The Joshua Series- GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I'm excited to start a new series with lessons found in the book of Joshua. The Lord has been walking with me through the early books of the Old Testament for the last year and I'm finally at a place that I can share all the insights God's been showing me. Join us weekly for some real, raw, open and honest this-is-where-I'm-at-right-now GodStuff. I pray it blesses you as it has me. ~Bethany

Recently my husband and I took in two new foster children. The Lord led us to fostering, quite unexpectedly, last year and for many months we've had just an infant with us. Last month though He asked us to take in two more, one with special needs. We prayed over them, we talked at length about the pros and cons, we took as much time as we could to decide. Because in this case, taking in these two would give us a total of six children, three of which have special needs, all of which are under 7. Yikes. I'm sure you can appreciate our trepidation at such a prospect.

Yet, God made it abundantly clear to us that we needed to take in these young boys. So we agreed with great expectations and not a few hesitations.

We're a month into our new season with these kiddos and let me just say in all honesty and that its been hard. I mean capitol H A R D hard. I've found myself stretched to the max daily, hourly, minute by minute at times. Going to bed so many nights questioning if we've done the right thing. Waking up exhausted every morning not knowing how I'm going to make it through the day. I've found myself questioning if we made the right call, questioning our sanity, questioning my ability to continue on. I've grieved the loss of time with my own kids and time with my husband. I've missed meetings, missed church, and had to pull out of other ministries that I adored. Yes, it's been a radical life change to say the least.

I don't like it.

I don't enjoy it.

I don't even 'want' it at times.

And yet, even in the midst of the chaos I know that I'm sitting (or more realistically, splayed out) right where I'm supposed to be. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I'm being obedient.

In all honesty, I'm not that foster mom that's dreamed of doing this all her life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad and there are definitely glimpses of awesomesness here and there. I for sure don’t hate this season. But I'm not that foster parent that has the proverbial huge heart for these kids. I foster because it's a ministry that God called us into and one that is worthy to be doing. I do it because it's Biblical and the right thing to do. I do it because I can't say no to my almighty Father- even when I want to- even when the ministry is not only not 'right down my alley' but quite frankly at times is not even in the same city!

This obedience-thing is not for the faint of heart! And it’s H A R D work.

Yet, my Father is good, even moreso in my vast weaknesses. He has me in Joshua right now and the encouragement I've found even within the first chapter has brought me more than once to tears. (It's like He knew!)

"Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouths. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:8-9 NIV

So where I am at with all this you may ask?

What I'm learning is that when God told Joshua over and over to be strong and courageous, He wasn't at all referring to taking the Promised Land. Jehovah was telling him to be strong and courageous in his obedience to Him. He was instructing Israel to be resolute, obstinate even, in their obedience.

Regardless of the outcome. Regardless of the scenery on the other side of that leap of faith.

Regardless of whether it makes my own life more pleasant or easy.

I'm learning slowly but surely that oftentimes 'ministry' that God calls us to doesn't necessarily come with the assumed great expectations of obedience that we all want. We assume that our obedience to Him will result in happier times, contentment, provision, or greener pastures.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Our saying yes to God and these boys certainly hasn't made our highways and byways clearer. In fact it's significantly impacted all of them. And yet, I'd venture to say that it's made their little pathways more manageable.

I'm learning is that my obedience is the only thing I can control. The rest is up to God: the provision for each day, the strength to continue on, the sanity to push forward, and even the wherewithal to choose to obey again...

and again... and again.

What I'm learning is that despite the seemingly extreme 'inconvenience' of this ministry God has placed on us, the idea of being outside His will and His way is far more terrifying. This season may not be one we would have chosen, it has not been ideal by any stretch, we can only hope and pray that it gets easier... but my expectations of my 'yes' are secondary to the work God has for me.

And suddenly the tables are turned. What great expectations I had placed on Him, are now turned and seen through His eyes upon me. His expectations for me must be quite grand to entrust some of His precious children to us for a time.

It turns out, I've learned I had this entire thing backward the whole time.

Dear ones, view whatever ministries God has called you to- easy, hard, good, bad, or ugly- as opportunities to step up in obedience and meet our Father's great expectations of you. It is no small thing to place you where He did with the treasured people and work He's entrusted you with.

You have your Father's great expectations upon you this day- be strong and courageous, be not discouraged!


Unwanted Silver Linings

Recently I was trying to encourage a dear co-worker of mine who had recently lost his younger brother to cancer. It was the first time I’d seen him since the funeral and I was doing my best to delicately love on him during the oh-so-awkward-after-the-funeral-but-before-reality-really-sets-in time. It’s a hard season right? Hard for the family, hard for those who come alongside them-

In this case, this young boy knew Jesus well, so there was more joy that sorrow to be had… and his family remaining on this side of heaven knew it. But even with the joy of hope for a reunion, the immediate grief and life-change of losing a loved one isn’t necessarily dampened. It’s still hard-

I found myself switching into my ‘nurse-mode’ midway through the conversation. Having been an ICU trauma nurse for many years, I’ve been at the death bed of more people than I care to count… it was, by far, the hardest part of my job. Yet the experiences have been invaluable to me in helping people see Jesus through even the very darkest of times. Losing a child, a spouse, a dad, a grandmother… none of these losses ever get easier. Loss is supposed to hurt. It’s an unfortunate by-product of Eve’s wayward decision way back in the Garden of Eden…. separation… loss… death. All these things are so very hard.

They’re hard because we aren’t designed for such things- not originally at least. Our hearts and souls were made for unity and union with one another (with God in particular). Originally our lives came with complete relationship and fellowship with God and each other. There was time. There was no end in sight. The horizons of humanity’s perspective were clear… pure sunshine all the way to the ends of the earth. But then came the fall of man and death, decay, separation. Storm clouds quickly blocked the endless view… and just like that- time now was tethered to the finite.

Talking through some of this with my friend, I did my best to give him permission to rest and even take some joy in the end that had come. For so many families who’s loved ones spend days, months, even years deteriorating into death, often the sense of relief when ‘it’s finally over’ can be palpable. Health workers see this all the time- the unexpected and seemingly ironic relief at the end can be almost as overwhelming as the grief that accompanies the loss. And that is okay. The confusing mix of emotions often turn into guilt for many though; the sigh of relief, the letting down of the defenses, the whole night of uninterrupted sleep, returning to ‘normal’ life and maybe even taking a vacation… in short, unwanted silver linings within the clouds appear. Strange as they are to behold, these kind of silver linings are okay to look at. I needed to tell my friend this… he needed to hear it. He needed someone to give him permission and know it wasn’t dishonoring or moving too fast.

God puts silver linings in our lives, often during the darkest of storms, to remind us that He’s still in control. That His sovereignty will still win the day. Even in death… especially in death.

Because what we need to know, what you who may be reading this needs to know… is that God has placed the ultimate silver lining in our lives.

Christ’s death was no less traumatic for his family and friends- the agonizing hours, the torture, the watching and waiting for Him to breathe His last. I imagine there was a collective sigh of relief when He did finally give up His spirit… if only in thanks that His suffering was over. I cannot imagine how hard those hours would have been. For those who truly thought Him the Messiah, I assume this Man’s death was unbearable… without hope, without peace, without purpose, without meaning. For those moments which turned into days after Jesus’s death, I imagine the darkness of the clouds that surrounded all of humanity were impenetrable.

But then…. LIGHT! Literally, physically, spiritually! Christ rose from the dead! By His death and resurrection we now have the ultimate silver lining. The silver lining that bridges the brokenness of our separation from God. The silver lining that restores our union with the Creator and cuts the tethers of time, releasing us back into the infinite.

We may not want Him. He’s okay to want though.

We may not see Him. He’s okay to look at.

We often refuse to acknowledge the silver lining in our lives. But dear one, He. is. there. A silver lining piercing over the darkest of clouds, the deepest of despair, into the depths of depression, shame, or guilt.

By His death… we can live.

And that, my friends, is a silver lining worth embracing!

Dear one, if you need to take hold of this silver lining, please do so! Jesus is waiting to show you life- better, abundant, full. Please go here to find out more!

Restless

What costly grace
That my life should be so transformed
Beyond that which is called comfortable!
My heart is so charged 
With a restlessness to serve You
And feel that rest
Which only laboring with You can give.
What consternation
That my life should be so full
And pressed about with demanding crowds!
My head is so challenged
With a restlessness to serve people
But not yet feeling that peace
Which comes from serving God and not man.
What confusion
That my life should be so harried
By priorities claiming my attention!
My heart is so consumed
By a restless passion for the needy
In conflict with the rest
That only the familiar bed can bring. What conflicting calls
That my life should be so circumscribed
By expectations exceeding any carnal capacities!
My compassion is so conscripted
By a multitude of hurting hearts
That restless distress wars with my weariness
Until I hear Your call to come away and rest.
What confounded chaos
That my life should so cease to be my own
In the household hubbub of castle values.
My heat of passion becomes constrained
By identifying with daily demands
Of restless childish things,
Until arrested by Your love.
What cacophony
That my puny life should be placed
So near the site of so much spiritual carnage!
My helmet still rings
From resistance to Darkness,
The Enemy of men's souls, When leading the weary to Your rest.
What cursed conformity
That my life should be so weak-willed
As to concede to the cowardly crowd!
My heart is so convoluted
In its denial and deceit, 
That restless pursuit of popular praise
Leaves me restless still.
What confident conquest
That my life should be so covenanted
As to be recaptured by Your power!
My holy hands become wholly Yours
As Sabbath rest and sacred yoke
Return me to the less traveled road,
The path of the Shepherd's rest.
What disquieting concentration
That my life should be suborned
By tortuous nostalgic caverns! My mind and heart restlessly cavort
In forests and fields of illusion
Until breathless they become captive
To the jealous Spirit of Truth.
What consummate conformity
That my life should be confronted
With "Babbler, Blasphemer, Beelzebub."
Such honor so fully Christ-like
Strikes me with mixed pleasure and peril
Until fruitful, flowing spiritual words
Attest to the Truth and rest His case.
What quiet counsel 
That my life should be thus counted
As discarded dung yet precious pearl!
My heavy heart is hardly cracked
From deep-set seeds of chapter and verse,
But, still, from it thrives the restless role
Of the servant, sinner, and saint.

Poem by my spiritual dad and mentor, David Heikkila ca. 1986

The Naked Truth

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
‭‭John‬ ‭17:15-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Truth and Lie meet one day. Lie says to the Truth, "It's a glorious day today!" Truth looks up to the skies suspicious of Lie's comment, but ultimately sighs... for the day was really beautiful.

They spend a lot of time together, Lie mimicking Truth's behavior and mannerisms. Lie was very much taken with Truth's garments, her countenance and grace. The two ultimately arrive beside a well. Lie tells Truth, "The water is very nice, let's take a bath!" Truth, once again suspicious, tests the water and discovers that it, indeed, is very nice. They undress and start bathing.

Suddenly Lie comes out of the water, puts on the clothes of Truth, and runs away. Alarmed and stunned, Truth comes out of the well and runs everywhere to find Lie and get her clothes back. Yet she cannot recover them, nor can she catch up with Lie- for Lie is quite fleeting and rapidly moves. Truth cannot stand the feel of Lie's clothing, they are old and rotted, unfit for the World's eyes. So Truth is left naked.

The World, seeing Truth naked, turns its gaze away with contempt and rage, rejecting her outright. No one comes to her aid because they don't like the discomfort of viewing her stark appearance or the irritation she brings by her presence. Truth is uncomfortable to the World. Poor Truth returns to the well and disappears from view, ashamed of her nakedness, cold and alone.

Since that long ago time, Lie travels around the world dressed as Truth, masquerading as light and rightness, morality, and integrity. And the world blindly accepts Lie as Truth. The World sees the outer appearance, dressed finely and attractively, unaware and careless of what actually lies beneath the clothing.

To this day Truth can be hard to find, she must be sought with intention, found with discretion, and recognized by her appearance. She is most often alone, sometimes afraid, but always in the Right. Her nakedness can be jarring for those who aren't prepared for it, but the beauty and quiet strength of naked Truth will always overcome the darkest of Lies. (Adapted from the legend of Truth and Falsehood.)

Dear ones, today I challenge you to look hard at your hearts and discern the lies that you have bought into. I pray that God would shine His light of Truth, uncomfortable is it may be to look at, on the facades that the Evil One would have you believe. Seek the Holy One through the appearances of mankind and look upon the face of what Truths are in your life. Look for Truth with intention and reject whatever facade of false ideas have taken root.

Today I want you all to step out in boldness and comment below with a lie that has entangled you and then replace that with Truth. Be bold and fearless!

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." Colossians 2:6-8 ESV

Jean_Léon_Gerome_1896_La_Vérité_sortant_du_puits.jpeg

Truth Coming Out Of Her Well

1896 painting by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Praying God's Names Series

I'm super excited to offer you all a new series by a dear sister-in-Christ of ours, Karen Guthrie. She wrote these almost a decade ago while going through Kay Arthur's book, Lord I Want to Know You, which is a study in the names of God. Having recently completed the book  myself, I can attest this book is amazing and these prayers that Karen is allowing me to share with you are powerful. Please join me every Monday, starting in June, for the next few months as we approach the throne and beseech the Living God through the many facets of His might character. You won't want to miss this! If you really want to press in, I challenge you to buy the book and go through the names of God yourself as we go through this series. Write down your own prayers to Adonai, El Shaddai, Yahweh, El Elyon, and more.

Below is her introduction letter to you all, please enjoy!

 

Dear Study Partner,

This collection of prayers began from the second chapter of the book, “Lord, I Want to Know You” by Kay Arthur. On page 11, she suggested that we write a prayer of worship to our creator, that we sing praise to our God and Father as Elohim. Our dear sister, Kathy Maberry, saw my prayer and asked me to share with the class.

Each week the Lord gave me the words to express what I learned from the study during that week. Your encouraging words led me to share the feelings that I had written.

I thank you for your quiet listening, encouraging words and thanksgiving expressed each time I shared with you. I am humbled by your kindness toward me and I pass the praise on to my God who gave me the words and the opportunity.

I pray that I am within the Lord’s will in writing these and in sharing them with you. May they bless you as you read them. And, may you write your own prayers to our God. Prayers of praise and worship that come from your heart are, I know, dear to the Lord.

Thank you, again, for loving God by loving me. God bless you.

Karen Guthrie January, 2008

The Power of Perpetual Thanksgiving

I was honored to write this as an article for a dear friend, Amber Blackburn, who hosts The World Sees Normal blog. Please enjoy!  

It is always an interesting thing to me when November rolls around and I start seeing the inevitable “no-shave November”, National Adoption month,  and Lung Cancer Awareness month memes all over my social media. Did you also happen to know that November holds the illustrious marker as Adopt a Senior Pet Awareness Month, National Pepper Month, and (definitely not in order of importance…) Sweet Potato Awareness month? Who knew?

Among all these awareness titles, most often I come across the proverbial “30 days of thanks” in honor of Thanksgiving; and while I am thankful (pun intended) that this is a ‘thing’, I am also sad that it’s a thing seemingly only when we have a holiday to celebrate it. Because the truth of the matter is, thanksgiving is much more potent when we celebrate it every month, every day, even yes… hourly. In fact, I would argue that thanksgiving is perhaps one of the most important things we can do to keep ourselves happy and healthy- emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically!

Thanksgiving (not the holiday) is not something to celebrate just once a year- it is a mindset… no, better yet… a HEARTset that we should celebrate and exercise all the time.

Study after study, from the medical world down to spiritual gurus, holy books, and psychiatrists alike show that an attitude of thanks is hugely beneficial to one’s health. As a Jesus-lovin’ Christian I wholeheartedly agree!

It is easy to give thanks when life is good and pleasant. Things are going well. The proverbial “Attitude of Gratitude” is easy when the going is smooth. But what about when the goin’ gets tough?

The truly tough get to celebrating thanksgiving.

There is NEVER nothing to be thankful for… never. Often some of the most harrowing stories of martyrs or trials and tribulations have the brightest examples of people choosing thanksgiving over desperation or worry.

Yes, we have a choice. We can choose fear, anxiety, worry, frustration, sadness, etc over so very many things. Bills are coming due, a child is having trouble in school, our personal life is fraught with turmoil, our bodies are not cooperating or working the way we’d like. Yes… all these things are real. They are here, they affect us greatly. And yet, there is always something to be grateful for. Always.

One of my favorite Bible verses right now is in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I love that God’s WILL for me is to simply rejoice and give thanks in ALL circumstances. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Today I want to challenge you to take a minute and take a look around. Are you in a low place or a high point? Make note of it.

Now take this verse to heart. In ALL circumstances choose an attitude of thanksgiving… seek out and find reasons to be thankful. Look for opportunities, however small, to show and tell and express thanks. It may be as simple as being able to take a breath without pain, or being alive for the day, listening to birds outside, or watching the snow fall- after all, not many of us are winning the lottery everyday! But I promise you’ll be surprised at how much your heart is lightened by the change in perspective with the attitude alteration. There is power in the habit of perpetual thanksgiving! I encourage you to get into the habit today and everyday!