just that.
      Finally I arrived at Leviticus.

Holy moly, Lord Jesus, help me.

      I was getting bored. Fast. There were laws and rules and steps and I kept getting lost and asking questions like, "Why, God, is it a sin to be around a woman after she's given birth? You made this process, did You not?" Confused, I kept praying and studying fervently, grabbing scholarly articles and journals. And God revealed His answers.
      In the midst of reading these laws and learning the purpose behind them, I began to feel so separated from the One I was clinging to; it was as if I couldn't reach my Father. That doesn't make sense, does it. One should feel closer than ever to her Creator when reading His words. Remember when I said that the Word is alive and active? Because of this, the Bible has a sort of transforming power. No, not the kind we think of when we say that it changes us, although that power still applies. This power is different. God's word is so deeply planted into our souls that we become part of the story. Our present story is a continuation of the Jewish nation, of the New Testament church, of Jesus; we are the new Israel, the new covenant. The reason I felt so separated from God is because I could somehow identify with the chasm that existed between Israel and God, between humanity and God. It's why all of those laws were put into place to begin with, but that's a whole other blog post. Yet here we are, living proof of that continuation and we now have concrete access to the Father of lights in the form of the written word whenever we want! All we have to do is open it up and read it, listen to it, and feel it as that cool, living water courses through our thirsty spirits.
      I finally made it out of the Levitical wilderness and on to Numbers. If you're a logophile like me, you'll appreciate the book of Numbers because it has absolutely nothing to do with algebra like I feared. (I just knew God didn't mean for that horrible subject to be taught in school! Sorry. I'm done.) Now it's January and I'm in Deuteronomy. . . Okay, I've been in Deuteronomy for about three months but in my defense I'm a senior, guys, and I have no life. I have to pack it in when I can, not to say that I'm not getting my daily dose of Bread.
      All in all, I did it. I took the plunge and I bought a new Love Letter. It has fanned the flames of my faith, friends, and I'm seeing its words again as if with new eyes. So I encourage you: pick up your Good Book. Read it. Love it. Devour it. Rediscover again and again all that Father has to share with you. Trust me, He's like a kid on Christmas morning waiting to show you all of His new toys and the tons of cool things they can do, only you won't get tired after a few hours. Instead, you'll be refreshed, renewed, and you'll fall in love with the Master of creation, the Writer of the words on your heart, all over again.


      

City of Children Update

      God is good, all the time! We went to bed with many praises last night thanks to God's faithful hand opening doors. First, I was able to get my passport expedited on Tuesday so it will be here before the January leadership trip. I am overjoyed to announce that Jordan's portion of the trip has been paid in full by a very generous friend. It's amazing how God has used this young man in our lives over the years, just by being our friend. His gift goes above and beyond the call of duty and reminds us that we have friends who stick closer than a brother (Pr. 18:24) Thank you, sweet friend. You'll never know how much we treasure the precious heart behind your gift.
      Again, we covet your prayers. Please intercede on our behalf!
     1. Jordan needs to go on the leadership trip in January. However, his workplace is conducting a              migration for one of their clients that very week. We're so hoping God opens the doors for a                miracle; unless dates change for the migration, there is no way Jordan can get off of work.
         However, we also want God's will first and foremost.
     2. Flying this day in age is a little intimidating. Crossing the Mexican boarder is also a bit scary.
         Pray for the constant reminder than we are not
         born of a spirit of fear but one of power and of sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7)
     3. Our team! As soon as we meet with them and get their permission, we will list their names on
         here so you can call them out to the Father.
     4. We still have money to raise for Lilli and for me. We also have a $150 per person deposit that
         does not come from fundraising. But we've seen God drop thousands of dollars from the sky
         before and I've no doubt He'll do it again.
     5. City of Children: Oh, that we may be God's hands and feet, that we may move out of His way
         so that He may accomplish great and mighty things through us all;  may He be glorified and
         honored in all of this, and that His sweet Spirit would already be connecting our team and
         uniting us as one body in Him.
      Guys, we are so excited again to be partnering in the gospel with you. Thank you for all of the messages we've received though text, email, phone calls. . .we are overwhelmed. Love to you all!