5 Reasons Why This Non-Jew Celebrates Hanukkah Too!

hanukkahLast year was the first time I celebrated Hanukkah, and last Tuesday night we lit the menorah and ate latke potato pancakes to kick off the first evening of this eight-day festival (Dec. 16-23, 2014).

Why would a Christian girl observe a Jewish holiday? Good question! I really had no idea what Hanukkah was about except that during this time of year I knew that Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, some African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and George Costanza’s family celebrates Festivus. Whatever–Happy Christmakwanzika!

Some unexpected bread crumbs fell in front of me last year in November that caused me to search for truth. Most people know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25, and I was totally content with realizing that He was probably born at some other random date. But, something profound started happening in me when it became very obvious that God is not random. I started reading the Bible differently when I digested that His first language is Hebrew–which has a divine alphabet that is full of symbolism and rich correlations–and that He goes by His Hebrew calendar and not by our Gregorian calendar.

Very quickly, the Bible, ripe with references to God’s appointed feasts and customs, started making a lot more sense. The Old Testament is just the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is Old Testament revealed. Through it all is Jesus Messiah–the Jew–referred to, nodded at, prophesied about. Then, He comes to earth and steps in to the meaning behind the feasts and customs and says, “That’s Me!” From beginning to end, it’s all about God’s plan to save and deliver all of mankind.

Unfortunately, Christians have largely lost the understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewish people as a whole don’t see Jesus as the Messiah at all, therefore rejecting the New Testament writings that Christianity was founded on. You see the conundrum. Many clues go missing and dots unconnected because many Christians don’t know the roots of our faith.

Back to Hanukkah. Here are 5 reasons why I’ve added Hanukkah to my celebration calendar:

1. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Rabbi Jesus has been dropping clues as to who He is. He has just made reference to a prophecy in Ezekiel 34. In John 10:22-24, it says, “Then came the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.'” He went all in during Hanukkah.

2. Jesus was likely conceived during Hanukkah. The actual date of Jesus’ birth has a lot of varying speculation. But, there are convincing signals as to when it was. With Zechariah, Mary’s uncle, serving in the temple as a priest during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5), which was at a certain known time, it indicates when John the Baptist was conceived. John was born six months earlier than Jesus was. If the number crunching is accurate, you have important births coinciding with God’s feasts: Jesus is conceived during Hanukkah, John is born during Passover, Jesus is born during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). (Incidentally, Jesus dies during Passover, and the Church is born during Pentecost!)

If indeed the Light of World was sent to us on Hanukkah, and hidden in a humble virgin’s womb at the darkest season of the year, perhaps we can know He has a divine agenda and it most certainly includes using people who are willing to dedicate themselves to Him. This would have been the backdrop against which Mary would have had an angelic visitor on a night of celebration.

3. Light references have new clarity. Hanukkah, also known as “Feast of Dedication” and “Festival of Lights” was an extra-biblical Jewish celebration that commemorated the rededication of the the temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. after it had been desecrated by Greek-Syrian oppressors who put an idol to Zeus on the altar and sacrificed a pig on it. The Jews were threatened to blaspheme against their God or die, and a group of farmers and priests named Maccabees miraculously won the battle against soldiers to reclaim and sanctify their temple. They hadn’t been able to commemorate the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles, so Hanukkah basically made up for the postponed feast. This story can be found in the Apocryphal writings of 1 & 2 Maccabees, which Jesus and his followers would have been familiar with. Tradition says one-day oil supply miraculously burned for eight nights until a new supply could be made.

The lampstand (menorah) is what lights up the temple. In the middle of the lamp is a candle that sets higher, and is lit first to kindle the other candles. The Hebrew word for it is “shemash,” which means “servant.” Do these scriptures ring a bell?:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12

“Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” John 12:36

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple?…” 1 Cor. 3:16

Jesus was always stepping into the types and shadows of feasts and customs to say, “…And that is Me. I am what that’s about.” For those who would believe in Him, the altar is a symbol of the heart burning with passion and purity for God. Ever heard of “dedicating” or “rededicating” your life to the Lord?

4. Picturing Jesus’ birth makes more sense now. If Jesus was conceived during Hanukkah, he arrived during the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot–observed in the fall. The revelations start firing like popcorn once you know what Sukkot is. It’s one of three feasts during the year that observant Jews would travel to Jerusalem for. Also known as “The Festival of Our Joy” (*wink–cue angel: “I bring you good tidings of great joy…”), Sukkot is a seven-day feast where people make temporary booths, or shelters to stay in to remind them of what the Israelites stayed in as God provided for them in the wilderness. It’s kind of a big camping party. The men were required to stay in these shelters, while the women could stay in inns to sleep.

With the backdrop of Moses as deliverer, and Jesus coming as a deliverer–and their lives having dozens of similarities–Jesus being born in a “manger” holds more symbolism than just humble beginnings. The word “manger” or “stable” is actually “sukkah” (plural is sukkot) in Hebrew. “Sukkah” is a singular three-sided temporary dwelling place with plants and leaves woven together for the roof. Now, it doesn’t say in the Bible that there were animals there–that’s a more modern notion. Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem, so the camping would have easily spread into the next town during Sukkot. The towns would have been booked. Oftentimes, the Roman government would conduct official tax and counting business around feast days because they knew Jews would be traveling to one spot, so the census could have been happening in that season as well.

Sukkot is a Jewish festival that is also a celebration for all nations! Interestingly, the angel announces to the shepherds “good tidings of great joy for ALL people.” How beautiful to picture that during this Feast of Tabernacles “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Our bodies, and His, are temporary, transient temples to host the presence of God on this earth. That’s Good News!

5. Hanukkah is a beautiful and meaningful family celebration. I’m not well versed in how to do Hanukkah to the letter, but I kind of pasted together a “Hanukkah for Gentile Dummies” plan to observe Hanukkah these last two seasons. The gifts are small and simple, and we give each other one per night. The lights are lit each evening before eating to a lovely blessing said to God. There are Bible readings, and we connect Jesus as being the Light of the World. We eat latkes and donuts–it’s all about the oil, y’all! We play a dreidel game. We might even dance and wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care to the tune of a little Matisyahu (my son’s favorite). It’s a rich time to understand things more deeply and savor the time with God and each other. It’s an extra layer of thankfulness that Jesus came–God with us, a breathtaking plan of salvation.

So, it might seem a little crazy for a Christian girl to light up the menorah, but if Adam Sandler will make room for me during these 8 crazy nights, I’m game. It’s kind of like discovering family roots you didn’t know you had. Happy Christmakwanzika, everyone! Shine on!

What Do You Do With a Partial Miracle?

Faith_Future_7x5It’s been two years today. September 15. Something happened. It didn’t happen at church. It didn’t happen in a prayer circle. It didn’t happen at an altar. It didn’t happen in a hospital room. It happened at my kitchen table. And life as I knew it changed with the unlikely and unexpected words, “God is a good gift giver.”

Oh, I had been praying prayers for five years. Desperate prayers, pleading prayers, faith-filled prayers, expectant prayers, commanding prayers, binding and loosing prayers, tearful prayers, scripture prayers, healing prayers, walking around prayers, on-my-face prayers, disappointed prayers, joyful prayers, thankful prayers, justice prayers, frustrated prayers, angry prayers, ultimatum prayers, confession prayers, petition prayers, laying-hands-on prayers, curse-breaking prayers, surrender prayers, worship prayers. Just lots and lots of prayers. For five years.

And, honestly, things seemed to go from bad to worse for my son–the object of so many prayers. The autism gap was getting larger with each passing year and his words had all but disappeared while stranger behaviors replaced them despite intensive therapy and thousands of dollars spent on everything we could reasonably grab on to try to help this child. But I had no doubt that God was doing something in me to heal wounds and give me strength for the day, or even the hour. So I continued tripping in His direction. You do all you can possibly do, and there are just some chasms you cannot possibly fill yourself.

Something Happened

I am here to testify, though, that when you pray, something is supposed to happen. Without expectation of an answer, prayer kind of loses its meaning. However, it totally surprised me when something DID happen. Josiah and I were alone, sitting at my kitchen table–well, let’s use that term “sitting” loosely, as I spent most of my time pulling him back to sit at the table–and we were doing a Rapid Prompt Method lesson. It’s the only thing that had worked to show Josiah was “in there” and was paying attention. It was just a matter of trying to open up communication that was locked away in severe autism’s solitary confinement. I thought I was teaching him to spell. I wasn’t really even doing the method totally the right way, as he seemed more excited about his iPad than poking at letters on a board. However, after a year of this, he finally had shown he could spell a chosen color for himself like “red” without me giving him the answer. That inspired hope in me to keep working at this.

So, we were at the table. I was reading from the Children’s Bible about when Jesus healed the blind man. I said, “Jesus healed the blind man. What did Jesus do, Josiah? Did He h-e-a-l (heal) the blind man, or did He p-l-a-y (play) with the blind man? Heal or play? I ripped the paper in half with each side having a choice, tapped on each choice, and he chose heal. “Okay, let’s spell heal.” He wanted to do it on his iPad, but still needed some steadying to work across the alphabetical screen. He pressed on G, then O. I just thought he was totally missing it, but then he spelled his very first independent sentence: “God is a good gift giver.” What happened after that was pinch-me-am-I-dreaming amazing. He types with his pointer finger, “God is very capable.” I swirled, swooned, dropped to me knees. How is this child writing these things? He can barely come out with the color he wants.

That is one occurrence, and that is enough to jolt a person (a person who is not on any drugs, and–last time I checked–perfectly sane), that God supernaturally stepped in and did something. It wasn’t even when I would say I was at some kind of optimal faith or anything. Sincerely, I had been growing weary in well doing. But something happened!

So, I thought by Monday morning, everything would be different! This was the breakthrough we were looking for. Thank you, God! I had spent the weekend with Josiah catching up on what his favorite everything was. He was answering my questions. Remember, he is just shy of seven at that time, and we had never had a real conversation. It was glorious! So, we get to his therapy center on Monday, and I tell them about what had happened. I’m so excited. And I say to Josiah, “Let’s show them.” And he won’t do it. They look on at me in pity and puzzlement. I can’t believe it.

Surely that would all change, though. I mean, God had stepped in. There was no question. And I kept seeing the most amazing things in front of my eyes happening. In private. Josiah was writing things that took my breath away. In private. He knew things and explained things I didn’t know, nobody knew. In private. Oh, and on park benches, in malls, in museums. He wouldn’t do it for his therapists and teachers in school settings. Try and try, and the shift wouldn’t come that could help him learn and discover in the outside world. So frustrating.

So Much Has Happened

These have been two of the most incredible years of my life watching the world unfold in front of my eyes through a child that is so tuned to spiritual things. Volumes of pages and hours logged and stored from iPad conversations, everything from funny observations, simple needs, to the most profound poetry I have ever read, and the most advanced concepts I can’t even fathom to think. Mostly, about God, Heaven, Jesus, healing, peace, and life. Mostly, it’s perspectives that confirm what is already true, but generally hidden somehow as we go about our lives focused on this dimension.

Josiah asked me to start a Facebook page called Josiah’s Fire in April of 2013. I didn’t know he knew what Facebook was. He typed one day, “I give you all of these quotes and share things with you. It’s nutty to me that you never share them on Facebook.” Well, son, it’s because I’m afraid people will think I’m nuts, if I’m honest. This makes no LOGICAL sense! And yet, I cannot deny what is actually happening.

But what happens when reality–as in, it’s really happening–actually collides with reality–he’s still restricted by big fat autism in about every way possible? Something supernatural is interacting in our lives–you can doubt it, but I have NO doubt. It’s not just theory; it’s real. I’ve seen way too much to doubt. But, I have to be honest, I am shocked that my son is not healed from autism. Why would God only do a partial miracle? Surely He knows that would mess with me. To an onlooker, Josiah is not different than he was two years ago. But everything has changed, and everything has stayed the same. How can that be? What do you do with that?

I Want More to Happen

I have had two years worth of miracles, really. Truly, impossible things have happened and much of it has revolved around these words from and through Josiah. To know what your son is thinking, and to even get him to be able to tell you that there is rock in his shoe, is a blessing when you didn’t have it before. You might think that I would be happy and content with what I got and what an outlet it was for him, finally. I mean, how many people get even that? However, have you ever considered the challenges of having only a “partial” miracle? And from that miracle, you are getting pictures that God is really true and really, really good?

Over the past two years, I have learned much about the nature and character of God. My perspective has changed on so many things I believed as a good, Christian, studied-up woman. Lest you think I’ve lept to a different doctrine, I haven’t. What I’ve realized is that the God of the Bible IS the God of the Bible. And that Jesus IS who He portrayed Himself to be. And the people in the Bible were real like you and me. The only thing that set them apart from the rest and put them in the book is that they believed the unbelievable, improbable, bizarro things God said.

It’s simple really. Despite what the facts and the senses and reality portray, God’s supernatural order is supreme over natural order, and He can change things. And, not just by changing your behavior. He can change things that you and I can’t change no matter how awesome, or good, or deserving, or smart, or determined we are. The things that only He can change are truly the “impossible” things. But He wants to partner up with you to change them. You can knock off making poor choices yourself. Some of us truly are facing something that cannot be solved on this planet by anyone. When there is no other choice, you pretty much have to believe for a miracle, or God is not who He says He is to you. And, in my experience, that ends up makes for a crappy relationship if you feel you can’t trust Him. Been there, done that.

Faith is not a feeling, and it’s not just based on your will to persevere with a smile, bless God. But faith without healed feelings is very difficult to set into motion as well. At the end of the day, faith is supposed to produce something if you’re legally pursuing that promise, that is just divine law. But don’t let anyone get you all jacked up in your thinking about not having enough faith if xyz didn’t happen or isn’t happening. That only makes for “constipated” faith. There are some things we just don’t understand and don’t have a good answer for. God is not in the business of withholding from us until we satisfy the right formula for His liking. It’s different than that.

What is Fullness, Anyway?

Last time I checked, autism falls in the “impossible” category. Check, that’s a qualifier for a miracle. Now, I know people pray and believe for miracles and they still don’t happen. I have been there. It’s painful to believe and then what you’re believing for doesn’t happen. I really wish I had some answers for that. But I do know that to reduce God’s abilities down to match our experiences is to stop the pursuit of His kingdom coming down here altogether. His will doesn’t always get done on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s just a fact. But I’m still supposed to pray, believe and grab for it to come down into this space because He loves us and cares about our problems. He doesn’t know how to be any other way.

Just when I think I should start being content with a partial miracle, and that I should maybe let go of my desire for a full miracle, God in no small way reminds me of what “fullness” means. Two verses keep coming up:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

What is “full” life? Can my son have it? Can we have it, God? Should I even dare to want to have it, or is that being spoiled and entitled and ungrateful? Is “full” life just a theoretical, hereafter kind of idea, or is it for right here and right now? Don’t get me wrong, people can have difficult circumstances remain in their lives and still have a full life. People can have bad, final things happen to them and come out having a full life. God restores! But what does a person like me do when I have seen a partial miracle and my desire is to have a full miracle? I am fully willing to steward the implications of this miracle coming to pass, which I think has been these two years in the making.

As a nice, midwestern girl and minister of the Gospel, I have had to wrestle with the question, “God, can we have this full miracle? Is it okay to keep asking and pressing for that? Or, are You tired of me wanting what You said Jesus already provided for me with both His back and His blood?”

Well, all signs that I can find in the Bible and from some pretty interesting revelations point to yes, I can keep pressing. Perhaps the question is less about if He wants it, and more about if we want it. Presumptuous? I don’t think so. Break down that verse of Proverbs 13:12 in the Hebrew and it means this: Hope (an expectation that something should happen) deferred (prolonged, removed, delayed, drawn out) makes the heart sick (worn out, weak, grieved, wounded), but a desire (a longing, delight, pleasure) fulfilled (accomplished, furnished, satisfied, wholly completed) is a tree of life (fullness and richness, giving all that makes living a blessing).”

The Jesus who came to save for eternity also came to offer full life, meaning giving all that makes living a blessing. That is “shalom” peace–wholeness, completion. It is the peace that “destroys the authority of chaos.” He certainly wants to do that IN us, but I am convinced that He wants to do that practically FOR us to give all that makes living a blessing. The whens, the hows, the ways are uniquely approached for each of us. Personally, though, I have yet to see that autism itself is a blessing for my son or family. I refuse to give autism credit. My son, though, is amazing!

I guess on this second anniversary of a massive miracle–though in actuality a “partial” one–God has secured me with the understanding that it’s okay to want more, to want fullness. If your heart is content where it is, awesome. Peace is a piece of the kingdom, regardless of the circumstances. But, if desire grips you in the morning, noon, and night for the fullness to come, for justice and mercy to be had, perhaps energy shouldn’t be wasted on wishing that you didn’t want it so badly.

I want the fullness. I will serve God to the end with love, joy, faith and devotion regardless of what I see. Even if Miracle: The Sequel never comes. But I want the fullness of this miracle made manifest. If He started a good work, He says He’ll see it through to completion (Phil. 1:6). I just want to be able to take Him at His word, and not apologize for it.

These are raw, unedited ramblings mostly for my benefit, as two years turns over to approach a third. I feel like I’m 13 months pregnant waiting for this miracle. It’s actually uncomfortable, but I’m going to allow myself to feel it. Perhaps someone else might understand.

How to Suit Up Little Kids with Big Armor

Pup Lucy stole the Sword of the Spirit!

Pup Lucy stole the Sword of the Spirit!

When I was a kid, I was quite the dare devil out on the concrete-padded playground or freewheeling on my afternoon bike jaunts—where both adult supervision and helmets were certainly not required. Something happened when I became a mama, though. Suddenly, the neighborhood park looked like a series of death traps. Without my watchful eye, I felt my son could be broken, cracked open, bit by a tick or a flu bug, and bullied by a little punk. It’s a jungle out there—and that’s just at the fun places!

If we could peel away the veil of our tangible realities, we would see another ominous battle that rages all around us. We don’t like to think about it, but it’s there. It’s a spiritual battle on an unseen obstacle course, and not only are we in it, but our kids are in it. In case you haven’t noticed, our enemy has no justice system that keeps him away from scheming against and preying on little kids. That makes this mama bear want to show her teeth. And also whimper that I won’t always be right there to protect him.

I have an eight-year-old boy who happens to have autism and currently doesn’t communicate through speaking, so my mommy radar is probably higher than most. But, I have to choose to refuse fear of what “could happen.” Instead, about year ago I started a practice of suiting up my son for the day. C’mon mom or dad, it just takes a little imagination mixed with charades to outfit the family with fashionable and functional divine battle gear.

This is what I say out loud to help my son put on his armor and weapons in under 30 seconds (based on Ephesians 6:10-16):

  • I put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts and to remember Who you belong to.
  • I put on your breastplate of righteousness to guard your heart and emotions as you live rightly.
  • I put on your belt of truth to defend you from any low blows of lies and to tightly secure God’s promises.
  • I put on your shoes of peace that will bring good news onto any ground that you walk on.
  • I put in your hand the sword of the Spirit, which is the living word of God that defends and fights for you.
  • I put on your arm the shield of faith that will extinguish every burning arrow hurled at you from your unseen enemies.
  • And remember, you can move forward because Jesus got your back; he is your rear guard (Is. 52:12).
  • Finally, don’t forget underneath it all you are wearing your all-purpose garment: love. (Col. 3:14).

As he goes out of my sight, I know that by my faith and by the authority I have over him as my son, he has been outfitted with divine protection. The enemy may be ruthless, but I know that there’s no such thing as a junior-sized Holy Spirit. The big, powerful, wise comforting One lives in him, and an army of intimidating angels can be his entourage. And all this goes for us big kids too. So suit up, and if you mamas so wish—add some bling.

Flannelgraphs & the Faithful Versus the Fire

Flannelgraph-WebsiteChurch kids in the 80s experienced a phenomenal 2-D invention called the flannelgraph. Oh, it was a magical board! A young, eager Tahni scooted up as close to the easel as possible as the Sunday school teacher filled the blank landscape with Bible characters of old. Elegant and theatrical in her white, high-collared ruffled blouse, the teacher extracted their felty, folded bodies and ancient architecture from file folders and placed them into the scene with the fervor of a master storyteller. At least that’s how I remember it.

The pace might have been awkward and jerky, but to me it was a feast for the eyes as super heroes of the faith faced the craziest predicaments, and those nailbiters would somehow work out–thanks to the faithfulness of a God. With His big hand coming out of the sky. Or perhaps from some feet poking out under a white robe encased in a cloud.

Oh, you can have your smart boards and your fancy video screens, kids. Flannelgraph was where it was at.

I can almost picture the scene clearly in my mind of the day we learned about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (not Abendego, okay. You know who you are because you also call Chipotle Chipolte and call in the Calvary instead of the cavalry, but I digress). They would not bow down to that big idol that looked a lot like an Oscar award. In that case, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace by the evil king! Dun dun dun.

But, they persisted anyway, and they were put in the fire by the teacher, er um, the guards, but they didn’t burn. Though, I reckon felt is quite flammable. We kids all knew the dangers of simply playing with matches because PSAs were all over that in the 80s. We knew fire was hot and dangerous, but somehow, because of God and the fourth man in the fire, the wonder trio made it! It was satisfying like the end of Scooby Doo to have mysteriously foiled the doers of evil.

I’ve had a profound revelation these days as I read these familiar Bible stories, though. Ready? These were REAL people. Not super heroes. Not cartoon characters. Not fairy tale imaginations. They were like us. Like. Us. Like us?!? I ain’t ever faced a real fiery furnace, but I have had to face the fact that I don’t know that I would have taken it quite as well as Rack, Shack and Benny. But perhaps I should.

James 5:17 makes this point, and you could put any Bible character in there: “Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!” … I don’t know, but I want some of that chutzpah!

So, regardless of how horrible people say America is getting, I personally have not had to face fire, lions, famines, slavery, stonings, whippings, and killers who have it out for me on a daily basis because of what I believe. I’ve instead had to consistently ask myself, “Well, then, what is my life’s equivalent of a fiery furnace, God? And what are these people who were as human as I am trying to tell me through the echoes of time?” It can be just a story, or it can be real and applicable, overflowing with truth. It certainly should influence the way I pray and act in the face of opposition, whatever variety I face.

Some days, I do feel like things get hot. Like, if I could look into the spirit, I would see an evil enemy saying, “If that girl doesn’t stop serving her God, and will not be broken to do things my kingdom’s way, bind her and throw her in the fire. Either she will break from fear, or she will be eliminated, tossed to the wayside because faith began to seem futile.” So my fiery furnace might be the bills, or sickness, or heavy burdens, or some such trial staring me in the face. When faced with opposition, what, then, should I do?

Here’s a little something that a more mature reading of this story in Daniel 3 has been teaching me:

1. You don’t need to answer to the enemy or try to prove anything. King Nebuchadnezzar snickers to the boys, “Who is the God that will deliver you out of my hands?” They just said, “We have no need to answer you in this matter” (v. 16). Slam! Nothing exudes more confidence in the one you serve than not being rattled by the opponent.

2. Take a stance every time that God will, but if not… I’m not sure there could be a better way to go about an attitude of faith because it doesn’t allow for pre-excuses for God or us before we even give Him a chance to act. So, this trio boldly says, “God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace–and He will deliver us! But, if not, we will not serve your gods or worship this idol.” (v. 17-18).

This has reinforced to me to pray toward God’s standard, not to the logical odds for me or against me. This is not even the kind of “que sera sera” if-it-by-thy-will sort of attitude. It is confidence based on God’s character and covenant with us for a full life, and yet it holds loosely to this earthly life because it is not our home. In doing so, even if it doesn’t work out as far as I can tell on this human side of things, I still will have done the right thing, believing that God’s plans are always righteous and holy, and He is always for me and not against me.

3. Keep believing even when in the hallway to doom. Okay, so, it’s one thing to have faith that God will rescue you when you’re in a holding tank, but it’s quite another when you are literally lined up for the big old hot finale of your trial and your deliverer has not shown up. Unlike the flannelgraph showed, the boys were not nicely escorted into the fire. They are basically wrapped up like human torches with a ton of clothing, hands and feet hog-tied, and they are tossed into the ultra, super, hot, hot, hot fire. Somewhere in the hallway to being BBQ, I might have had second thoughts about my stance that God was going to come through for me. Like if Regis would have asked, “Is that your final answer?” I might have paused.

4. It’s not over until it’s over, even if it looks bad. I am having a hard time picturing the boys going from preparing themselves to be ravaged with pain to being loosed and walking around in the fire. That had to have been hilarious as they looked at each other like, “Hey, what??? It doesn’t hurt! We are walking around in this fire and we don’t even smell like smoke!… Hey, who is that guy?” And then an angel (or some believe it to be the manifest presence of Jesus) delivers them because they trusted in Him” (v. 25, 28). There had to be some high-fives. To me, this gives new meaning to being “all in” when we are praying and believing for God to deliver us out of our desperate situations. They trusted to “until,” and never just to “unless.”

5. We have the power to change the decree made against us. This point is the most exciting of all, in my opinion. Verse 28 says some strange words that require further study: “God…delivered His servants who trusted in Him and have changed the king’s word and yielded their bodies…” How in the world can anyone change the king’s word? Because the law according to the pagan Medes and Persians, states in Daniel 6:8 that when a king establishes an edict in writing, it cannot be changed.

How did three displaced Jewish boys change the king’s word? The exact same way we are to change the forces set against us today. We can actually change the atmosphere, change the world, with the way we live out loud. According to one author, to change the king’s word meant to “nullify the law that was evil and directly opposed to the law of God.” That is exactly what Jesus Christ did to deliver us, and continue delivering us even to this day, as we stand on that higher authority in a humble position. As 1 Peter 5:6 says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

6. Make it through a fire and you’ll get promoted. I don’t know how this all shakes down in the physical world these days. Somehow, the king actually promoted the guys with a big old change of heart after seeing what the Lord had done. Regardless, being found faithful clear through to the end of a trial usually spiritually gets you and me a promotion too. You kind of get delivered, with interest.

Now, I’m reminded of this story and am writing tonight as an encouragement to me, more than anything. I feel like too many of us–people of faith, people of God who believe Him to the end–have been facing our share of furnaces lately. And we’re believing and standing to be healed and delivered, but it is so hard to keep up the fight with conviction when the days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years. My heart’s been heavy because I really want there to be more testimonies of beating the fire!

Just this week, there couldn’t have been more people standing in major faith and pressing in for a miracle after a Facebook friend of mine–a minister, a prayer warrior, a mother of 7–had a major bleeding stroke that caused brain death, and finally she died. Why? I mean, because of Jesus, we just are never defeated because He defeated death. But, why didn’t this turn out differently? I struggle with that.

So many of us are getting up every day and facing impossible circumstances and doctor’s reports and saying, “This circumstance will bend to the name of Jesus!” And then it gets worse. For others, it gets better. Why? I wish I knew these answers. Why were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego delivered from a fiery furnace when truly so many Christ-followers were lit up like human torches and martyred for the faith that they would not renounce? I don’t know.

But, I do know there are models posed to us in the Bible, and Jesus was the highest standard–and His is the one worth always shooting for. He was the walking will of the Father, healing and delivering every one who simply came. And there were also average people–heroes of the faith, yes–but, people like us who just prayed and laid it out there with the full confidence that God would deliver them, but even if He didn’t they would still do the right thing. And, on a flannelgraph, or in my spirit, that is what I hope will stick.




L-E-T: The Lost Spiritual Art of Letting

letMy son, Josiah, has autism and he is getting bigger as he nears his ninth birthday. He’s a deceptively strong kid, so at times he has taken to employing the “pull” technique to jerk me to where he wants to go instead of letting me lead him. My physical hand grip on him is pretty tight when we’re out and about, but he is testing the limits of my ability to hold on.

When he was small, if he didn’t listen to my voice, I could scoop him up and make him go where I was intending for us to go. I can’t pick him up anymore, so I have a real need for his impulsivity to yield to my parental directives, or it’s a battle for his well-being, his protection and our ability to simply have a nice time enjoying each other’s company.

And, you know what, Father God has been impressing on me that so it is with Him and His kids. Perhaps we have missed the message of the mysterious lesson of “letting.” L-E-T. It’s a very simple little word, but it’s just different enough from sheer obedience to deserve a closer look. It might just be a key to an enjoyable, life-giving relationship with our God through Jesus Christ.

It might even be a lost spiritual art–the art of letting. The art of doing and getting became so much more en vogue than the art of letting, didn’t they? But learning to let might make for a much smoother adventure welcoming the presence of God into our daily, walking around lives–rather than a herky, jerky one.

Once you start knowing to look for it, you’d be surprised how much that little word let shows up in the the instruction book. After all, just open to Genesis chapter one to find eight creative “Let there be” declarations that God Himself uses to kick off all of life as we know it. Have you ever thought of that? Why would something have to give–to yield–for something else to become? Emptiness, darkness and waters existed, and the Spirit hovered over them to get on with some unparalleled transforming. But the emptiness, darkness and chaos had to give way to form.

To “let” basically means “to allow, to permit, to cause to, to give an opportunity to.” I find it interesting that nature runs on laws to just do what it’s designed to do–the leaves in Minnesota are going to turn yellow in fall whether they want to or not–but people are left responsible for their own “lets.” It’s the essence of free will, of choice. Sometimes we actually don’t like this sort of freedom. We want God to just overpower what we strongly go along with so we can be released from its potentially destructive lure. But He doesn’t do it–unless we LET Him.

So, a question to wrestle with would have to be this: Why don’t we let Him? Why don’t we let ourselves do it His way?

To let is to be given a choice and then deciding to bend to the stronger authority and to the greater impetus. Letting is the attitude exerted from a humbled heart. Humility will concede that it doesn’t have to be my way to be the best, most fulfilling way.

So, let us put on our big kid underpants and see what benefit it might be for us to let God be who He wants to be for us, and also to release a powerful receiver signal to be open to what God wants to bring into our lives. We’re pretty much jolting our souls to yield here. Here are just a few examples:

  • Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Phil. 2:5
  • Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives… Col. 3:16
  • Let the weak say I am strong. Joel 3:10
  • Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matt. 5:16
  • Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil. 2:4
  • Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. Ps. 103:2
  • Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no… James 5:12
  • Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18
  • Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul. Ps. 143:8
  • Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Ps. 19:14
  • Let us live up to what we have already attained. Phil. 3:16
  • Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Letting involves a level of trust that has won over our “fight or flight” stress reaction. Perhaps one of the most physical demonstrations of letting was circumcision in the Old Testament. I’m not a man but I’m sure adult males might want to contend with such a procedure. But circumcision was allowing God into the most intimate, vulnerable, private place of covenant relationship with man. But, then God said what He really is looking for is circumcised hearts.

Having a heart that lets Him in to every part is basically spiritual circumcision. Colossians 2:11 says, “When you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision–the cutting away of your sinful nature.”

I’m evaluating any and all of my resistance, my recoiling, my rebellion, my refusals these days to learn what it is to live a letting life before my God. The same Spirit that hovered over the void in the beginning, hovers over our voids just waiting to create the most beautiful, vibrant things in a life that lets Him. And then, He shows you, and lets you have a try!

And, remember, every time we say AMEN, we are saying LET IT BE SO.



Why Stuckedy-Stuck Frustration Has to Go

why-should-i-keep-calm-argh“I can do it, and I can do it well,” I mumbled half-heartedly. My college professor tilted her chin to her chest and said, “Say it again, but mean it this time.”

I looked down at the notecard where on our first day of working together she made me write “I can do it, and I can do it well.” I said it again with a little more gusto, but honestly, I wouldn’t come to believe it until much later. I was frustrated. Stuck.

I was a senior in college and a theater minor who at the “I-believe-in-you” prompting of another director was birddogged into performing a two-hour, one-woman theatrical production. One-woman means “all by yo self.” In front of 250 people. No notes. No net. Fully vulnerable. Rehearsal set for six full weeks directed by a talented woman who I both respected greatly and who kinda terrified me. Scary.

Now, I was up for acting the role of this historical character, Zelda Fitzgerald, who was a tragic mix of wit, triumph and mental insanity. But the short parts where I had to sing? And ballet dance? And knit!? I was totally in the red on how to even fake any of that well, and trying to learn it had me a wreck. “I can’t get it!”

I wanted to quit just about as much as I wanted to succeed. But I couldn’t. But I wanted to. But I didn’t. It was one of the best early lessons of my life that I can do hard things.

As Christ-followers, (well, as Americans), what is it that makes us so prone to frustration when things get a bit hard? Weren’t we made to do hard things? Yet I’ve had to fight this. I still fight it maybe a little every day. “God, rescue me, relieve me, fix this… God, why are you doing this to me… I can’t do this… It’s not fair… I’m just gonna quit… Will it ever get better?…” Frustrated. And instead of believing we can do hard things, we are enticed to numb or run from our discomfort.

We have become the most in-debt, overweight, addicted, and medicated adult population in U.S. history in part because we don’t believe we can do hard things, and that we can do them well. Jesus said, “…in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” (John 16:33, Amplified).

Jesus has deprived the world of the power to harm me, and has conquered it for me? I just say, “Okay, how do I get me a whole lot of that, Jesus?” Despite trauma, despite marital problems, despite parenting issues, despite financial struggles, despite sickness and depression, despite grief and loss and disappointment—if we get in Christ, we know because He conquered, we get to win.

How do you and I go about living differently if we come to believe that there is not one problem we face—and we’ll still face them—that doesn’t come with the gifts of His promise and His provision to walk through it. But I’ve learned that promise and provision will stop dead in their tracks to get to you if you don’t first surrender your frustration—and your contingency plan to quit.

God works to partner with a “can-do” spirit. That is our offering, and often our sacrifice. As James 1:25 says, “Whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—…and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.”

7 Things I’ve Learned on the Road to Restoration

A home destroyed nearly five months ago during the landfall of Superstorm Sandy is pictured in Mantoloking, New JerseyOne week before my world changed forever, my pastor said these words in a sermon: “At any given time, people are usually going into a storm, in a storm, or coming out of a storm.” I remembered thinking, “Wow, we’ve been on a pretty good run here. It had been about four years since we had encountered a major storm.”

And then the hurricane that would be called autism rolled in without warning for our curly-headed little boy, not yet two. But the waves kept coming and crashing relentlessly it seemed over our family–dreams knocked down, childhood joys knocked down, finances knocked down, work life knocked down, relationships strewn about, rest rooted up, marital bliss torn down, the sight of God’s goodness in the land of the living mangled. Nothing seemed simple any more. How do you recover?

I’ve often thought that as bad as a fire is to go through, it has a different energy to recovery than what’s left to be faced on the other side of a flood. Fire means it all has to start over. Clean it up, get creative, and rebuild with new things. A flood means you have to deal with soggy memories, and figure out what has to get trashed and what is worth the effort of restoring. Many measures have to be taken to gut, to find all the mold and dry up the water, to take things back to the studs. Mostly, it feels like moving water-logged chaos from one pile to another for quite some time. Some would contend the wind and waves don’t recede for long enough to even recoup.

This month it’s been seven years since the hurricane hit our lives. Everybody understands what it’s like to encounter storms. It’s all relative. There is no use in comparing one person’s storm to another in efforts to either feel better or feel worse about your own storm. Can we just validate that our proverbial storms, fires, floods affect us deeply and collide with our very real humanness?

But if there is one thing I’ve learned in these past seven years, it is this: God’s intention for us is always to be moving toward restoration. Always. Storms will stun us, that’s a given. But, I contend that if we’re not then being restored, we are being consumed.

Our lives cannot be lived wishing that what happened wouldn’t have happened. Because it did. Our lives cannot be lived saying that we have no choice but to be a victim to our circumstances. God set up humans to always get to choose regardless of their circumstances or surroundings. A traveling female pastor told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “Remember, you can pass through the Land of Why, but just don’t stay there.”

The language of restoration is no longer “why” but “what now?” To play the “what now” game with God can become the most amazing adventure you’ve ever been on. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”

Here are few things I’ve learned about “what’s next” restoration:

  1. Restoration is a journey, and no one can tell you how long or short that road could or should be. That is between you and God. God can arrange short cuts that accelerate you from one place to another, but your own short cuts will usually land you into quicksand. Many of us will want a “fix” or a “rescue” from God, but His idea of bringing us wholeness means restoring us completely–and that could take some time. Even more than a journey, you could look at it as a “pilgrimage” of the soul (read Psalm 84). On this pilgrimage, God is with you, and you are going somewhere. You will more than likely encounter trials, set backs, resting spots, beauty, storms, hills, valleys, rain, drought—all of it. But through it, this is what Psalm 84:5 says, “What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (God’s presence).” Restoration usually happens on the way, not upon the arrival.
  2. There is a reason that Jesus was sent to “save” you because we all need to be saved from something. He is Savior, and that means our whole person—body, soul, mind, circumstances. Shame, hurt, offense, and frustration will try to get you to hide from His saving. Salvation is not just a one-time event. Salvation is available every day and in every way. The moment we try to save ourselves, we cannot be helped. The gap is too great. So, drag your butt and your sorry situation to Jesus. That’s all you have to do to get things rolling. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Grace means getting something that you don’t deserve (earn). Mercy means not getting (the punishment) that you deserve. He is up for both. Just come confidently.
  3. Give God 365 days. Admit it. We’ve all been there. We get on a high that we’re going to have faith and trust in God, and then something bad happens or worsens, and we throw up our hands and say, “See, God can’t be trusted! It’s all emotional hype.” But I’ve seen that it’s important to stretch out your commitment to seeking God and seeing God work in you, for you, to you and through you. You will likely fall off your commitment. Just get back on through repentance and go again. Commit to God that you are going to learn how to do it His way for 365 days. Ask Him to prove to you that He can be trusted to hold up His side of the bargain while you follow His lead, not your own. I picked up the Bible one day and said, “God, this has to work. Your claims are too strong to just be a warm fuzzy to read about over my Wheaties. I will stick with You, but You have to prove what You say is true.” He loves to be challenged in this way!
  4. Keep a journal of questions to ask to God that you want answers for. Do your studying of the Bible, books, sermons and podcasts based on getting the answers to those questions. Get real, get raw, lay it all out there, and then ask God to show you what His perspective really is on each of those questions. I did this with about seven questions early on in my journey to restoration, and I was amazed that as I kept those questions before me, the answers began to jump out. I also consciously pursued them. Write those questions down and get them out of your head. Don’t assume God really thinks the way you’ve been taught to believe He thinks about your situation.
  5. Turn outward to other people to help them. This is one of the very best things to do. It slices self-pity in half when you just stop thinking about yourself and your own problems for a while and serve others. I don’t care if it’s random acts of kindness, getting involved in a religious or secular organization, or just offering to pray and encourage other friends consistently. “Pray for others that you may be healed” (James 5:16). You pray for others, and God heals you! What a recycling program. This is the beauty of flowing water, not a stagnant pond.
  6. Granting and asking forgiveness has to be part of your lifestyle. So, you’ve had some people hurt you to the core. That deserves justice—but justice doesn’t come from you—justice is the Lord’s job. You might think that if you forgive them, and if you forgive yourself, that you are giving them a free pass to say that what they did was okay, not wrong, and excusable. That is not what forgiveness is. So, basically, when you choose to take responsibility for your own actions, to ask forgiveness, to forgive yourself, and to forgive others it releases the power of that offense off of you so you can walk in freedom.  A position of forgiveness is the most powerful position you can have. Honestly, one of the most powerful things I’ve done is “forgive God” for not protecting me. Now, I’m not saying that He needed to be forgiven. I am saying that I was holding offense toward Him because I felt like He didn’t protect my family. A wall came down when I forgave.
  7. Learn to hear the voice of God. What does God really sound like? What does Satan sound like? What do you sound like? Just like a football coach reviews the tapes of the opponents before the game is being played, you have to get to know the character and strategies of those at play in your mind. God will never lie, play mind games, contradict His Word, shame, punish in anger, etc. If God corrects, it comes with peace and freedom attached. Satan likes to blame, to accuse, to cause self condemnation, to keep you in fear, total bondage, confusion, disorder, and chaos—yet, he is good at deceiving. Learn to smell a rat and take care of it immediately. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice—the voice of a stranger they won’t hear.” Say that scripture out loud so that you learn to tune your ears (inner and outer) to God. He really is speaking all the time to you, usually we just pass it off as us or we are so pounded with fear that we can’t hear it. This takes practice. If we tune in, God is faithful to confirm that it’s Him.

I am still on a journey of restoration. Most days still hold some pain of the aftermath of the storms that have damaged. I still really would love all of the circumstances to be awesome so life could be “easy, happy, and shiny.” But, I’ve realized the greatest part of restoration is this: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12).

It is the main thing that destroys the lingering scent of mustiness while we co-labor with God on making things new.