No Way Out

shutterstock_57395806Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have no control and it feels like everything in your life is crumbling around you?  Welcome to the club, and welcome to my week.  In the story of the great Exodus in God’s word, there is a place called “Pihahiroth” where the people ended up at a dead end with no way out.  (Exodus 14:1-30) It seems that Pihahiroth has once again become all too real in my life.  Most people are familiar with the story of the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Red Sea.  It was a truly miraculous event where the people had been told by God to follow a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but in doing so, God led them to Pihahiroth where they found themselves with absolutely no way out.  There they stood with Pharaoh and his army closing in behind to slaughter them.  To the right and left of them was impassible terrain, and in front of them was a sea they could not cross.  They had nowhere to go and could do nothing but sit and wait.  They knew what was coming.  They knew the end was inevitable.  What they didn’t know was there was something amazing just around the corner.

Life can really get us down sometimes.  We spend our days trying to do the right thing, for the right reasons, only to find ourselves feeling as though it doesn’t matter.   For me, I’ve always tried to do what I believed God was leading me to do.  I have not always been successful in that endeavor, as my humanity has sometimes gotten in the way, but since the age of about 17, I have been “all in” with my commitment to living a life of love and service – not just to God, but to others.  I have served the professional organizations of which I have been a part, whether as a career or volunteer work.   I have tried to love and serve others, to build them up and to create bridges instead of walls.  I have sought to take the high road when others wanted to drag me into the mud or when it would have been easier for me to retaliate against injustice.  Am I a great person?  No.  Do I always do the right thing?  No.  I don’t think anyone ever really does, but that doesn’t mean your heart can’t continually be turned toward the things that are right and just.

shutterstock_110043062When times are going well, it is easy to say you are a “person of faith” but what exactly does that mean?  God’s word defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen “  (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is NOT easy.  Faith is believing God is in control even when the circumstances around you are spinning and crumbling.  Faith is knowing that God is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Even Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  But it is hard not to faint when you’ve been so let down by friends or family, churches or companies.  There is scripture after scripture that mentions these elements of faith, but how do you hold onto faith when you find yourself in situations for which there is no recognizable way out?  How do you stay calm and maintain your peace and joy when everywhere you look, you see nothing but impending doom or destruction?  What do you do when you are faced with the very real circumstances of Pihahiroth?

As I pondered these and other questions, I went back to the story in Exodus.  I thought of how all these people had been slaves in Egypt and how incredible it must have felt when they were freed.  I thought of how God led them in a way that was absolutely unmistakable.  It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant person to follow a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud.  Today we sometimes struggle with discerning which way God would have us to go or what decision He would have us to make.  We pray and ask for guidance but then we have to listen to that still, small voice within that actually confirms we are in the will of God.  It isn’t always easy.  It would be much easier if God said, “I’m going to put a pillar of fire in front of you and all you need to do is follow it because it will lead you EXACTLY where you need to be.”  Following a physical sign that magnificent would not require any interpretation or planning on your part.  Your only decision would be whether or not to follow.  There would be no question which direction it was going.  iStock_000058072678_SmallSo I think about Israel and how it would have been impossible for them to doubt they were going the right way or doing the right thing.  IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND VISIBLE.  So they did exactly what God asked of them and then ended up in the worst place possible – a place in which they had no control and all hope was shattered.  I truly believe at that point that even the smartest and most faithful among the people would have begun to doubt.  I can see someone scratching his/her head and thinking, “I don’t understand. It was perfectly clear where God was leading and there was no question about what was right.  So how did we end up HERE?  I must have missed something somewhere or we wouldn’t be trapped.”  How confusing it would have been to have seen God work in such amazing ways to bring you out of slavery but then PURPOSELY lead you to a place from which you could not escape.  Did He make a mistake?  Did you make a mistake in following?   The things the Israelites must have been thinking are questions we still ask ourselves today.   Did I do the right thing for nothing?  Did I follow where God was leading only to end up in a situation from which there is no escape?   Is my situation hopeless?   I can tell you the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO,” because the story doesn’t end there.

God had a miraculous plan for Israel just like He has a plan for you and me.  It was an amazing plan but no one knew the outcome except Him.  All He needed for them to do was to trust and follow the obvious direction in which He was leading.  He wasn’t leading them to a boxed canyon of death; He was leading them to the place where they would finally see there was nothing He was incapable of fixing or changing.  He led them to a place where the only resolution to the hopeless situation was the magnificence, power, and love of God.  He led them to a place where when deliverance did come, there would be no doubt whatsoever that it was ALL God and not anything else.

A number of years ago I left a situation that had been very difficult for quite some time.  When I made that change, it felt much like I was leaving my own Egypt.   It had gotten to a point where I felt enslaved and then seemingly out of nowhere God brought me out of it.  Things transpired in a way that it left no doubt it was Him moving in my life.  I look back now and think it looks a lot like Israel.  God said, “I’m going to deliver you out of this situation, and I’m going to promise you some amazing things.  All you have to do is follow.”  I believed that was true and that he had great things in store.  I believed strongly in the path in which God was taking me, and have continued to believed it all these years.   I have been focused on doing what I believe God has called me to do, and to do the right things for the right reasons.  His leading has been as unmistakable as a literal pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet I am now standing here in my very own Pihahiroth. shutterstock_331837391It doesn’t feel good.  It feels hopeless.  I feel like that Israelite standing there thinking, “I was doing the right thing, but I must have been wrong because look where I am now.  I’ve got an ocean in front of me and an army closing in behind me.  I look to the right and left and there is nothing but impassible terrain.  I’ve got nothing, no control.  I can’t make anything happen and I’m stuck.”  A few nights ago, as I couldn’t sleep, I literally cried out to God through my tears, “There is no way out of this!  Too much has already happened and it can’t be fixed.  It is impossible!”  And as I heard myself in my despair, I remembered Pihahiroth.  It really isn’t just pretty lyrics to say “God will make a way,” or that Pihahiroth is the place of freedom.   This actually IS Pihahiroth, where God can and will provide a way.  As a matter of fact, He has already made the way.  The question is: Am I willing to follow even when He has not revealed it yet?

We’ve all had Pihahiroth experiences in our lives.  These experiences that are so painful and difficult when you are at a total loss, are the same experiences that build your faith at the deepest level.  We know what God can do because we’ve seen in our lives and the lives of those around us.  We’ve seen it in the things we’ve experienced and lived.  We should remember them but we often don’t.  We should remember the times we stood at the sea crying, “There is no way out,” only to watch the sea just open up before us.  We need to remember the path it creates is not filled with mud that we have to trudge through, but one of dry, easily walkable ground.    When God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he then basically said, “I’m going to lead you.  Just follow me because I have great things in store for you, and I’m going to make it really simple for you to know the way.  It’s not going to be complicated.  All you have to do is follow that big pillar because I’ve got your back.  You don’t need to worry about anything as long as you follow.”  When God makes it that clear, it does no good whatsoever to sit back and say to yourself, “Maybe that wasn’t the right direction.”  Because the truth is, it wasn’t a mistake then and neither is the situation in which I find myself in today.  It was purposeful for Israel and it is purposeful for me today.

I know if my situation changes, it will be only at the hand of God.  It will be a result of prayer and letting GOD do the heavy lifting.  In my faith, I know I did not simply wander into this place by accident or mistake, and when I am finally walking through on dry ground, I will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could only happen because God did it.  In my humanity I am confused, hurt and discouraged.  In my humanity I want to just sit down and give up, but then I catch my breath and remember that God can fix what cannot be fixed.  He can heal what cannot be healed and change what cannot be changed.  That pillar of cloud and fire does not mislead or confuse;  It clarifies.

shutterstock_181128083So as we all live through times of difficulty that appear hopeless, remember the truth of Pihahiroth and the ultimate freedom it brings.  Wait and let God move, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.  Then follow where He leads and do what He is calling you to do.  Do not give in to your sight, but hold to your faith for we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Do the right thing even when it hurts, but take heart in knowing nothing escapes the eyes of Heaven, and God has promised to reward those who are faithful.  There really is something amazing right around the corner.  He has promised to always make a way, even when that way seems impossible when you find yourself staring at the sea.  .

Blessings!

There Has To Be More…

What in the world is wrong with Christians?  As a person of faith, that may seem like an odd question for me to be asking, but it is one I have been considering for a while.  First of all, the term “Christian” brings up all kinds of different images, experiences and feelings depending on the person who is hearing the word.  For the most part, it is not a positive term, because it is so often filled with hypocrisy and perceived oppression.  I do not call myself a Christian, because although I have been redeemed and saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I do not always live the way He lived or abide by the loving principles He gave us.  So I call myself a believer or a person of faith because I am those things.  But I digress.

My own view of Christianity and spirituality has certainly deepened over the course of my life but the deeper I go, the more I realize how much is still out there.  I was raised in churches that most today would consider very conservative.  There were (as there are in most religions) many man-made traditions that had to be followed in regards to the way services were conducted and how things were taught.  There was no shouting for joy in our churches.  That was reserved for those crazy charismatic people.  There was no teaching about the true POWER of the Holy Spirit, but instead a clinical and sterile teaching about what I would consider the most high-level functions of the Spirit.  shutterstock_222016312We learned that once we accept Christ as our Savior, His Spirit comes to live within us.  We learned God knows everything we do or think.  We learned that He loves us, but we never really talked about that love as a literal, day-to-day LOVE.  It was clinical and sterile because it seemed to me that no one really walked out of the church and actually felt God’s presence with them.  I learned scripture.  I learned the books of the Bible.  I learned principles of God’s word.  I am SO incredibly thankful for my upbringing and the many teachers and pastors I had along the way, because it gave me a foundation upon which I have built a life that has been blessed beyond measure.  Many of you who know me personally or read my blog regularly know that I have felt called to study and share God’s word since I was quite young.  So my life has been filled with searching things out on my own instead of just taking someone else’s word for it.  But there’s something about those experiences in established churches that is both a blessing and yet confining.  Yes, I realize it is just my perspective and I’m not saying anyone else has to share it.  I just feel it is time to share mine.

I have struggled with many things over the course of my life.  There have been eating disorders, suicidal impulses, brain chemistry issues, and many other fears and struggles that we all deal with as we go through each day.  I’ve prayed about these things.  I’ve sought God’s help with them and yet often find myself much like the apostle Paul who prayed repeatedly for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed but the answer was no.  The answer was that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.  So I took that as truth and tried to just power through whatever came instead of realizing God was in it with me. It was (and has continued to be at times) difficult.  Did I know God cares and that He wants to not only be my Savior, but also my friend?  Sure.  I could give you verse after verse that talks about all the ways He loves and cares for us.  I know all the right words…but something was missing.  It is the intimacy of God and the true strength of His power.  After all, if you start talking about these things…wait, if you start actually LIVING these things, you must be some “holy-roller” fanatic that has lost sight of the truth.  So maybe I shouldn’t ask “What is wrong with Christians,” but rather, “What is wrong with ME?”

I am blessed to have been taught by some of the most amazing teachers over the past 20 years of my life.  Some were within the churches I have attended and some have been outside those churches.  GASP!  I know that shocks the traditionalists but maybe there needs to be a little more shocking going on. Maybe we need to listen more to others and pay attention to what they say.  Maybe we need to spend more time determining the message’s validity based on God’s word instead of determining its validity based on the moniker under which it is said. Of course, that requires an openness many of us were taught to avoid and to listen only to people of the same denomination. shutterstock_123443956 What I have found so interesting over the years is how we can teach and learn the truth of God’s word, and even apply it to our lives in most ways, but do it in that same sterile and clinical manner in which many of us have been raised.  It isn’t simply that I don’t want this kind of sterile spiritual life; It’s that I don’t believe GOD wants us to have a sterile kind of spiritual life either.  He desires for us to be in a real relationship with Him, not just a spiritual one.  He wants us to not just know He is with us, but to feel Him with us.  He wants us to understand that He wants nothing more than for us to share ourselves with Him just as we would the people we are closest to here on this earth.  He wants to be a factor in everything we do, not because He wants to control us, but because He wants to help us.

Having a relationship with another human being means there is interaction.   There is give and take.  There is a desire to be near and talk with each other.  And when you truly love someone (purely, not in a romantic sense), there is nothing better than the closeness it brings.  You are part of each other.  Relationship isn’t just about knowledge of the other person; it is being IN IT with them.  We know this and yet we continue to act as though God is somehow removed from us even though we teach that He isn’t.  We are so afraid of talking about our relationship with God in terms we would use to describe our relationships with others, because we somehow think it is sacrilegious to assign human attributes to our Heavenly Father.   I get how some people are so careful to keep their discussion and perspective of God as “holy,” but holy isn’t some magical word!  It means to be set apart by (or for) God.  It isn’t some mysterious thing filled with such seriousness that it wrings the joy out of it.  shutterstock_214295497And on top of that, God used parables in the Bible continually to make things real and understandable to those around Him.  A parable uses the known to reveal the unknown.  So why do we shrink away from the fact that God gives us earthly experiences and relationships so that we can understand more what it means to be in a relationship with Him?  Because some of us have been taught, whether through words or actions, that we somehow degrade Him when we bring Him down to our level.  Imagine that!  I’m pretty sure the God who actually CHOSE to come down to our level and die for us is fine with staying down on our level and communing with us so that we can then rise up to His.

I’m tired of conservative Christianity.  I’m not saying I’m tired of one religion or another; I’m saying I’m tired of all of them.  I’m tired of having this great knowledge and God-given ability to discern His word that has to be put into some box of expression that fits the expectations of men!  I’m not saying I want to run off the rails and live on emotions alone, but there is nothing more “on track” about a relationship with God than the fact a real one will certainly stir emotions!  Relationships are personal.  Each one is different.  We need to all get over the rigid view we have of the truth and embrace it openly, fervently with everything in us.  Only then will we fully begin to experience the true power of His Spirit within us.  Only then will we begin to truly understand the freedom in His word.  If it is true that “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” then the truth is the only real relationship we ever have with God is the one most of us are afraid to embrace.  Because anything short of that kind of intimacy with Him is nothing more than simply keeping up appearances.

Blessings!

Resolutions…Or Not

shutterstock_191672999As we turn the page on the calendar to a new year, it is almost impossible to not stop and think about where we have been and where we are going.  A new calendar year is often a chance for new beginnings and a time of recommitting ourselves to the things we believe are important in life.  It’s easy to get lost during the course of a year and January 1st brings with it a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.  Of course, the reality is that EVERY day is a new beginning and a new year.  We have the ability to start with a clean slate at any moment we choose; it’s just that we are usually too busy to even remember we have that choice.

Reflection is a GREAT thing in which we should engage.  Taking even a few moments a day to get still and quiet can do wonders for our spirit (and our sanity) and we ought to do it more often.  I realize we are all extremely busy.  It is the nature of our society.  It doesn’t matter if you work at a job, home, in ministry or in some other volunteer capacity.  No matter what it is, the pace is almost impossible to maintain and is something I believe God never intended for us.  There is a reason He gave us a day for rest, and He even gave us an example of it in the creation of the universe.  He rested on the seventh day not because He was tired, but for an example to us that rest is important!  Rest allows us to contemplate, and we cannot contemplate very long before our spirits begin to consider God and His creation.  That’s a good thing!  When we consider these things, it puts everything else in life in perspective.  When we remember that there are things bigger than ourselves, it helps our troubles fade into the background for a while and brings new perspective.

shutterstock_224938534Reflection is really a two-pronged activity: 1)  We remember the blessings we’ve experienced.  2) We remember the mistakes we have made and the consequences those mistakes brought to our world.  There isn’t much danger in an over-consideration of how much we have been blessed in the past, but there is definitely a danger of over-considering all of our mistakes.  Reflecting on the things we need to do differently or areas in which we need to change can spur us to become better people.  It can also remind us of how far short we have fallen in what we wanted to accomplish in the past year (or in our lives).  How we react to these realizations and reflections will determine whether or not our next year is an amazing one or one that we will gladly be saying goodbye to next December 31st.

I’m not big on resolutions.  I don’t make them because I know they usually end up being more like wishes than commitments.  It’s easy to look at a new year and think about all the things I’d like to accomplish this year.  It may be a wish, a goal, or a dream but that doesn’t make me committed to it.  I can say, “I’m going to lose weight this year” (or anything else) and make that my “resolution,” but unless I actually commit to it long-term, it isn’t a resolution at all!

Commitment is an interesting thing.  It isn’t an activity that is loud or visible; it is something that is quiet, strong and steady when no one else is looking. It doesn’t need accolades or applause.  It simply needs a humble heart whose desire for sincere change runs deeper than a need for the approval of others.  Commitment is staying true to the path or changes to which you have been called rather than just “trying” it for a while before going back to your comfort  zone.

shutterstock_221511418So let us begin 2015 not with resolutions, but with resolve.  Let us not begin with promises, but with promise.  If we will look within and commit to simply living our beliefs rather than trying to conform to what we think others want us to be or do, we will find this year to be one of our greatest…no matter what circumstances it may hold.

Blessings!