On Burnout

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength
(Isaiah 30:15).

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Journal entry from April 19, 2007. I’m tired, so very tired. And it’s my own doing. I control my own schedule, so why did I do this to myself? I’m neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, and I’m neglecting my family’s needs for my own. I’m tired physically and emotionally and can feel depression creeping in. It’s time to say no to everyone today and spend time with God. Just for now. For one hour, I’m going to focus on Jesus. Shut out the needs and screams of others demanding my attention.

You take care of them, Lord. I give the whole package up to you: my schedule, the people in my life, my day, my accomplishments. Today is Your day. I will take it at Your pace, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I pray that You will screen my interruptions today. Guide my every thought. Amen.

April 20. Yesterday was rejuvenating to me. I took the whole day just for me. I deep-cleaned the house, balanced the checkbook, sorted stuff out, made cookies, went shopping for groceries. The one thing I didn’t do was answer the 25 phone calls that rang! It felt awful doing so, but I was beyond caring. I knew I had to take care of myself before I could take care of others. It felt so good to get my house in order. Now I’m ready to serve again.

Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Lift up your voice to God.
Praise with the spirit and with understanding,
O magnify the Lord.

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.

 

Dress for God’s House

You shall reverence my sanctuary (Leviticus 26:2).

I grew up on the mission field attending a church with backless mud benches, a cement floor, and a tin roof. The worshipers arrived each Sunday decked out in their very best attire. One day I was amused to observe a lady proudly wearing a bra over top of her clothing. (Bras were unheard of in that village, so I assume she was showing off her new purchase from the village market.)

I’ve listened to the debate between the old and the young regarding what is acceptable attire for church. My mother believed we should wear our best on Sunday morning in the sanctuary to show honor to God. My children think that God doesn’t really care what we wear.

I say both are correct—or both are wrong.

If I dress up in order to impress people, then I’m a hypocrite if I claim I’m doing it for God. In my African village, the American tradition of wearing a new Easter outfit was unheard of, but at the day-long Christmas service every single person in attendance had to have new clothes–for show I surmise. If we proclaim that we must give God our best on Sunday mornings, then why don’t we show up in tuxedos and formal gowns? (My mother did not have an answer for that one.) I wonder sometimes, however, if coming to church in sloppy or casual clothing results in sloppy or casual worship. On the other hand, if I arrive feeling comfortable in my clothing, I’m not distracted by hurting feet in high heels.

How much does culture weigh into this discussion? If I attend a church where the norm is more formal, it is appropriate to honor that culture. If casual is acceptable, then you might feel out of place showing up in a suit coat. In either case, we are admonished not to judge each other over our attire.

Does God really care what I wear to church? I doubt it. I think He’s more interested in my heart.

What do you think?

 

Pagan Holidays

In II Kings 23:4-7 we’re told that King Josiah cleansed the temple—not a synagogue, but the sacred temple in Jerusalem—where articles for Satan worship had been used for several decades. By now, asherah poles and houses for male prostitutes were fixtures.

Having been to this holy site in Jerusalem, it is unconscionable to me that anything unholy was ever permitted there. How could the people have strayed so far from the God who loved them? Josiah was 8 years old when crowned king, and 18 years later he discovers The Book of the Law and begins to obey God’s commandments. Up to that point in his lifetime, he had no clue what true worship was supposed to look like.

The question for us today is—what festivals do we practice that have pagan origins or overtones? Why do we celebrate Halloween? Christmas? Easter? I know some who have taken a stand against these holidays and refuse to go trick-or-treating, put up Christmas trees, or pexels-photo-356330decorate Easter eggs. I can respect that. But I don’t think it’s evil to display a tree in my house or send my kids on an egg hunt. In the past I’ve rolled my eyes at those who condemn these holidays as being pagan in origin and therefore shun all activities associated with them—and then I begin to think what if they were right? And what would it take for me to buck the culture and stand up for what’s right and holy and God-ordained?

Finding out the origin of Halloween is a no-brainer. But did Christmas and Easter begin in paganism or with Christ-followers? I hate what Christmas has turned into, and I cringe when I see bunnies and eggs in our churches. Why? Because Easter baskets weren’t part of my upbringing, and because of its association, I guess, to the fertility goddess. Perhaps, like Josiah’s day, we’ve strayed far from the purity of our original celebrations.

And then we rationalize. They may have pagan origins, but Christians say they have reclaimed the holidays for God. We’re not worshipping anyone but the one true God—even if we hide Easter eggs in our backyard—and we’ve turned the symbol into a Resurrection Egg. Is it ONLY a matter of the heart that’s important? The birth of Christ and His resurrection are legitimate historical events—so why shouldn’t we celebrate them?

My mind is free-wheeling here, but the thought crosses my mind that if these two holidays were truly of pagan origin, we wouldn’t celebrate them . . . or would we?

What if I found out, like Josiah, that I’d been doing it all wrong all my life? Would I have the courage to stand up to culture?

But It’s Against the Rules!

 

RefereeThis may be a hot topic for some, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve changed my views on this subject over time. I’ve moved from dogmatically opposed to cautious acceptance to taking my hand off the lid of the box and letting God be God. I’ve come to realize that some rules are guidelines, not always absolutes.

  • The posted minimum speed limit on the freeway is 40.
    But in fog or heavy snow, it would be foolish to try to maintain that speed.
  • The rule stated that only priests were allowed to eat the holy showbread.
    When there was no other food available, King David ate some of the consecrated bread and was not condemned for his action.
  • The fourth commandment says to keep the Sabbath day holy.
    Jesus healed the sick and “harvested” grain on the Sabbath.
  • The norm was for male judges to rule over Israel.
    One of the 12 judges in the Bible was Deborah.

The norm is for male pastors to provide church leadership. Can there be exceptions without violating Paul’s instructions to Timothy?

What do you think?

 

Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?

Faithful till the day I Die – Lessons from Joshua

mountainThere are few major characters in the Bible whose character flaws are not mentioned. Joshua happens to be one of them. He was on Mount Sinai with Moses AND he was in the tent of meeting with him when Moses spoke to God face to face. In fact, Scripture says that when Moses left that tent, Joshua did not leave. This young man, son of Nun, quietly ministered to Moses for 40 years as his right hand man. He observed firsthand how God interacted with his 80+-year-old mentor, and he learned his lessons well in how to trust and have faith.

I wonder if Joshua ever struggled in the beginning with jealousy over Moses’ chosen leadership role? And later did he think, “No way would I want that job!” But God rewards his faithfulness and places him in that very position after Moses dies. I wonder if he knew he was being groomed for this job?

Can I be faithful in the role God has placed me, trusting that it’s all for a purpose–no matter how long it takes?

Gifts to Men

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8)

When Jesus returned to heaven, He gave gifts to men. I’m not sure exactly what gifts the Apostle Paul was referring to, but it got me to thinking. When He chooses one person to have a good voice and another to excel at math, it’s a gift. As children, we wanted equal gifts, and we wanted what our peers had. As adults, we want what our family, friends, or neighbors have. We want life to be equal and fair. I suppose everybody struggles with this on some level.

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Imagine it’s Christmas morning and Jesus is handing out gifts. Are you jealous of what your brother or sister got? Why? Perhaps theirs is the thing you wanted and didn’t get or you didn’t like what you got.

But I look down at my gift and discover it’s tailored just for me. It’s exactly what I needed. It’s perfect for what I wanted. I’m delighted with His choice—because He knows me and He knows my heart. He created me, and He knows what will give me pleasure. But even more than that, He knows that I’ll use the gift that He’s given me to minister to others in order to bring Him glory. And in this way, my brothers and sisters can benefit from it. And then they share their gifts with me, and I benefit.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

Gary Chapman has made popular The Five Love Languages, one of which is “gift-giving.” Giving is not my first love language, so I would do well to observe how the Father does it. God is an extravagant gift-giver. I cannot give Him anything in return that would equal His gifts. Therefore, it is never an exchange of gifts (like we tend to do at Christmastime). I am the child handing Him a dandelion, when He has given me a botanical flower garden. He even made the wildflower that I’m offering to Him.

But . . . just as I delighted in receiving a dandelion from my [then] two-year-old Grandson Ben, offered in love and innocence, God delights in me when I offer to Him my gifts—not just in gratitude—but out of love. I choose to give Him my heart, and His heart melts, just as mine does when Ben or Jack give me something of themselves, like a picture for my bulletin board.

Ben 2017

Nativity by Ben Wallace, age 5

What Is Joy?

Relax Woman looking sea on the beach

Contentment for the body = pleasure.
Contentment for the soul = happiness.
Contentment for the spirit = joy. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

I asked my daughter Katie if she would rather have peace or would she rather have joy? Both are fruits of the spirit. Katie said she would opt for joy, while I gravitate toward peace, but I think they’re related somehow.

I know I need to put more joy into my life. I’m way too serious. (Scott says his job in life is to keep life interesting for me). But what is joy exactly? Elation? Exuberance? People try to differentiate between joy and happiness saying happiness is dependent on circumstances while joy is not. That joy is not an emotion. Yet I experience a lot of emotion when I feel joy.

Joy is running, skipping, dancing, doing cartwheels in wild abandonment. Joy is swinging from a vine and feeling your stomach drop. Sadness and sorrow are on a lower, earthly plane. Joy is above the earth, on a supernatural plane that sees heaven, an absence of pain, a future and at hope. It’s flying above the clouds. It’s mental; it’s emotional; it’s physical. And it’s spiritual when it includes God. He invites me to enjoy Him!

I have told you these things [about abiding in Him] that my joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be full measure and complete and overflowing (John 15:11).

I see Joy as a little girl laughing and dancing in the wind just before the onset of a storm, leaves swirling at her feet, the air heavy with  impending rain. As I watch, the scene decelerates to slow motion, and Joy is alone in the universe. The surroundings fade away and she hears singing; she’s suspended in midair, caught in light by a force that is greater than herself, cocooned, as it were, in softness and delight, comfort and safety, rocked gently back and forth as a baby on a bed of angel wings. Total calm; perfect peace. Joy.

Joy is defined as “Someone is glad to be with me.”
Joy is high energy; shalom is quiet and low-energy.
Joy is relational; shalom is a cozy sense that everything is right.
(Joy Starts Here, by Jim Wilder, et. al.)

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come.

On Sabbath Rest

Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’ (Exodus 31:13).

When I was a child, my parents had strict rules about what we were permitted to do on Sunday: No work, no traveling, no board games, no knitting, no lawn-mowing, no shopping, etc. etc. We were told that we were keeping the Sabbath day holy or “set apart” as a day of worship. But when I discovered that the fourth commandment actually referred to Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, I became quite confused.

And then I read this verse in Exodus that says the Sabbaths (plural) were intended for a sign between God and the Jews. Does this mean that, as a Gentile, I need to keep the Ten Commandments, minus one?

To confuse the matter even more, we’re told in Colossians 2:16 (NIV): Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

In 1989 when we moved into our house on 8th Street in Holland, Michigan, I noticed a drain in the center of the attached garage. One benefit of garage drains, we were told, was for Dutchmen to be able to wash their cars on Sunday without being seen by their neighbors. Apparently judgment was alive and well!

One day as I was pondering this subject, I came across this quote: “Rest is not something one does; it is Someone one knows” (Yashanet.com). Jesus is my Sabbath rest! That means that I can be in a perpetual state of rest. I don’t have to wait for Day #7 for a forced time of inactivity or cessation from work. My soul can be at rest 24-7 if I live by faith, obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, place my cares in God’s hands, and stay connected to Him. This removes the guilt of trying to figure out what is or what isn’t classified as work.

Is there a physical law of nature that says we benefit from a day of rest? Yes, of course. My body belongs to God, and I’m to take care of it in a healthy way, not abuse it or overwork it perpetually by choice or by drive or by emotion. Working for the kingdom can be stressful but peaceful. Resting can be hard work too. A forced rest due to a broken leg or a hospital stay can be less than peaceful. It’s the heart attitude that determines how well we rest.church-in-the-middle-of-the-field_1088-86

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art.
I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.