The Real Cause of the Storm

Watching the opinions and fingers come out this week has been a bit much for me. I can’t help but think most of it is well-intentioned people spinning their wheels. Questions ranging from “why would a good God allow this” to “what laws will prevent this” are bombarding us all. I have to humbly submit that, until we as a people get a hold of some very basic but profound spiritual truths… The wheels are going to keep on spinning. We must see a God who HAS acted and intervened on our behalf. We have to turn towards Him and not away.

http://www.ransomedheart.com/blogs/john/why-newtown-more-important-we-think

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Five Smooth Stones

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40

The story of little David and his victory over Goliath is my 6 year old sons favorite thing to read. It’s the first story he looks up when he gets out a picture bible. I’ve become accustomed to it, memorized it, and I confess, tired of it at times. Little guy defeats big giant, with only a stone and God’s divine help. Got it. Check. It is an amazing story – and I feel bad thinking I’ve read it one too many times. I ask him if he wants to read a different story – nope. So we read it again, from a different kids Bible. We talk about how little people can do big things for God. We reaffirm that we are in Gods army and He is in charge of winning the battles we face. It’s all very good stuff. And I believe it. But for some reason, it was more of a picture on a page than a truth in my heart.

God never meant for us to be bored with His Word, not ever, but sometimes those truths just stay there on the page, flat and lifeless. We need them to be life and truth, but sometimes it just isn’t there.

I was flattened most of this past week. Sick to my stomach, I was horrified in a way that I cannot put into words, and I won’t try. We are accustomed to hearing awful things on the news, but Newtown was different. I walked around all week in their shoes, as did every parent I know. I found myself no longer caring about the mud on my floors or dried toothpaste mess in the sink. Truthfully, I was damn thankful for my mess. I went through the motions of sending my boys off to school acutely aware of how exposed we really are. Painfully aware that I need to go to the Lord with these anxieties, I asked that He show me what true protection really means.

We fashion our own little worlds as best we can, organized and tidy. I send the boys off to school – every fiber in my body fights against it while my head tells me to chill out. Later that morning, digging for a Post-It note in the kitchen junk drawer, I came across a little red and black bag given to my 6 year old a few years ago. It contains 5 little stones from the Valley of Elah, where David took on Goliath so long ago. Some very thoughtful friends had given it to us, knowing my little guys love for the story. I wondered how long it had been in there. No matter, I picked it up and put it in my purse. I started thinking about little David. I thought of how he tried to put on Saul’s armor and went instead for a sling and some rocks. The armor didn’t suit him. It didn’t fit him. It weighed him down.

I took out a rock and held it for awhile. Could it be that this is all we need? I started thinking of all the armor I walk around with that is anything but the armor of God. It’s so easy to pile on things in our lives that make us feel less exposed. We organize. We collect. We control. We build our suit of armor until it becomes too big and too heavy. Suddenly, we are too weighed down to fight the giants. David was successful because he went into battle in the name of the Lord. Period. Holding the little bag of rocks, I felt a kind of surrender that I had not felt in awhile.

We need to drop the heavy armor. We need to drop the fears and anxieties we walk around with all day. Accept that we are exposed – accept also that the God of David goes with us into battle and will fight for us.

The world tells us we have to be ‘holly and jolly’ this time of year. The world tells us we need to be dragging around a ton of armor to be happy and secure. God tells us to give up the charade. It’s ok to be broken.  As Christmas approaches, I pray God’s supernatural comfort over all those who are mourning.  The idea of a ‘holly jolly’ Christmas seems woefully artificial  right now. We need the truth to come off the page again. As we mourn the loss of innocence, I pray that we would turn our eyes to the child that came into a world just as dark as ours 2000 years ago. He came so that this sadness would not have the final word. This present darkness is too much for any of us to handle. In spite of all of this – because of all of this – Christ came into this mess of a world.

Don’t let the story fall flat. Don’t let the repetition make it dull and lifeless. May the story of Christmas come off the pages this year like never before. Let those who are hurting look through the artificial and straight into the heart of God. The Light of the World has come to dispel the darkness once and for all.

A Tale of Two (cartoon) Shepherds…

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I absolutely adore watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV each year. We have the DVD of course, but there’s just something about watching it in real time with commercials and all that really gets to me. I force, I mean ‘gather’ my boys to the TV with Christmas snacks and hot chocolate – they enjoy it, but I wonder for how long. I ask them if they’ll still watch this with me when they are teenagers, they promise they will.

It’s refreshing to see that after years of editing out the ‘overtly religious’ parts of the show, the network is now showing it (gasp!) in it’s original, unedited format.

My kids laugh their way through the same parts every year, my husband (though he may not admit it) sits down on the couch and joins us. I look on Twitter and see that “Charlie Brown Christmas” is trending – a modern day stamp of approval from viewing audiences everywhere. I’m happy that there seem to be people in the world who still care to hear the true story of Christmas, albeit in the form of a cartoon. I sense a collective silence in living rooms across the country as Linus walks up onto the stage to quote Luke and explain the true meaning of Christmas to his friends.

He explains it from the point of the shepherds who were watching over their flocks. He, of course, is a shepherd in the play along with his friend Shermy. The two boys have a very different take, however, on their assigned roles.

Poor Shermy, I think he only speaks one line in the whole show, but you have to feel for the guy:

“Every Christmas it’s the same: I always end up playing a shepherd.”

It’s understandable. The shepherd isn’t a very exciting role. Probably not a lot of action. There’s a director, musicians, animals and even, as Lucy points out, ‘a Christmas Queen.’ Being the quiet shepherd isn’t very exciting.

Linus, on the other hand, seems to embrace his lowly shepherd role. With his security blanket in hand, he steps up and answers Charlie Brown with some straight up Bible truth:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

“Preach it Linus!” I yelled from the couch. The boys looked back at me with scrunched up faces, “shhhh mom, be quiet!”

It’s easy to see our role as small and insignificant. It’s easy to look around at the cast of characters in our real lives and feel like Shermy did. Everyone else has some glitz and glamor, and we find ourselves in a plain, boring role. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s staying at home taking care of kids. Maybe it’s just feeling small.

As we hear the Christmas story again this year, we need to remember something; God chose the shepherds! The biggest, most life-altering news the world has ever seen was announced first to a bunch of nobodies out in a field! God could have done it a million other ways, but he chose shepherds. Why??

Could it be that He wants to remind us that the role we play is an important one, even when we are sighing, “Not again God, please don’t make me a shepherd again!”

Could it be that He wants to honor the humble and lowly of this world with a role far greater than we could ever imagine? Linus was a humble guy, he accepted his role and stepped into the spotlight when he was called upon, and he did it for God’s glory.

There will always be someone with a bigger role than us. If we compare ourselves to them, we will feel small. More importantly, we will miss our calling. Christmas Queens are great, but shepherds remind us that God loves the outcast and the lonely just as much.

At times, we are all the lowly shepherd kid with no lines in the play. We feel like filler in the background. I think we should think twice before we complain about that – God has a habit of searching out the lowly shepherds and revealing His most trusted secrets to them.

Hand Me Another Brick!

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Nehemiah wasn’t exaggerating when he prayed to God saying, “Hear us oh God, for we are despised” (Nehemiah 4:4). Called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and rally the exiles who were already “in great distress” the task itself was difficult. Upon hearing his calling, Nehemiah sat down and wept for many days (1:4).  He humbly accepted his duty and got to work. It wasn’t long before the enemy was also hard at work:

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble–burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Nehemiah 4:1-3

Doing God’s will and His work means coming up against strong opposition from and enemy that would like nothing better than to see us give up and quit. I like smooth sailing as much as the next person, but it just doesn’t work that way in the spiritual realm. God’s people are mocked, teased, threatened and worse for trying to set about the work they have been given. What I love about this story is Nehemiah’s response: 

So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.” (Nehemiah 4:13-15)

This is how it’s done folks! If only we applied this more often to our own setbacks. Here are some things Nehemiah did that I find amazing:
  • He didn’t ignore the fact that there was a problem; It sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s just easier to stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best. The Israelites weren’t just being mocked, they were being threatened. Their task of rebuilding was in jeopardy. As the opposition grew, Nehemiah knew he could not just do nothing. God doesn’t want us to focus on it, but instead acknowledge it and take it to Him.
  • He didn’t respond directly to his accusers;  He looked around and addressed his own people, reminding them that the Lord God, “great and awesome” would fight for them. How hard this is for me sometimes, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and instant news of all kinds where everyone has an opinion they want heard. We are called to speak the Truth and share it in the midst of all the backwards things the world proclaims – but we are also reminded to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes” (2 Timothy 2:23) that only lead to more strife. Nehemiah knew it would be a waste of time arguing with those so set against him – he turned to his fellow workers and he turned to God.
  • He called on the people to PRAY and WATCH; they were to set their hearts to prayer, being watchful for what was to come. Watchmen were set strategically along the wall to be on the lookout for an attack. Being on the lookout places us in a far better position that if we are hit suddenly without warning. Prayer gets us into this position. One without the other doesn’t make much sense, but prayer and watchfulness put together make us strong.
  • He called on the people to PRAY and WORK; The enemy wants to back us into a corner and fill us with fear and discouragement so that we stop our work, or quit altogether. He wants us to sit around and fret. God wants us to keep moving! Nehemiah divided his people up and had half praying while the other half continued the work. They had been assigned something very important, regardless of the opposition that came, they were to stay on task. We do God’s work because we love Him, not because our circumstances are always favorable.

We all have walls that need rebuilding, gates that need fortifying, vulnerable places that need to be patched up so the enemy can’t have access to them over and over. This story encourages me to go after the things God has told me to do without the fear of failure or ridicule nagging at me in the back of my mind.  It is nice when things just seem to fall into place, many things worth having, however, are going to come at a price. How amazing to walk through that fire of discouragement, conflict and disappointment and come out on the other side just where God intended us to be.

“Those who built on the walls, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon”… (4:17).

There it is in a nutshell: Hold your weapon in one hand and keep working with the other! Don’t go about it alone, be someone’s watchman. Be a prayer warrior for someone who is hurting. Take your eyes off of the opposition and those who ridicule you – put them squarely on God and restore all those walls that have been torn down, they will be stronger than they ever were before.