Saturday, August 28, 2010

In the Wilderness

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Do you ever find yourself asking God, “Why am I here? God why have you brought me to this place in life or a certain physical state?” I have been asking this question the last two weeks with moving not only to a different state out of the Midwest---but into a city! You can imagine how foreign it feels to a girl who comes from a state with more cows than people! It wasn’t unexpected, in fact, I somewhat chose to come here for schooling but it was a really long process of applying and waiting and so when it actually happened, It was like “Oh! Ok—well just kidding, maybe I’m not ready!” It’s not that I feel ultra homesick or that I dislike this place, it’s more of a, ‘Ok God, now what? It’s hard to feel your presence here and I feel like I don’t really have certain directions on what to do now that I’m here.” I’m sure you can relate to the guessing game that often goes on in ones head when they’re at this place, “Is it because I am going to meet my future husband? Is it because I am going to lead a bunch of people to Christ? Is it because I am going to be challenged ?” And on and on soon leaving me in this state of anxiety, frustration and discontentment. I wake up in the middle of the night unable to sleep because of my mind thinking about the next day or just seeking comfort. This cloud of loneliness will suddenly appear of my head and I am somewhat paralyzed from being a light to those around me throughout my days. My quiet times have been superficial and brief with my prayers ending up in tears and desires to feel God’s presence. Can you relate? There was a group of individuals in the Bible who had somewhat of a different circumstance but have shown some similarities to my situation---the Israelites .

The Psalmist describes their condition in Psalm 106 in light of God’s steadfast love. They were led out of captivity in Egypt and into the wilderness or desert. Though a series of events they found themselves being disobedient to God and their leaders, Moses and Joshua. The first part of the Psalm describes God’s steadfast love and praises him for all of his wondrous works (v 1-7). He leads them through, not over it, not under it but through the Red Sea (still amazes me!) and saved them from their enemies.

The scripture transitions into a portion, a rather lengthy one, of the Psalm that describes their discontentment, forgetfulness and disobedience to God. They begin worshipping other idols in fact this verse gives an immediate snapshot of their state “ They exchanged the glory of God, for the image of an ox that eats grass.” I mean, come on! A cow? Really? (Just wait, I’ll get to our modern-day ‘cows’ in minute). This portion carries on throughout most of the passage until verse 44 where it says this:

“Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. He caused them to be pitied by all who held him captive.” (V44-46) ESV

Do you see that! What a remarkable God we serve. Seriously though, think of how it would feel to know that you deserve recognition for something huge and it goes to a cow. Does our God not have the most immense love and patience for us pitiful people. At this point you maybe thinking, “Well Joni, in your circumstance you’re not worshipping cows –you’re just wondering why in the world you’re in Little Rock!” True. But my discontentment stems from the same discontentment of the Israelites and it’s the need to know what’s going on when things are completely out of my hands: why am I in this wilderness?

I, like the Israelites, find myself ‘wandering’ and becoming consumed with ‘figuring out God’s will for me here’ that I am paralyzed from simply trusting Him and listening for His directions. So often I play god in my mind and attempt to figure out tomorrow before I complete living today; attempting to piece my life together so I know what to expect after the season I’m in. So when I am not feeling the Spirit, I become consumed with other gods—my body, my school work/job-related work, being consumed with the next guy I meet or talk to being ‘the one’---aka, Joni’s ‘cows.’ So you get it---now what? I’m still in a city and am not resting in the Lord. I found comfort for the first time yesterday in the words of a passage of scripture that is about as popular as John 3:16---Psalm 23. Let’s read it together/recite it because I’m sure you know 

“1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. (for anecdotes)

I actually listened to a sermon by a pastor Todd Wagner at Watermark Church in Dallas, TX entitled “By Still Waters” ( He presented both of these passages within his sermon and I felt like the sermon was directed towards me (even though it was actually preached back in 2006! Scripture is timeless, amen?) He described how when we are not at rest in God---when we are consumed with the anxieties of life—we are being disobedient to God and we are sinning! Even though “worry” is not listed in the Ten Commandments or necessarily in those lists throughout the New Testament—like fruits of the flesh, worry is a sin! We are not putting our full faith in God. Additionally, he pointed out something unique—that sleep is actually an act of faith! When we rest—we are trusting that God will provide. The world shouts “Be efficient, be effective and don’t waste a minute of your day!” When in reality, God is calling us to rest! To be called into a place of quiet waters and green pastures of rest. After listening to the sermon and going before the Lord in prayer I felt as though the Spirit just breathed these words into my heart “ Just be all here Joni. Just simply exist here where I have you. You are not missing out on anything anywhere else.” I may never know exactly why I am here but it’s ok, because God does! And after the past two weeks of mayhem, I found myself finally collapsing from my rigid-state of discontentment and resting in the Lord—allowing him to ‘make me lie down in green pastures.’

One final encouragement---I am a big fan of this song by Watermark (how ironic!) called
“The Purest Place.” ( And in their lyrics they describes where the purest place to be is in Jesus Christ—no matter if we are in the best place on earth or somewhat in the wilderness, we can find rest, peace, and joy in being in the purest place with God. What a gift to simply “dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.” Seek your Shepherd today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Over-turning Tables in Life--a devo from Matthew 21

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What are you protective of? If you were caught in a fire and could only retrieve one thing from your home, what item would it be? Are you protective of your schedule; if someone randomly asks you to do something, are you able to deviate from your regular routine to either help or be with that person? What about your body? Are you protective of how much food you eat; how much exercise you perform and what goes it? Here’s a scenario—if a total stranger said that one of your siblings or even your spouse said something wrong or did something wrong how would you react? Would you abandon your family member to the testimony of that complete stranger?

These are all things that I have been wrestling with. The act of protecting your body, following a schedule, and contemplating what a person outside your family says about a member are all legitimate things to be concerned with but like everything life, there’s a balance. I have noticed a few things within our society and American culture that frustrate me about the concept of protection. Even more bothersome, some of these things are part of my own life. I find myself becoming angry or overly sensitive to things that are not truly close to my heart and are not my first on my priority list of needing to protect. Anger itself is not wrong, it is the act of sinning when we are angry. I feel like anger can serve as a good indicator of the status of my heart. A passage of scripture that has intrigued me on this topic of protection and anger is repeated throughout the Gospels. It is the account of when “Jesus Cleanses the Temple.” I so wish I could have personally witnessed this event in Christ’s life not because I want to see Jesus mad, but I feel like it would empower me more to protect things that are important to God and that I am called to protect when I associate with Christ. Let’s read the passage together from the gospel of Matthew (or you can check out Mark and Luke’s version as well!)

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
12(O) And Jesus entered the temple[b] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of(P) the money-changers and the seats of those who sold(Q) pigeons. 13He said to them, "It is written,(R) 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but(S) you make it a den of robbers."
14(T) And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15(U) But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple,(V) "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, 16and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes;(W) have you never read,
(X) "'Out of the mouth of(Y) infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise'?"
17And(Z) leaving them, he(AA) went out of the city to(AB) Bethany and lodged there.

Matthew 21:12-17 ESV

Wow. How would you react if someone walked into your church this Sunday and overturned different tables (on the account you were selling something of course---not just a random fit of rage). I am trying to even put myself in the place of someone at the temple that day; you know what’s sad, I think I would think in my head “Jesus, settle down, just talk to them and have them remove the tables.” Almost react like an embarrassed child at the grocery store when mom gets upset with the packing of groceries or upset with dad when he is yelling at a umpire at a baseball game---but this is Jesus Christ—the Holy and Anointed Son of our God. The ESV commentary describes the situation as this market-like setting at the temple of travelers to exchange currency and a place to purchase animals for sacrifices. Notice how the church in this case, is simply trying to make something convenient to the people coming and going in the city and those that attend the temple. Jesus compared this scene to a den of robbers---where people “store wealth or store their ill-gotten wealth and plot future crimes” (ESV Study Bible Commentary). Now, I am not trying to accuse the modern-church’s efforts to provide fellowship with coffee shops or different sitting areas because I think those are great; but we must keep a perspective of protecting our temple, our church from becoming like a den of robbers. This is not just the physical building itself, but rather the body meaning the people---what do your conversations consist of when you’re together? Are you meeting together to take care of business or meeting together to lift one another up in prayer and bless one another in fellowship and company?

Notice how Jesus, in verse 14 immediately switches gears to healing people and the first group at the temple to recognize this was…..children! Yes! The children at the temple were able to recognize Jesus as the Son of David and worship him the way we all should. The “regulars” or the chief priests were skeptical and they became angry at Jesus for doing these things. AH! So backwards! But I can totally see how I would be one of these regulars---standing back and saying, “Really Jesus? Why do you have to do that now and look, the children are getting all out of control praising you as the promised Savior.” Obviously if I am seeing this type of reaction with Jesus Christ you can only imagine what my other relationships look like in this area of protection. I become so concerned with what is politically correct and fearful of man’s opinions that I forget about imprisoned souls. Here are just a few examples in my life that I am choosing to be vulnerable with you on in sharing because I think it can shed some light when you are looking at your own life:

Wrongful Protection Example #1- I will choose to skip morning coffee or breakfast with my family because I like to get up by myself, eat by myself and carry out my own routine. I do believe we need to spend time with the Lord alone but to be so consumed with a morning routine to neglect spending time with family is selfish and almost abandonment of a vital communication time with my family.

Wrongful Protection Example #2- Sometimes my mom will share about an event that happened in her day whether at work or just in public where she is blantenly disrespected or the opposite situation where she shows Christ’s love to someone by giving money to a homeless person and I immediately become critical of her and think—“Oh mom, you probably did something to aggravate someone,” or “mom—you need to be careful in giving to homeless people.” Obviously my mom is not perfect but how often do we abandon the testimony of our immediate family member (Spouse, mother, father and sibling) on account of another person’s opinion. We almost shoot ourselves in the foot! There’s a passage that talks about meeting the needs our immediate family members first before we go out and administer to those who are in need outside of our home. Are you quick to give money to a total stranger before you loan money to a family member?

Wrongful Protection Example #3- I love running. I run everyday. Sometimes I become cranky when I can’t run on certain days. I will wake up early, run in the heat of the day, or go out at night just so I can have that time to run. I like coffee and tea—I will get excited to wake up in the morning just so I can make that coffee or tea and if I run out, I will walk over to a coffee shop at 6 am just to get it. I hate procrastination and so I will often study two weeks in advance in efforts to prepare for an exam. I will become defensive if I don’t have plenty of time--even if it is at the expense of spending precious moments with family and friends. Notice how quick I am to defend these things; my body, my hobbies, food and intellectual gain? It’s not wrong to like these things or to prepare for an exam—but notice how I become angry at this but the minute either my family or I see another group of Christians doing something outwardly for Christ—I become critical and somewhat abandon what I should be protecting?

Infidelity is spreading like wildfire in our country—why? Because we give in and abandon to the sin and temptation of sexual sin. Husbands are willing to protect their need of pleasure and fulfillment while abandoning their wife and family. Women are willing to sacrifice precious time with their children in efforts to work just one more hour a day at the office; willing to have someone else raise their child so they can climb the cooperate ladder and obtain a goal. Kids are willing to spend hours on Facebook and communicate with friends every single day yet neglect to read their Bible; as students, they are quick to memorize a textbook but to memorize a single verse from the Bible is like pulling out teeth. I am just as guilty in some of these areas.

Think of Christ in his last few hours before he was crucified; what were the disciples doing? Sleeping. Later on, when Christ was being arrested, where were his disciples? Running away, denying association with him and even selling information to the authorities. AH! That’s totally me! Please, please, please take notice to little areas of your life that you are abandoning Christ in. We are not even in the heat of persecution and we are so quick to “sell-out” Christ. If we can’t protect these little things, how can or will we withstand the firey trials that will undoubtedly come in this life? We need to protect the things that we are called to—especially relationships that we are entrusted with---the most important one needing to be protected is with Christ. Do you need to “turn some tables” like Jesus did at the temple in your own life? Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you and the passage from Matthew and the other gospels empower you to become fiercely protective of the Truth and the pursuit of being like Christ.