Grey

I left for Greece right at the end of February when we were getting news of the Corona outbreak in China. I was aware of the spread but not concerned. Just as I was supposed to leave the country a series of events allowed me to extend my stay an extra week and I was thrilled.

Then, within about five days, all Greek schools closed, everything but supermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeries closed, and everyone was wearing masks and staying six feet away from others. By the time I left, the WHO had deemed Europe the new epicenter of COVID-19. To get home I traveled through five airports and four planes, two of which were completely full. I spent the next two weeks in super strict quarantine to my room while my friends in Greece received news that they were going into a stringent, government monitored lockdown.

Things were getting bad. And then they got worse.

I’ve seen this virus strip jobs away from people who are just trying to get by. It’s caused us to look at other humans with suspicion, making wide six-foot circles around the other foragers at the grocery stores. People who have assembled the best battle wear of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes are resentful towards those who are appearing to frolic about. Economies around the world are threatening collapse. Weddings, graduations, and birthday parties are getting cancelled. Racism and abuse are rapidly increasing. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying.

I think of all these things and I can feel my heart physically ache.

But I’ve seen other things too.

I’ve also seen this virus cause people all over the world rally around healthcare workers. It’s given the world a common thread, increasing relatability across cultures. People are getting creative with ways to encourage one another while staying physically distanced. Because of the technology era, people are able to meet virtually, allowing many businesses to remain open to some extent. Also as a benefit of technology we can communicate easily so there is less isolation than if this happened even 15 years ago. My social media feeds are full of people sharing encouraging words, performances, funny gifs, and friends being honest about their realities so that we can come around them. Families are getting more time together. Churches might not be gathering in sanctuaries, but they’re gathering in living rooms. Google is reporting a massive spike in searches for “prayer” and “Jesus.” I have friends who are seeing family members be more open to the Gospel because of the current situation. Cultures that praise being busy are forced to slow down and rest. Distractions are being removed – “not having enough time” is no longer an excuse for avoiding spiritual matters.

There is so much pain. But there is also a lot of good.

I’ve seen a trend that Americans want the world to be black and white. (Note on this: I say Americans because that’s the culture with which I am most familiar.) We want something to be right or wrong, not both. We want to be able to sort events, opinions, practices, situations, people into one of two categories: good or bad. It’s easier that way. However, when we do that we often neglect to see the big picture.

I’m not proposing that we completely do away with the right vs. wrong system. God definitely pre-sorted some actions with the Ten Commandments. I also think morals, which heavily rely on the distinction between good and bad, are essential to healthy lives. I am cautioning us as to what happens when we try to label something not definitively stated in the Bible.

I am encouraging us to take a page out of Joseph’s book.

Joseph’s full story can be found in Genesis 37-50 and if you’re looking for a good read with lots of plot twists, he’s your guy. Here’s the gist, spoilers included: Joseph, a nice 17 yr old shepherd, has these two prophetic dreams that cause his brothers to hate him. As if being the favorite child didn’t already put him at odds with his TEN older brothers, the dreams from God predicted that Joseph would rule over his brothers. This arrogance wasn’t going to fly so his brothers oh so kindly threw Joseph into a pit to die, but then changed their minds and sold him to some foreign travelers. Joseph was sold again, became a servant, rose the ranks because of God’s favor, was hit on by his boss’ wife, was wrongly accused, and thrown into prison. While in prison, the LORD was with him, showing him steadfast love and favor. Joe interpreted two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams; one got good news the other not so much. Then the king had some dreams and God helped Joseph interpret those, which earned him a huge promotion from prison to a spot as one of the king’s highest officials. A famine came but it was okay because the king’s dreams prophesied it and Joseph had prepared for it. Now it’s been about 22 years since he saw his brothers and sadly they weren’t faring too well thanks to the famine. They come to Joseph (not knowing who he is) to ask for food, Joseph weeps then sends them home, they come back, Joe tests them, they freak out, Joe weeps again, he shares his identity with his brothers, a family reunion happens, and they all live a big happy life together.

Joseph’s story ends with a conversation between him and his brothers. (This is where our good or bad discussion comes into play.) The brothers apologize for the “evil” (Gen 50:17) they did to him. Joseph’s response to them: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph saw the big picture that through what would easily be labeled as an unfortunate, or bad, series of events, God brought good from it and Joe got to help many people by providing food during the famine. All throughout our pal’s story we are reminded how God was with Joseph the whole time, not turning a blind eye to what was going on.

When we rush to call something bad, we can loose sight of the good God is doing. Even amidst the brokenness of the world (Joseph’s brothers did try to murder him after all) God can bring good.

Since we’re still this side of Heaven, evil still has a presence. The enemy of this world is active and sometimes his havoc can cloud our vision of the mysterious yet beautiful, powerful, and pure work of the Lord. That’s the sad reality. But we know the rest of the story. God will triumph over Satan. The goodness of God will prevail over the corruption of evil. That’s where we’re headed, and it’s closer with every moment.

Even though we experience the horrible brokenness of the world, God is still at work.

God can, and is, bringing good out of COVID-19.

There is still bad, but there’s also good.

 

FreehandTruth_LookForTheGood_Gen5020

Belonging

I stood quietly at the back of the group, watching as over fifty women talked in small groups about 2 Timothy 2. We were at the end of the first day of a conference on leadership, this session focusing on community. Some women were deep in conversation. Others’ eyes darted between the three “mzungu” (white person) standing on the outskirts. I resisted the urge to get squirmish under their gaze, reminding myself that it wasn’t judgment, but curiosity their eyes were communicating. Then almost as quickly as their eyes landed, they’d return to the other women in their discussion group.

What were they saying to each other, I wondered. Deeply wishing I could understand their native Maasai language.

This was my first time to behold the beauty of Africa. The people, culture, landscape, and wildlife had me in constant awe of the creativity and vastness of the Creator. The Maasai people form one of Kenya’s forty two tribes. Throughout the country the Maasai are respected for preserving generations of tradition. They are the warriors, even feared by the lions in some areas. They are the naturalists, respecting creation and living in harmony with it. They are the creatives, experts at making everything from colorful jewelry to sturdy houses made entirely of sticks and termite clay.

Our native friends had told us that “no matter where you were in the world, you know a Maasai when you saw one.” I soon learned why.

As I stood observing the women, it struck me. Not a single one of them was questioning whether or not they belonged. They were not questioning their identity as a Maasai. Every single woman wore similar clothes; their dresses following the same sewing pattern and jewelry using the same beads. They spoke the same language; their native tongue sustaining the decades of oral tradition. They acted the same; from dancing to sitting they mirrored each other’s posture. They looked the part, they spoke the part, they acted the part. There was no questioning if they were a Maasai. In fact, I doubt that question has ever even gone through their mind.

That sort of unquestioned belonging is something I believe all of us long for. The desire is deep in our souls. We don’t have to consciously tell ourselves to crave belonging, it just is there. Hardwired from the very beginning we yearn for the day we do not second guess our place, our role, in society.

As a believer, we do not have to strive.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Every ounce of me believes that God desires for His children to be so confident in our belonging in His family that we don’t get entangled with pointless pursuits (2 Tim 2:4). He wants us to fully embrace our place as His royal chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He has given us the Holy Spirit to help guide our actions and our speech (Phil 2:13; 1 Cor 6:11). Not to mention that He has given us His image (Gen 1:27). We are thoroughly His.

Even though it is sometimes very tempting to question whether or not we “belong,” we have assurance that we are His. And since we are His (and I say this knowing it is so very hard sometimes) we should be so marked by Him that we “look,” speak, and act like Him. Every believer shares in this belonging, regardless of any other factor.

Our belonging is twofold. We belong to God. Once we confess our need for God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and the hope in the resurrection, our belonging to God is secure. Additionally, just like the Maasai look, speak, and act like Maasai, we as Christians are given the ability to walk in the newness of life and look, speak, and act like Christ.

What if instead of “you’ll know a Maasai when you see one” it was said “you’ll know a Christian when you see one.”

What’s keeping you from living out your belonging?

Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Kind

Every few years God brings me almost to a halt in order to return back to the basics of my faith. In the past it’s been recognizing the hope for Heaven, His faithful presence in my life, or once was realizing the magnitude of my sin and need for a Savior.

This is not me regaining my salvation. It is practicing remembrance. When these seasons begin, I often get uneasy because I fear that my wrestling is offensive to God and that He is disappointed that I am back to something I should have already learned.

This past month has been one of those back-to-basics moments. But this time, instead of putting on a cloak of shame, I chose to walk in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I have been working out my salvation by asking the question, “is God kind to me?” I feel almost heretical stringing those words together now, even after God and I have had some extensive conversations about that very topic. It just doesn’t feel right to say such a thing.

Growing up in the church, I’m pretty good at the whole head knowledge thing, but my heart is often slower to catch up. When I first spoke the question that had been rumbling around in the very back of my head I was simultaneously relieved and appalled. Relieved because I felt like the ticking time bomb had been diffused. Appalled because every Sunday school teacher or pastor I’ve sat under would probably ask me if I didn’t hear a word they had said. Of course God is kind!

But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I saw God’s kindness in people’s lives around me, but was having a difficult time seeing it myself. I’d like to think that I tried really hard to see His kindness in my life, but my heart was tired and calloused. So I probably gave up quickly.

Right around this time, I had a seminary assignment where I practiced spiritual disciplines and wrote out prayers everyday for a certain amount of time. This is when I started getting very honest with God. No more of that hiding behind “I know” business. It was time to give Him a piece of my mind. There were definitely a series of “I’m mad at You because ____” and “Why haven’t You _____” and several “I don’t like ____.” Everything centered around why I thought God was disciplining me unjustly. Everything centered around me. 

I think it was good and wise to voice where I was; I needed to hear myself to realize it was all about me. So I started studying about who God is. The Bible talks about God’s character a lot. It says that He is Creator (Gen 1:1), Savior (John 3:16), Holy (Rev 4:8), Love (1 John 4:7-12), and Life (Col 1:17), just to name a few. 

Titus 3:4-7 has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time. I had completely forgotten it uses the phrase “loving kindness” until I did a Bible search for the exact phrase. 

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

This verse is especially applicable for now for two reasons:
1. It clearly attributes kindness to God.
2. The kindness of God is the gift of Jesus. 

Fair warning: I’m about to nerd out here. 

I wanted to find a good, healthy, Biblical definition of “kindness” so I hopped over to Blue Letter Bible to see how kindness was used in these verses. Y’ALL. I LITERALLY CAN’T.

In Titus 3, Paul used the Greek word “χρηστότης” which comes from the root word of “χρηστός.” Now I do not read ancient Greek, but thanks to the little modern Greek I know some bells went off in my head…because that word for kindness sure did sound a lot like the word for Christ. LOOK AT THIS.

root word of kindness (Titus 3)
χρηστός
khrā-sto’s

Christ (New Testament)
Χριστός
khrē-sto’s

I cannot get over how close those sound. I am choosing to believe that it cannot be a coincidence that Paul, when writing Titus, chose the word for kindness that sounded so similar to that for Christ. 

At the very beginning of me examining whether I believe God is kind to me, I had a dear friend (looking at you Lizzy Cook) who encouraged me to see God’s kindness as the free gift of salvation. I can know and experience the kindness of God by walking out in the freedom and hope and grace and restoration that the Gospel brings. Jesus Christ’s presence is kindness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I believe God is kind to me. So much kinder than I will ever comprehend.