66 in 52 Challenge, Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Reflections on Judges – Not My Generation!

For me, the entire book of Judges can be summed up in this verse found early on in the book:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

I find it hard to even describe my thoughts and feelings as I read this verse, because I feel like we’re living somewhere in the middle of it today. I look at my generation (as well as the one after us) and I sadly see these two things true of us as a generation:

  • We don’t know or acknowledge the Lord.
  • We don’t remember the things He has done for us.

Of course, there are exceptions (I certainly hope I am one of them!) but as a generation, we don’t know God.

Then, to go on and read the rest of this book with that in mind, fear starts to creep in a bit. With these two things defining their generation suddenly things like murder, idolatry, rape, deception flood the story line. When we don’t know God and don’t remember what He has done, life gets pretty overwhelming pretty quick.

The repeating cycle in Judges continues today individually as well as generationally: we follow God for a while, then we don’t. We walk our own way until our lives get so horrible we can’t take it anymore and then we cry out for help. Of course, God, in His never-ending love and mercy, rescues us and sets us on the right path again. But, after a while, we forget again and turn our own way.

I’m sick of the cycle and I guess I don’t want to be part of a generation defined by our wandering. But even worse than that, I don’t want to be the generation the first part of the verse mentioned. It’s easy to skim over, but I think the reason the next generation didn’t know God or remember what He had done for Israel, was because the generation before them didn’t tell them.

If the generation after me doesn’t know God, that’s not on them. That’s MY generation’s fault. How can they “remember” the mighty works of God if they’ve never heard them? How can they know and acknowledge God if they’ve never been taught?

Oh, I see so much of God’s grace in the book of Judges, but I also feel some conviction. I sense the Holy Spirit motivating me to not only be part of a generation that knows and remembers Him, but that makes sure the next generation has that opportunity as well. I want to be part of a time in history where, thousands of years from now, people can look back and say THOSE people acknowledged God in their lives! I want to be defined as a generation who knows God and makes Him known. I want to see passion in the next generation to follow God greater than their sinful nature to wander away.

Our God is big enough to break the cycle in this generation. I’m ready and willing to join in on that work!

66 in 52 Challenge, Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Reflections on Exodus

It’s easy for me to read through a book like Exodus and kind of wonder: “How couldn’t they see it?!?” God’s provision, protection, and guidance are so clear chapter after chapter. From protecting Moses as a baby to grand things like splitting a sea in two or food appearing out of thin air day after day, God’s action on behalf of the Israelites is obvious. Yet, they complained constantly, thought going back to slavery would be better for them, made idols while God’s presence was still on the mountain in front of them, and blamed God instead of praising Him. How could this be? Couldn’t they see what God was up to?

But when I really stop to think about it… some days I’m no different. God performs a miracle, but we miss it because we were expecting something different. God figuratively splits seas or thunders from a mountain and the next day we’re so caught up in daily life we forget His power. We become immune to daily ‘manna’ falling from the sky in the form of food and shelter and friendships and His love and start to complain. I’d like to think that if I saw some of the miraculous things the Israelites witnessed I would never stop praising, but I’m not so sure I’d be any different.

One verse that struck me came right as God was enacting this great plan to lead them out of Egypt. Pharaoh had finally worn down and they were on the move. Passover had been instituted and God’s people had been spared the death of the firstborn that plagued the rest of the land. They had not yet come upon the Red Sea, but certainly had plenty to praise God for already.

So Moses said to the people, ‘This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. … On this day in early spring, in the month of Abib, you have been set free. You must celebrate this event in this month each year…” (Exodus 13:3-5 NLT)

Reading this translation struck me… REMEMBER… YOU HAVE BEEN SET FREE… CELEBRATE! It goes on to explain how God wants them to celebrate but the party stops pretty quick as they approach the Red Sea and see that Pharaoh has changed his mind. The army is approaching quickly from behind and the body of water ahead has them trapped.

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (Exodus 14:10-12)

Suddenly they wanted to go back. Their current situation seemed worse than slavery, but that’s because they forgot the powerful mighty hand of their God.

Earlier this month I attended a conference. One of the hosts said this as he wrapped up one of our sessions:

Sometimes we feel like: “God you’ve led me to a place where there’s no where out.”
God says: “That’s only because you haven’t seen a sea parted.” – Ben Stewart

As I thought about this story that I’ve heard many times, as well as my own tenancies to complain and forget what God can do, I wondered if a key piece in all of it was the celebration God instituted the chapter before.

When Moses told the people to remember the day they had been set free, he said, “you MUST celebrate it”.  One way to read this Scripture would imply a focus on trying to please God and so we must praise Him because He deserves it. It’s true, God does deserve our praise, but I wonder if the “must” here is more about God knowing our nature. He “demands” celebration in a sense because He knows we need it. He knows that we MUST celebrate or we will forget. We must celebrate or we will worry. We must celebrate or we will feel trapped and see no way out. We must celebrate because we are free. Without celebration, we find our souls enslaved again.

I don’t know what celebration looks like for you, but find a way to party today. God has done everything to secure our freedom. May we never be slaves again!

2018-01-13 09.05.07

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Bonus Thought: Music is one way I choose to celebrate. Maybe this song by Ellie Holcomb can help you live free today!

So we will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t, see the way
He will part, the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road” – Ellie Holcomb “Red Sea Road”

 

Devotional

The Work of Christmas

I was reminded today of this poem I read a few months ago.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins,

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

~ Howard Thurman

Some good stuff to think about as many of us plan and dream for 2018.

Let the work of Christmas begin!

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Devotional

Not consumed…

Pick any day of the year and countless themes might threaten to consume us. The holiday season seems to up that pressure tenfold. Not only are we consumed, we also carry the title: consumers. As we hit the shopping malls and big box stores we consume so much which leads to being consumed.

We become consumed by planning the picture-perfect-pinterest-party for family, making sure all the food is just right, the decorations are “beautiful, the gifts are spot-on.

We become consumed by fliers, social media adds, apps dinging on our phone reminding us the latest sale, the newest gadget we all need.

We become consumed by to-do lists, by running kids here, there, and everywhere, by all the ways we don’t measure up.

We become consumed by the feeling that this is not what we really want Christmas to be about.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
(‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:21-26‬ ‭NIV; emphasis added)
Not consumed.
Those words seem to jump off the page. Oh, of all the things that threaten to swallow us whole, there is a thing that can keep us from being wholly consumed.
Love.
Specifically the never-failing love of God.
Because of that love we don’t have to be consumed by ANYTHING this Christmas season. We can stare Satan down and declare, “Not today, buddy. Not any day. This does not have to consume me because nothing can keep me from God’s love.”
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
THOSE are some words with power! Those are some words that we can cling to and declare when things start to overwhelm… I will NOT be consumed. I will call this truth to mind, I will set my heart on hope, I will get my eyes focused on Jesus, the Christ-child, the One this whole holy-day is actually all about!
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are NOT consumed.
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Need a little reminder like I do? Below are photos I created that you can save to set as your desktop or phone background.
#notconsumed(2)
#notconsumed(3)
Devotional

Hide-and-Seek

Every kid I know loves the game hide-and-seek, whether I’m babysitting for some friends or hanging out with my nieces, it’s one of the first ideas that comes to their minds when brainstorming how to spend our time together. Even just the other day I was talking with my nieces on the phone using FaceTime when my youngest niece, Maddie, suggested we play hide-and-seek. I love her childlike heart that still thinks anything is possible, even playing hide-and-seek despite being over 1000 miles away from each other. So we did. Grandma helped a little bit by scanning the room until I “found” her. She was so excited!

The enthusiasm for this type of game continues for older kids as well. Even my high schooler students at church beg to play Sardines every chance they can, a reverse game where one person hides and everyone else seeks them out. They clamor to be the one to hide.

But I don’t think it’s really about the hiding that makes this game so appealing. Perhaps we all have this innate desire, even from young ages, to be found. We long to be noticed, to be sought after, to be seen. Being pursued shows value and worth… to a toddler… to a teenager… to us adults, too.

Don’t we often play our own games of hide and seek? Whether with other people or with God, we hide behind busyness, behind masks of “fine”, behind Pinterest-perfect snacks for kids’ classrooms or behind instagram posts that only show a small sliver of the reality of our lives. We hide, and yet, it seems no one really wants to be stay hidden. No child enjoys it if they hide too well and can’t be found. It might be fun at first, knowing you did a good job, but then doubts creep in wondering if you will ever be found. Again, this mirrors real life.

Has anyone even noticed that I haven’t been around church for over a month?

Will anyone see that I’m not really “fine”?

I know my life is a mess but sometimes I just wish they’d find me out so I wouldn’t have to put on the show anymore.

I know I SAY I don’t want anyone to know what’s going on, but it’s actually pretty lonely.

Oh yes, we know how to play hide and seek, perhaps all too well. While, according to the Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society traced the origins of this children’s game back to at least the 2nd century, we’ve really been playing for much longer than that.

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.” – Genesis‬ ‭3:8‬ ‭‬‬

Shame was what caused these two, the very first humans–and probably many of us–to hide. They had done the one thing God has asked them not to do, they broke the one rule that He knew would keep them safe and free and full of the most abundant life. They had stepped over the line and now their relationship with God was different.

Instead of delighting in joining God on an evening stroll through the literally PERFECT garden, they hid. Behind some trees they went. Like a two-year old who hides practically in plain sight, God wasn’t fooled when He came to find them. “Where are you?” He called. Knowing what I know about God through Scripture, I imagine His tone was much like that of mine when I wander around the house searching for my nieces even when I know exactly where they already are, “I wonder where Maddie could be? Could Karlie be behind the curtain?”

He, of course, knew what had happened. He also know exactly where they were. He didn’t need to ask them their location when “Where are you? came out of His mouth; He needed them to hear that despite what they had done, they were worth seeking out, worth finding. There, in the middle of the mess they’ve made, He would not leave them in hiding. He would come, that day, and He would come again, in the form of a baby, who grew to be a Messiah, a Savior on a seeking mission:

“Jesus responded, … For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke‬ ‭19:9-10‬ ‭‬‬

So whether we’re hiding in shame of what we done like Adam and Eve, or hiding from the hurt of what’s been done to us in this broken world… if we’re hiding in “bushes” of perfectionism, pain, pressure, or pleasures… whether we’ve been here just a short time or if it feels like we’ve been waiting forever to be found, Jesus comes. He’s on a mission. He knows right where you are and He doesn’t just seek you out to shame you more or tell you what you could have done differently. No, our God rejoices and celebrates when you are found!

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’”Luke‬ ‭15:4-6‬

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” Luke‬ ‭15:22-24

Like a lost sheep found by a shepherd or a lost son found by a father, our God delights in finding us. Come out of hiding today, you have been found!

Olly Olly Oxen Free! You can come out of hiding and not lose the game! God has made a way to cover the shame and heal the hurt. Save the hide-and-seek games for fun Saturdays with the kids. Live as God’s child, found and free today!

Advent, Devotional, Joy

LAUGH!

I wake up one morning and lay there in bed a while. I had been working for 6 months or so to get the iron levels in my body back up to normal and now, most days, I didn’t even notice it any more. But this day, I noticed; there is still a ways to go. With the stores of iron depleted, strength and energy can be depleted too. While it’s not a big deal and soon will be resolved, a lack of iron can inhibit a body’s ability to carry oxygen throughout, making the act of getting out of bed on a cold December morning an undesirable task.

Considering this, my hand slides toward the night stand and pulls back a book. And these words catch my attention from an Advent devotion I’m reading the fourth year through…

“Laughter… oxygenated grace.”

Like iron-filled, oxygenaged cells are needed for my heart to pump and my body to live, laughter fills up grace, gives it life and strength, so my soul can live. Anemic souls, like cells, need oxygen too.

When God’s breath of grace fills our lungs, we can choose joy over fear. We choose laughter, because in these hard, uncertain times— in health, in families, in marriages, in our country, in our world—grace is what we need and sometimes it’s laughter that makes it possible. When the tears flow and our entire soul feels lacking in iron-like strength, we laugh. Because God is still good and God is for us and God longs for us to enjoy life, to enjoy Him. Perhaps that’s one way we are able to get out of bed another morning, putting one foot in front of the other.

Laugh!

And suddenly I’m reminded of a moment from earlier that week standing at the front of the church. Bowing in reverence, contemplating the seriousness of my sin and the beauty of my Savior’s sacrifice, I prepare to recieve the beautiful gift of Christ’s body and blood. Something happens and suddenly a giggle starts; it can’t be contained. My Pastor and I try to keep it in, control it, but we

can’t.

stop.

laughing.

It seems so irreverent, so inappropriate even by some. But there, in God’s presence–receiving this gift of Christ’s strong and powerful blood in me–I think God smiled and laughed with us. When amazing grace overcomes us it often overflows. And as that oxygenated grace (a.k.a. laughter) filled my lungs and snuck out in uncontrollable giggles, hope awoke, joy flourished, and all seemed well with my soul.

The world remains in shambles around us, uncertainty lingers awaiting what will come next in our lives, and who in this whole wide world even knows what this day will bring. But, as one proverb says:

“[A noble woman] is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:25

So find a reason to laugh a little today. No more fear! Only dignity and nobility! Only strength!

Let the corners of your mouth creep up when the world pushes you towards a frown. Don’t ignore the hard, but stare it in the face, fill up your lungs with that “oxygenated grace” and laugh. Offer that strong grace to others as well.

Perhaps the opposite of fear is laughter itself. And there is nothing to fear… in this day, this week, this life. His love is faithful… and because of the Lord’s faithful love, we are not consumed by the anxieties of this world (Lamentations 3).

Sliding the book back to the nightstand and my feet to the floor, these words from the author’s heart echo in mine:

“There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear: ‘All fear is but the notion that God’s Love ends.’ And His love for you never will. So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed. Laughter—it’s all oxygenated grace.”

– Ann Voskamp

Breathe it in deep today! Be strong!

LAUGH!

Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Home.

I truly enjoy travel, trips, and adventure.

I also greatly cherish returning home.

Many good things arise in chances to get away. I loved the opportunity to put work aside for the past week and be refreshed. More than that, I truly enjoyed spending time with my family. I see things in a new light when I step away a while; I think we all do. Also, when my environment changes and I am out of my normal routines, my eyes, ears, mind, and heart can see, hear, think, feel, and experience God in new ways. This is one reason we feel so strongly about taking trips and retreats with our students at church—stepping out of everyday life opens us up to new things God wants to show us.

All of that is true. At the same time, there’s nothing quite like your own bed, your own car, your own house! Returning home is such a beautiful thing. My routines help me stay healthy and bring a sense of grounding for my soul. I am greeted by people so dear to me and welcomed in a way that only happens when you’re home. (I can navigate my neighborhood and traffic without getting lost!)

But sometimes where or what home is can be a little confusing. Still after 7.5 years living in Buffalo, people still ask me when I get to go “home” (to Kansas) next. And yet, while I’m away, those same people ask when I’m coming “home” to Buffalo. Both are “home” to me… and evidently others acknowledge that too. That place I lived the first 18+ years of my life will always feel a little like home, but returning to Buffalo does too.

Some say. “Home is where the heart is.”

Others: “Home is where the WiFi connects automatically.”

Whatever quote you may want to use, it does seem that home can actually be more than one place. Also, while I am thankful for my yellow house across from the creek with the maroon Suzuki sitting outside and my amazing bright kitchen and cozy bed, it seems that “home” is more a feeling than physical place.

Home is where we belong.

Home is safe.

Home is a sanctuary to return to, rest in, and be renewed.

Home is people and a place and a feeling and more.

And perhaps, as I recently wrote, returning home is more a state of my soul than anything.

This seems to make the most sense as I process the concept my true forever home will never be found while here on earth. The Author of the book of Hebrews says it this way:

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

No, this home is not permanent. I will move out of this apartment some day, and any other house I occupy. I will also leave this earth one day and only then will I find my forever-home.

As I sit here today thankful to be “home” after a week away, along with gratitude for time at “home” in KS, it seems as if God is giving me a little glimpse into how amazing that final homecoming will be. Safety.

Sanctuary.

A sense of belonging.

People.

Wholeness and well-being for my soul.

All of those things will be present.

And in the hard times where NOWHERE in this world feels like home, these words from Jesus to His disciples right before His death bring comfort, hope, and promise:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am.”

The squeals of my nieces echoing off airport walls in Kansas are awesome. The hugs of friends greeting me here in NY are beyond great. Yet, oh how I long for the day I get to hear my Heavenly Father say: “Welcome home, my daughter! Welcome home!” Oh what a glorious homecoming that will be!