So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

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First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

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Where Does It Hurt?

hurtI came across this quote on the internet last night.   It spoke to so much of what was rolling around in my head.  On Friday evening as the attack on Paris was unfolding, I was in a meeting.  We were kind of secluded, and thus none of us were aware what was happening while we sat dishing out a to do list for our team of conference volunteers.

Over the past 46 days I have been slowly working my way through the Psalms.  My head has been swimming in the scriptures, where God’s people are calling out to him.  They are asking for divine intervention, they are looking to God to overthrow their enemies, they are seeking his protection, provision, and favor.

When I came across this quote… I thought of Paris.  I thought of Israel.  I thought of Africa.  I thought of Haiti, South America, and so many other places that are aching & have been for some time.  For some it is civil unrest, famine, poverty, medical crisis, abuse, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, genocide, evil and corrupt leaders…

I have also thought about those who are on our very streets, in the United States, suffering due to addiction, homelessness, untreated illnesses, mental illness…

I can’t help but to think of those who have prodigal children, missing family members, deployed spouses, terminal illness…

In a time of medical advancements, technology, wealth, and so many other things that should put things in our favor and give us the means to help others on a global scale…

The world hurts.

It cries out.

God do you hear me?  Do you hear my prayers?

Do not forget your servants, God!

Do not turn your face from us, do not withhold your blessing!

Lord, deliver us from our enemies.  Bring us into your presence.

For forty three of those verses were cries out to God (yes, some praises too.. but mostly cries).  This is the world today.  As I came into verses 45 and 46, I found a new page, a new voice.  Full of praises of the wonder and awesomeness of God and the Anointed One. 

The may be pain in the night.  But joy comes in the morning.  When the oceans rage, I don’t have to be afraid.  I know that YOU love me, your love never fails.

Praising you through the tears, clinging to your word.  Your world aches Lord, but our hope remains in you.  Examine us Lord, show us our iniquities, so that we may repent and be washed clean.  Do not forget your servants, you are our refuge and our protector.  We will sing of your glory forever.

Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  Selah.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress  Selah.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.  “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.

#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

#Write31Days – Post 11 – Waiting on the Lord

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A little bit of truth here, I am NOT the world’s most patient person.  I really hate to wait for anything.  It’s not from a space of instant gratification either, it is actually everything else.  I don’t like to wait because I feel like time is being wasted.  There are other things I could be doing in that time, that are important and need to be accomplished.  Or,  on the other side of the coin, I don’t want to waste another minute not doing the thing I have been called to do.

When my daughter went to the DMV to get her learners permit, it was tortuous.  I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of things I could be doing instead of sitting.  Just sitting.  Her number gets called, but it is just to prepare her paperwork.  Then we have to sit again.  Then she takes the written exam, and we have to sit again.  She is then called back up for the eye exam, to answer a few questions for her license and take her photo.  We sit again, waiting for the license to be printed.

SO. MUCH. WAITING.

There have been times that I could see where God was moving me, long before I actually got there.  Waiting would be so hard, because I knew that we were just wasting time.  If I could get there NOW, so much more could be accomplished.

GOD SAYS WAIT.

But, waiting is hard.  Ask any three year old who is waiting on mom to get off the phone and fix the thing that she broke for the hundredth time that day.

WAITING IS HARD.

Our world of increased technology has created in us a spirit that we shouldn’t have to wait, not for long anyway.  We have information available to us at the touch of a button.  An oil change on our car can be done during our lunch break.  Meals are ready and waiting at drive through windows.  We do not have to suffer through life due to infertility we can adopt, we can have medical interventions, and surrogate mothers.  Anything we need, we can just go right out and buy.  We no longer have to wait for things to be constructed or manufactured.  Thanks to flight, I can leave my home and go anywhere in the world in a day’s time.

All of this progress has made waiting all that much harder.

But the Lord, He waits.  Bible account, after Bible account…. He waits.

He waits long enough for Noah to build an Ark.  Israel wanders the desert for forty years while He prepares a place. He waits for Lot to flee. Nehemiah waits four months while God makes provisions for the task ahead.  Even after Christ is crucified, the Lord waited three days for him to rise.

We have all heard and said the cliched response of “In the Lord’s timing….”.  We know the scriptures say that His ways are not our ways.  So we know in our minds that His timing is not our timing…. but the flesh doesn’t like that answer.  Waiting is hard.

This is where we begin to make our biggest mistakes.

As a wife, I may have come to a decision about something I feel God is calling us to.  My husband doesn’t agree.  I rush him to a decision in my favor by manipulating him, as I walk through the home depressed and crying.  I withhold affection from him, yell and demean him, make him feel guilty.

As a ministry worker, I see the direction that God is leading our ministry.  However the things we need to get there are slow in coming.  I take it upon myself to make things move faster.  I work in my own strength and ability.

I feel called to move to another state, but I don’t know the rhyme or reason, I sell everything and pack the family up, and we move.  I have no clue why, or what for.  I am following blindly.

The thing we have to understand is that when it is something God has willed for us, we must be patient and allow him to unfold it in HIS timing, not our own.

When we rush God, we will often shortchange our blessing.   God had a bigger picture in store, but because we were foolish and couldn’t wait… we get something smaller.  The reason this happens is that we are incapable of seeing or knowing all of the things that God is moving around in the background.

In every piece of scripture God’s people waited because God was doing something.  God was giving Noah the time he needed to construct the Ark.  God was PREPARING a place for Israel to call home.  God was PROVIDING the necessities Nehemiah would need for his task.  God was CHANGING the hearts of men.  God was PROTECTING his children.

God goes before us, and he comes behind.

As we sit and wait, we feel like God is doing nothing… but in reality GOD IS DOING EVERYTHING.  Everything that is necessary to get your from point A to point B.  He isn’t being still, ignoring your prayers, nor has he forgotten the calling He put on your heart.  He is making the arrangements for it to happen.  He will move people into place that you will need to learn from or will assist you.  He is making sure the financial provisions are met, or the supplies are provided.  If you are to fill a vacancy, he must first make it vacant and move that person to their new calling.

The good news is that waiting on the Lord is never a waste of time.  There are many things we can be doing, actively, while we wait.  I look at “waiting on the Lord” in the same way as a waitress will serve a customer.  A good waitress (servant) doesn’t just seat her patron (God) and never return to the table.  NO!  She welcomes the patron to her table (life).  She may compliment (praise) him.  She will offer to get a drink while he is making his decision (service, offering).  She will take his order (receive his calling).  She will check in with him to ensure everything is to his liking (prayer life).  She will present His bill & He will pay that price (Christ).  She invites him to come back (willing to continue to serve).

In the time that it takes a customer to place an order the waitress is never WAITING, just wasting time sitting around.  In fact, while He is considering the menu… what is she doing?  Rushing around and serving other people.  No time is wasted.  Her waiting is not passive, but very VERY active.

When God told Noah that He was going to flood the earth, Noah was given the time to construct the Ark. Noah was actively working while God was preparing.  When Moses wandered the desert with Israel, Moses  was actively ordering the nation’s laws, societal structure, and people.   When God called Nehemiah to return to rebuild Jerusalem, there were four months between when God planted the seed and when God called Nehemiah to move.  In the four months, Nehemiah was praying while God was putting things into order.

These men were not sitting under a tree, like lumps, waiting for God to deliver them to their calling on a silver platter.  NO.  They were working, they were building, they were shaping, they were serving and they were praying.

If you are waiting on God,  it is time to get to action.  This doesn’t mean moving mountains to make Him move faster in your desires.  It means that while you are waiting on God to answer your prayers or his provision… you are:

Serving God in the ministries of your church or in your community.

Serving God’s people through hospitality, generosity, use of your gifts and talents.

Praying, faithfully, every day.  Not just for yourself, but for others.

Praise God as you reflect and share with others how He has moved in your life in the past.

Pray for discernment that God will direct your paths for today, and you will not worry about the days to come.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSONS FOR OUR GOOD

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I have been taking classes with Christian Leaders Institute, and I am currently finishing up my Old Testament Survey class.  Before I took this class, I was already in love with the Old Testament.  I actually find it very relatable to the every day struggle we have to do what God has asked of us.  This class has really helped bring to the forefront some points I may have been glossing over.

In the Old Testament, God set out some very specific directions for Israel.  In fact, it couldn’t have been more clearly stated.  It was repeated over and over again.  It was even written down.  For all intents and purposes, there was absolutely NO REASON Israel should have had trouble understanding what was expected of her.  Yet, time and time again, Israel would fall away from those directions and do her own thing.

And, time and time again, God would send someone to set her straight.

To most people, today, they do not see the direction of God very clearly.  In fact, an overwhelming number of prayers revolve around people wanting to understand what God’s will is for their life.  Praying for his plans to be revealed to them, praying for His will to be done in a situation.  And, as Gentile believers, we didn’t get such a specific list of what we should and should be doing as Israel did.  This became a point of conversation at a council meeting amongst the disciples and elders.  They flat out admitted that they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to keep a law, that they couldn’t even keep as God’s chosen people.  So, they went into prayer & came up with a few chosen things.

Even Christ, himself, left us with two commandments.  Love God.  Love one another.

So… what does that mean about all of those rules?  What do we do? How do we follow God?    We are left having to work that out with God, one on one…. daily, hourly… minute by minute, at times.  Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit to convict us and guide us.

But, let’s go back to Israel in the Old Testament for a second.  Actually, lets go back to the beginning.

God created everything, including man and woman.  He set out some pretty simple rules.  Tend to the garden. Name the animals.  Have babies.  And, don’t eat from that tree over there… or you will die.  Adam and Eve were not bound to the rules that would eventually be placed upon Israel.  And, the serpent managed to derail them from the most simple set of rules ever given.

They had it easy.  They walked with God.  They didn’t have the weight of sin upon them yet.  They had NO REASON to disobey God.  But, they did.  And, it would cost them & forever changed their relationship with God.  He would no longer walk among them, as he once did.

Over time the burdens on God’s people would grow from this original sin.  And God would continually pick people to step up & save Israel from her own doing.

The world would become so wicked, that the only way to make it better would be to send a flood to wipe away all the evil… save a man and his family, whom God favored.  All evil was wiped away, yet sin remained and flourished, after the flood waters rescinded.

God would hear the cries of his people, enslaved & oppressed, and rise up a man to deliver them from the hands of their captives.  Moses would lead the nation of Israel, making a covenant with God, setting up some very clear directions and expectations.  Yet despite their deliverance from captivity, Israel couldn’t keep it together.  Every time Moses would step away to commune with God, they’d start doing their own thing again.  And even their leader wouldn’t make it to the Promised Land, because of sin.

In the time to follow, when Israel was without a leader or a king, Israel would once again go about doing her own thing.  Each man doing what was right within his own eyes, what made sense to him.  They would fall under oppression and hard times, and God would hear their cries.  He would raise up a judge to bring Israel back into the fold.  But, scripture tells us repeatedly, that as soon as the judge would die, Israel would go back to her old ways.  Doing what seemed right, in their own eyes.  Israel could only keep it together when there was a leader, headship… person of authority, in place.  And even then, they were still messing up some.

Then, when earthly kings were raised up…. sin was still abound.  Even that king, who was a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t follow the rules.  Simple rules, written out, taught by the priests, and with warnings from the prophets.

A theme here in the OT, is Israel’s inability to follow the rules.  But when you look closely, you will notice part of that theme is that they did better when they had a clearly defined leader.  But, as soon as that leader was out of the picture, they couldn’t keep it together.

Fast forward to Nehemiah.  By this point, Israel had really messed up & they were paying the price for it.  They had been taken into captivity into Babylon.  Jerusalem, the city and the temple both, were destroyed.  They were displaced and scattered.  They were breaking all sort of rules from worshiping the gods of the locals, intermarriage with people who were clearly on the “do not marry” list, they were not sacrificing for any sort of atonement, and were once again doing their own thing.  The law was forgotten.  New generations had come, and had no understanding of what God had done for Israel in the past, and what His expectations for them were.  In Ezra we learn that God softened the heart of the Persian King (who was now over Babylon) and allowed Israel to return to it’s city & rebuild it (and the temple), seeking favor from God.  They get there, come up against some opposition and everything stalls.  Then Nehemiah gets wind of what has happened, he is grieved over it, and with the permission of the king, he returns to Jerusalem and takes on the big task of putting it all back together again.  Not just the physical city, but also the people and more importantly spiritually.  They find the Book of Law and share it with the people.  Everyone is reminded of what God had done for Israel, they grieve over their sins, they renew the covenant, and everything looks great.

Then, Nehemiah goes back to the king’s house to do his job.  What happens when Nehemiah leaves?  In short order, it all falls apart.  Once again, without that leader that God raised up…. Israel can’t keep it together.

So…. after all that history lesson (LOL)… how is this relatable to us today?

While we don’t have the same Book of Law that Israel was given, there are some things we do know.

We know that were a supposed to do what is good, noble and true.  We know that we are to be honest, hard workers, ethical and moral.  We know that we are supposed to submit to God, our spouse, etc.

Yet… when the cat is away, the mice will play.

The boss is out of town?  Great, lets toss the required suits and wear jeans and tshirts all week.

Dad isn’t home?  Cool, we can bend some of his rules with the kids… right mom?

Not in church today?  No problem, go right ahead and overcharge your customer.

Teacher is absent?  No big deal, we can skip class or tell the substitute that we were going to watch a movie.

When left to our own devices, when our leadership & authority is out of sight…. we don’t follow rules.

We speed when the cops aren’t looking.

We change or relax the rules when the other parent isn’t home.

We do bare minimum work when our boss isn’t around.

And, we don’t even think twice about it.

Which is exactly why I am glad that the story didn’t end with Nehemiah.  I am so grateful for the New Testament, which gives our stiff necked, wayward selves… HOPE.  Hope that came in the form of a baby, who would walk this earth sinless, yet pay the price for the sins that had already been committed & the MANY yet to come.

When Christ left, we once again began to falter.  In fact, the two rules he left us with… Love God, love others.  We have a hard time just following those.  We are the same today, as Israel of the Old Testament.  Everyone doing their own thing, and what seems right in their own eyes.   And, just like they were waiting for a Messiah then…. we await His return now.

The truth is, we really know what we should be doing.  In many ways, it is simpler for us now (after Christ) than it was for those in the Old and New Testament during his ministry and just after.  The question is, what are you doing about it?  Are you accepting that you’ll never be perfect & making excuses and exceptions to what God wants from you?  Or, do you have an open mind, heart and soul… wholly surrendered and trying to do what God asks of you to the best of your abilities… at all times, not just when others are present?

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 3 – Nehemiah Sessions #1-2 (Ch 1-4)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session #1 – Kathy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 1 & 2   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572)

Nehemiah is an OT Narrative, it is basically Nehemiah’s journal of from that time period.  Israel at this time was a weak conquered remnant.

In Chapter 1, Nehemiah gets word about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and the state of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t pretty.  The city itself was broken down, damaged.  So were it’s people.  Nehemiah is pained by this news.  He prays to God.  His prayer consists of 1st praise, then confession, then glory to God, and then asking for God’s favor.  This prayer was not a one time event, rather Nehemiah prayed for 4 months.  Until the Lord guided him to act.

In Chapter 2, Nehemiah (who is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes) presents his concerns about his people to the king, when asked why he looked so sad.  King Artaxerxes favored Nehemiah and not only granted his request to go to his people, but also his requests for provisions and provided protection for him.  Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and assessed the situation.  At first he kept his plans to himself.  Once he was able to survey the lands and determine a plan of action, he then shared what God had put on his heart.  The people were ready to work.   Although there were some that stood against him.

From Kathy Keller:

We have prayer from Nehemiah that can be summed up with:  If it will glorify you, then I am ok with it.

When Nehemiah got the word about Jerusalem & it’s condition, he had two choices… a bad reaction or a godly reaction.

The back story here, the history, is that Jerusalem was in ruins, Nebuchadnezzar took the Israelites captive. Time passes Cyrus has compassion for the people & wants favor with their God so he allows them to rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23) But then Artaxerxes stops the rebuilding progress due to the influence of his counsel.  Remnants of Israel begin to intermarry, their worship practices end.  (Ezra 4-6:10)

Now Nehemiah is a man who understands God’s Word, he sees the bigger picture.  He doesn’t just try to fix the circumstance, he recognizes it is more than just building the temple.  Restoration to the people needs to happen too.  Nehemiah leaps to action by praying.

Nehemiah is 1 small story, in the larger story of Jesus.  It’s a redemption story.  From ruin to renewal.

The Bible is not about us.  It’s not there to access to understand our circumstances.  It is there for Jesus and about how God deal with the world.  We do not need to be feeding our soul with artificial inspiration and toxic devotionals that have no value, aka “Soul Junk Food”.  We need the meat and milk of HIS ACTUAL WORD.

(my personal note…. the devotions I read and write need to be pointed to Jesus, not me… not my circumstances, unless ultimately GOD is glorified through it)

Nehemiah didn’t need a devotion, a fleece or a sign.  He was a man who knew God’s word & took action in that confidence to enable his peopleto be what GOD needed them to be.  Nehemiah didn’t negotiate with God (do this, then I will…).  He just did what God required of him. (I will, so God can…)

In his prayer, Nehemiah was interceding on behalf of Israel.  It wasn’t the first time either, Moses would do it frequently.

After his 4 months of prayer, God set Nehemiah on a fast track of action.  There was opposition, but Nehemiah went for broke.   He had confidence in God, so he had no qualms about asking the King for more provisions/assistance.  He was called.  He went.  Action was needed.  Action was taken.  When God calls you to action, it is often because you see a need others don’t.

Nehemiah was taking radical action based on his knowledge of God’s Word & for the redemption of his people.

Parallels to Jesus…  Nehemiah was with the king, in the comfort, safety and luxury of the palace.  (Jesus was in Heaven, with God).  Nehemiah assessed the situation and prayed before starting his work. (Jesus walked the earth for thirty years before starting his ministry).  He put himself at risk for Jesus.  (And Jesus put himself at risk, for us, and paid the ultimate price).

Additionally what is important to this story is that this HAD TO HAPPEN.  Nehemiah needed to restore Jerusalem and his people, otherwise there would be no Jewish culture/society that would need Jesus.  It would have been entirely lost.  They had to get back in the sight of God, so that God could redeem the people.

“God’s people do not need to be a powerful culture or in a powerful position to be obedient & accomplish his purpose in the world.  All they need is to be faithful.  He will accomplish it.” (Kathy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 1&2)

Session #2 – Timothy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 3 & 4   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975)

In Chapter 3 is essentially the delegation of work for the rebuilding of the wall.  Each portion of the wall is built by a specific group, basically repairing the portion of the wall that was was closest to their house.  The chapter details out that the people doing the work were made up of all classes and genders.   All of society was represented.

In Chapter 4 we see the opposition that they face in doing so.

From Timothy Keller:

Nehemiah left the safety of his position with the king, to do what God called him to accomplish.   The wall was the first thing build, to protect his people from those who would oppose the rebuilding process.  This is a parallel to salvation, like the walls of a city, protecting us from sin. (Isa. 26:1)

Keep in mind that we are not building walls to keep non-believers out, to be separated.  NO.  We are building walls of safety, and we are bringing the people into the city, into citizenship.  The gates are open.

Moses was often working for God without the cooperation of the community, they were easily swayed and distracted.  Yet here we see a full community, working together for the greater good.  This is a progression of redemption toward Holiness.  All of us, working together… The whole people of God doing the ministry.  We become living stones in a temple. (Eph 2, 1 Peter 2).

Nehemiah points to the future.   We all have a ministry.  We are one people, united.  All with gifts and talents to be used for HIS glory within our community.  The early churches grew through evangelism, not due to great pastors and preachers.  It grew because EVERYONE did it.  Studies, readings, prayer groups, etc.

We are unified as Christians first, our nationality/position comes second.   Just as all the different classes & positions & genders joined with Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, we must be unified as Christians FIRST in the calling God has laid before us.  It bonds us together, regardless of our individual identity.

In Chapter 4, when they face the opposition to the rebuilding from the outsiders… it says they were despised and insulted.  The response was prayer and then posting a guard.  This points us toward the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

They prayed, first (God’s sovereignty) .  They posted guards, second (human responsibility).

Jesus was sacrificed by God (God’s sovereignty) .  But, he was crucified by wicked hands (human responsibility).

When things happen:   God is in charge (God’s sovereignty).  What you do matters (human responsibility).

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites were despised and insulted, we will also be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). This side of the cross we have an opportunity to forgive that Nehemiah didn’t…. when people slander us, insult us, hurt us.

“Take the hit to your reputation, because I [Jesus] took more for you”   (Timothy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 3&4))