Uzzah, The Ark and Us

Loving God Who Dwells Within Your Neighbor

2 Samuel 6:1-7

Maybe you have been there. You open up your Bible, welcoming the Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, to speak to you through it’s pages.

Then the story you encounter stops you in your tracks. It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s not perfectly tied up with a bow and an absolute moral truth.

You find yourself asking, “What, God? What are you saying to me in this moment?”

That is where I found myself, as I read the account of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant.

Seeking the Ark

2 Samuel 6 is the story of David’s mission to bring the Ark of the Covenant (Ark of God) back to glory. The Ark was extremely important to the Israelite people- the presence of the Lord dwelled within it. God cannot be constrained to a box, and yet, for the benefit of His people, He intentionally put Himself there. The Ark of the Covenant was created to be an object where the presence and power of the Lord would dwell, and this gave the Israelite people comfort, peace and assurance. They KNEW that if they had the Ark, they had God’s presence. They knew being near the Ark meant they could be near the Lord.

There were very specific instructions given regarding the care and handling of the Ark. Following and honoring these instructions allowed the Israelites to honor and respect the presence of God within the Ark. It wasn’t about “following the rules,” so much as displaying honor and respect for God’s presence.

For a long time, the Israelites honored the presence of God within the Ark…until they didn’t. When David set out to recover it, it had been tucked away in the home of a priest, Abinadab, for thirty years. As a priest, he would have been a Levite- one of those tasked with, and fully informed regarding the care and handling instructions for the Ark. As his son, Uzzah would have also been a Levite. He would have been held accountable by God for honoring and respecting these instructions. He’d have been expected to honor God’s presence within the Ark.

Those instructions included the Ark being covered prior to transport, being transported by certain people using poles (not on a cart pulled by oxen) and it not be touched.

None of these instructions were honored. The presence of God was not treated with deference and respect that day. The men were in a rush to get the Ark relocated, and they did not give the presence of God the level of reverence that was due. The Ark went uncovered. It was loaded onto a cart and pulled by oxen- not carried by the correct men using the correct poles to its new location.

“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God, and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

When they came to threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he had reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6: 1-7)

All of this seems very procedural to us. It seems like elevating the importance of an object- the Ark- above the importance of a person- Uzzah. But as I processed the passage, I realized that it was never about the object. It was about “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The object was the earthly vessel carrying God’s presence and power. Uzzah treated it with disrespect, disregard and dishonor.

In Light of the New Covenant

What does this mean for us, today?

How do we “honor and respect the presence of God” when God no longer dwells in the Ark? The presence and power of God is not found in objects. There is no “Ark”. God does not dwell in the church building, nor is his presence bound up in the pages of our Bibles. God dwells within us. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, which dwells within US. WE are His temple. WE are his Ark.

When Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, he said, “… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:17b NRSV)

“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

You see, these two commandments are intrinsically linked, because the Spirit no longer dwells within the Ark. The Spirit dwells within us- God dwells within your neighbor.

Because of this, and because of the example of Uzzah, we also see how seriously God takes injustice. When we harm our neighbors- when we hurt, disrespect and dishonor our neighbors, God takes this affront very seriously. When we disrespect our neighbors, we, like Uzzah, disrespect the Ark. When we dishonor people in whom the presence of God dwells, like Uzzah, we dishonor the presence of God himself.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is when-we-dishonor-people-in-whom-the-presence-of-god-dwells-like-uzzah-we-dishonor-the-presence-of-god-himself..png

The way we treat one another matters significantly. God does not take this lightly.

Repenting of Ignorance

As a white woman, I have not always seen the dishonor, disrespect and pain that has been inflicted upon my brothers and sisters of color. I have lived in a bubble, where I have not seen or experienced the things they have. My experiences with race have rarely, if ever, been harmful.

In my quest to be “colorblind,” I have invalidated the experiences of my brothers and sisters. In my efforts to pursue equality, I have inadvertently dismissed or minimized the experiences of those not-like me. I have not “loved my neighbor as myself,” well. You see, I would not have considered it loving if my life-shaping, adversity-overcoming experiences had been dismissed because “we shouldn’t see poverty” and “we are all the same.”

Honoring God within me means honoring all that poverty, for example, contributed to the reflection of God I carry today. The same is true of my brothers and sisters of color. They are unique reflections of God, and the experiences they have had because of their skin color are a part of that reflection. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in them in spite of those experiences, but rather shines through them. They reflect the presence of God. We cannot ignore. We must give honor.

I was in a hurry to “solve the problem” and I missed the opportunity to honor the presence of God.

David did the same thing. He just wanted to GET THE ARK RELOCATED. He didn’t pause to go about it the right way. He didn’t take the time, or the effort, or the investment to learn what was required to honor the presence of God within the Ark. It cost Uzzah his life.

How many lives will it cost before we put in the time, effort and investment to honor the presence of God in those who are different from us? Even if it makes us uncomfortable, or makes the journey longer, or more intensive?

After Uzzah’s death, David was angry. He was afraid. It didn’t make sense to him. How could God respond this way? He was trying to restore the Ark, after all.

David was trying to make it right, but he went about it all wrong. In the aftermath of Uzzah’s death, David had to press pause. Something went horribly wrong.

Something has gone horribly wrong.

Let’s learn together

For three months, the ark stayed put in the home of Obed-Edom. (2 Samuel 6:10, NRSV)

After three months, David returned. He had recognized the lack of respect and honor he had displayed the first time around, and he set it right. He utilized priests, sacrifice, special poles and Levites. He took his time. He learned and he changed his approach to ensure the Ark was treated with the reverence it was due. This time? No death.

Instead there was dancing. Celebration.

Can we take the time to learn? Are we willing to, like David, drop our pride and take the position of the learner? To recognize the presence of God within our brothers and sisters, listening as they instruct us on what THEY need in order to experience honor and respect? Are we willing to “love our neighbor as ourselves” while also “loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind,” knowing that the Lord dwells within our neighbor?

This applies to so many areas of life. It applies to the racial tension that exists as we reflect on the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. It applies to our church families, our families of origin, our marriages and parenting relationships. It applies to friendship and employment policies; to politics and social justice.

When we recognize the presence of God in our neighbor, and we love our neighbor as ourselves… when we love the Lord (dwelling within our neighbor) with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds… THEN we bring Heaven to Earth.

And then, there will be dancing. Celebration.

Lord, help me be more aware of your presence within the people around me. Help me remember that I give you honor and respect when I treat your image bearers with respect. Remind me that when your Spirit dwells within someone, you take disrespect and dishonor very seriously. Whenever I am tempted to respond without thinking, to take the quick and easy route, and to disrespect those in whom you dwell…remind me of Uzzah. Help me see you in the people around me. Give me your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Survivor

It’s Complicated: Abigail and David

Have you ever had to live with a bully?

I don’t just mean your older brother, who sometimes tormented you a bit, but also would have had your back the second someone else said a word to you.

I mean a bully. The kind of person who turned your world upside down. A person who changed the way you lived in and interacted with the world around you. Who tortured, tormented, and hurt you in ways that left scars lasting a lifetime?

I have lived with a bully. I know what it is like to live on high alert, tiptoeing around someone, learning their rhythms and finding ways to accommodate. When your life revolves around a bully, you learn how to breathe the same oxygen that they breathe. You speak their language. You learn how to cut them off at the pass, meeting their unmet needs in other ways to reduce the damage that they cause.

It’s not an uncommon story. Listen to survivors and you’ll hear the same thread- survivors of domestic violence, of childhood abuse and neglect, and even childhood sexual assault. Many will tell you that they survived by learning to read their abuser. They learned cues, triggers or even the needs of their abuser. In doing so, they found ways to survive within the environment. Survival is instinctual.

Abigail was a survivor. (1 Samuel: 25, NSRV)

She was married to a man named Nabal. He was extremely wealthy, owning both sheep and cattle. He’s described as a Calebite who was surly and mean with his dealings. Other translations use words like “harsh, badly behaved, and crude.” One of the servants even said to Abigail, “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

We’re given two adjectives to describe Abigail: beautiful and clever (intelligent in other translations).

This was a man whose world revolved around himself. He treated others poorly, as we see in his exchange with David, and he demonstrated no regard for others.

Can you imagine what life must have been like for Abigail? She was tied to this awful, bully of a man. She likely spent a large portion of her time cleaning up his messes- in fact, when Nabal deeply offended David, the servant went to Abigail. Why? Why would the servant do that? I would venture a guess… He’d probably seen Abigail clean up Nabal’s messes before. Likely many times before.

Abigail was a survivor. She knew how to adapt. She had learned, because she had no choice but to learn, how to interact with people her husband had offended. She learned how to mend broken relationships. She also likely had ample experience soothing the wounded ego of a prideful man. After all, her husband certainly fit the bill.

Abigail’s intelligence became critical when her husband offended another man with an enormous ego. In 1 Samuel 25, David and Nabal’s egos collided in what could have become a bloody, pride-filled disaster. But, Abigail.

David and his men had been in the countryside protecting farmers and shepherds. Nabal’s shepherds had benefited from David’s protection, and as a result, Nabal enjoyed the fruits of that labor. He threw a celebration in honor of the successful season, and David wanted an invite. When he sent messengers to Nabal requesting kindness and food for his men, Nabal dismissed them, scoffing, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat I have butchered for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”

He pretended to have no idea who David was. He compared David to a servant who ran away from his master. Such pride. Such arrogance. Such selfishness.

And David had his own egotistical response. He couldn’t handle being dismissed like that- not after he and his men worked so hard. All they had asked for was kindness and food. Who did this guy think he was, anyway? David was the future KING. Nobody treated him like that and got away with it. So he, and four hundred men, strapped on their swords. They headed for Nabal’s community. David declared that by morning there would not even be ONE MALE left alive.

He was not just out to kill Nabal. He was going to kill all of the men. Every last one. Prideful, arrogant vengeance.

Two prideful, arrogant bull-headed men, about to cost countless people their lives.

When the servant reported all of this back to Abigail, she moved quickly. She was a survivor, after all.

She immediately prepared all of the food David and his men should have been given in the first place and headed out to cut David off before he reached their camp…without telling her husband.

She reached David before he could attack and fell down before him. She knew what it takes to soothe a man’s bruised ego.

How many times before had she taken the violence intended for someone else, sparing them? How many times before had she offered herself up as a sacrifice, in order to keep the peace? She was clever. Intelligent. She knew what to do.

“Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he, Nabal is his name, and folly is with him, but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent” (1 Samuel 25:23b-25)

“Please, sir,” she begged, “My husband is a fool. I’m responsible. I should have seen your men and handled this myself.”

Isn’t this what survivors learn to do? Take on blame that is not theirs, in order to survive or keep other people safe?

Abigail then sang David’s praises. She reminded him that he was good and powerful and strong. She reminded him that he was the Lord’s chosen and offered him gifts. She encouraged him not to carry the weight of having sought vengeance. Instead, she insisted, leave vengeance to the Lord.

And David bought it, hook, line and sinker. He accepted the food, and turned away. Neither he, nor his men killed anybody, even though they set out to massacre every man at that camp.

A Different Perspective

I’ve seen this taught many times as I’ve participated in Sunday School and Bible Studies, especially women’s Bible studies.

Abigail was humble, beautiful and gentle, the church teaches. References to Proverbs 15:1, “a gentle answer turns away wrath,” abound. Extend the olive branch, be humble and kind, respond gently to aggression, soft speech can crush opposition. (Proverbs 25:15, NLT) Abigail is often upheld as an ideal of womanhood. She was beautiful, and smart enough to know what David needed in order to not kill people. She was humble, soft spoken, meek and gentle in her words.

I want to challenge that.

Abigail was brave. She was courageous. She was a survivor. She walked up to an army with nothing but food in her arms. She was willing to sacrifice herself to save every man in her community from the violence caused by two men’s egos.

Her gentleness and soft spoken response are not an ideal we should all seek to emulate. They are a response to toxic masculinity. They are the SURVIVOR in her. They are a reflection of her intelligence bubbling to the surface.

Abigail wasn’t being humble or meek. She was being smart. She read the situation, recognized it for what it was, and coddled David’s ego, just like she had likely done countless times with Nabal. She had survived marriage to a brute. She used the skills she’d fostered through that survival to save all of the men that day.

This story is not prescriptive. Is not an example for us to follow. It’s descriptive. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when egos run unchecked.

Rather than encouraging people to be like Abigail in the face of adversity and aggression, let’s discourage people from allowing their egos to run unchecked, like David and Nabal.

If Abigail is a Survivor, and her”gentle response” is conditioned from years of trauma, living with a bully, then what are we saying if we encourage people to respond to aggression like Abigail did?

Why are we encouraging conditioned responses rather than addressing the bully? The aggressor? Let’s flip that.

Hot Take

Abigail should not have had to meekly approach an army armed with nothing but food, offer herself as a sacrifice to save the men of her community, and stroke David’s ego in order to prevent a massacre. The two men in this story should have been able to self-regulate their own egos.

Conclusion

We shouldn’t strive to be like Abigail, although we should respect her for being a survivor and saving her community.

Instead, we should recognize the systems that put Abigail in a position that required survival in the first place, and dismantle them.

Abigail’s intervention was brilliant and heroic. It saved lives. But while Nabal died in the end (of Natural causes, brought on by God), David walked away as if nothing happened. His ego continued to be an issue, all throughout his life. As we read the account of David, we see over and over again that his ego ran unchecked, damaging the people around him. Pride and Power. Power and Pride.

Let’s stop trying to turn people into Abigails and instead hold our Davids more accountable.

We can do better. We should do better.

Lord, Thank you for revealing yourself to me when I open up your Word, even when the lesson I get is different from what has been taught to me for years. I am so thankful for your Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of me. God, help me be humble. Don’t let me be like David, charging ahead in a quest for vengeance, or like Nabal, selfishly putting my own desires above the safety or the needs of those around me. When I start to become like Abigail, remind me that Yes- I am a survivor. You have walked with me through some very tumultuous waters, and I am thankful for that. However, when I am tempted to apply my conditioned responses to any Davids I encounter today, remind me that you loathe injustice. Remind me that I am not representing you well, nor am I doing anyone- including my Davids- any favors, when I coddle them so that their egos are left to run unchecked, damaging everything in their paths. Help me be better than I was yesterday. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Knowing and Sharing Yourself

Self Discovery Through the Enneagram: The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

Have you ever looked at someone you loved, in the middle of a crisis and thought, “If you just realized that what you are experiencing is different from what other people are experiencing, it would change everything…”

Yeah. Me too.

Here’s the problem. I’m really good at reaching for that speck in someone else’s eye while neglecting the plank in my own. Maybe you are too.

I’m good at seeing everyone else’s shortcomings…their “areas for growth.” I can look at a situation and see the alternate perspective relatively easily, as long as I am not directly involved. I can be a good friend, an advocate, a support person and a great listener. But, put me in the middle of the conflict and somehow I transform. I’m no longer mediator extraordinaire, justice-seeker, and a friend. Suddenly I am IN, and when I am in, I am ON. I have two speeds- stop or go. There is no in between.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection. I have come to realize that people around me don’t always experience me in the same way that I experience myself. I’ve been hearing that I have too much energy, I’m WAY intense and that I’m “kind of a lot” my entire life. Until recently, I rolled my eyes at this feedback. I thought, “They just can’t handle a strong woman.”

The first time that someone I loved and trusted gently told me that I came across as intimidating, domineering and even insensitive at times, I was floored. I am the most sensitive person I have ever met. I cry at car commercials. I read the most intense books, and I feel things at the very core of my being. My empathy levels are high. When someone I love experiences joy, I am joyful. When they experience loss, I grieve deeply. I mourn fictional characters, for crying out loud! How can it possibly be, that people would find me insensitive?!

Last summer, I attended a conference for work, where I was introduced to the DISC assessment. Before that, I had taken the (free version of) Myers-Briggs and learned a bit about my personality type. The DISC assessment was helpful for me at work because I was able to identify what matters most and least to me at work, helping me delegate tasks that I’m less efficient with. It also sent me exploring the world of personality assessments, and that is where I discovered the Enneagram. The Enneagram assigns you a number, identifying your personality type, 1-9, along with a “wing” number.

When I took the Enneagram assessment- for free, online, at first I was confused. I got multiple high scores. As in, inconclusively high. Here’s what the breakdown looked like:

  • 2- 98%
  • 3-93%
  • 4-89%
  • 5-93%
  • 7-93%
  • 8-97.5%

Ummmmm… WHAT?

I am the kind of person who needs all of the information. Information is power. Information gives me an element of control. So, I set out to research each of these numbers on the Enneagram to discover which was the best fit for me.

I ruled out the three and four pretty quickly. While elements of these personality types fit (I want to be seen as a success and I can be a bit…theatrical) as a whole, it didn’t all work.

I really thought I was a 2, The Helper. This was my highest score, after all, and I liked the way it sounded. Mother Teresa was a 2. I liked being compared to Mother Teresa. Twos are caregivers who put their own needs on hold, meeting everyone else’s needs. They make others feel safe and comfortable. They need to feel needed.

All of this hit home. I almost claimed the two and called it…but something wasn’t sitting right. You see, “Two” felt more like who I WANTED to be, and not who I actually am. The sweet, thoughtful, selfless two didn’t seem consistent with the person my friend described as “insensitive, domineering, and intimidating.” In my quest for due diligence, I kept researching.

I went to the next-highest score. The eight is known as “The Challenger,” and as I read about this personality type, I cried. It felt as if someone was looking directly into my soul. “Eights lust after intensity-they are high intensity dynamos who want to be wherever the action and energy are, and if they can’t find any, they’ll cook it up. Eights have more energy than any other number on the Enneagram. They are fiery, zestful, earthy, full throttle people who drink life down to the dregs and then slam their glasses down and order a second round for everyone else at the bar.” (The Road Back to You, 44)

Wow. I went on to read that Eights can be compared to Martin Luther King Jr. when healthy, or Joseph Stalin, if unhealthy. These are people who care deeply about justice and are passionate and intense- so much so that it can come across as intimidating or be overwhelming for people who aren’t eights. Many eights experienced powerlessness in some form as children, which shaped a deep desire for justice and advocacy in them. They value truth and information, because information is power, and the one (and only) thing that eights fear is being controlled. Withholding information or truth is a form of control, and it destroys trust in eights. Because of this, they are frank, no nonsense people who do not shy away from conflict. In fact, conflict can create intimacy for an eight, because it leads to the discovery of truth and information. They fiercely protect their small circle of people with all of that intensity and ferocity.

In health, eights use all of this pent up intense energy and desire for justice, channeling it for people. In doing so, they become more like healthy twos. This explains why I had tested high as a two- because when I am healthy, this is how I behave, and I want to see myself as healthy.

In stress, eights retreat into their minds and become observers and analyzers. They can forget to take care of themselves, and take on negative characteristics of a five. That explains why I tested so high as a five.

Every number has a wing- this is the number on either side of it- in this case 7 or 9, whichever has the highest score. For me, that was a 7. This means that I take on some characteristics of a 7 as well, explaining that high score. Sevens are constantly avoiding pain by living life to the fullest. They re-frame negatives and turn them into positives. They’re impulsive, adventurous spin doctors. I’ve got a bit of this in me.

So, what I experience as passion, others experience as intimidation. What I experience as connecting, others experience as divisive. What I experience as stimulating, others experience as exhausting. When other people are experiencing a negative, I turn it around and make it something to celebrate. I tell the truth, and sometimes that is too much for people, because they don’t view information the same way that I do.

Suddenly, the scales fell off of my eyes and so many experiences in my past made sense. My friend’s statements made sense. All of the things I thought I had communicated, but had come across all wrong fell into place.

When we learn about ourselves, there is power. When we share ourselves, there is even more.

Grace Upon Grace

Forgiveness is a complex beast. Scripture tells us that we should forgive one another 70×7 times, which I think is just a euphemism for over and over and over again. We should do this for one another, as well as for ourselves.

It’s hard to forgive when we are only interpreting each other’s actions through our own lens.

For a Six, like my husband, my blunt, honest, straight shooting, give-you-the complete and total-unabashed truth is not as loving as it is for me. To me, telling him the truth is loving. I’m giving him all of the information, which gives him power and control. Withholding control from him is the most unloving thing I could do, from my perspective.

So, if he asks, “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you’d never married me?” and I say “Yes. Of course.” and then move on with my life, that FEELS loving to me. I told him the truth, and gave him the information he requested.

BUT, to him, a fear-based, safety-seeking six, I have now sent him spiraling. “Is she thinking that now? Who does she wish she’d married? Clearly our marriage is over. Has she already gotten a lawyer? I’m going to be paying so much child support. I’m going to be poor. I’m never going to see my kids. Oh, I will FIGHT her for the kids! She won’t take my kids from me…”

I know, that may be a bit excessive, but you get the point. For him, safety, security and assurance mean love. For me, truth, information sharing and never being controlled mean love. Knowing and understanding this about one another helps us love each other well.

So now, instead of saying, “Yes, of course” and leaving it there for him to dwell on, I can say, “Sure. I’ve thought about it. But ultimately, I’m really happy with where I ended up, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

When he goes down what I call “crazy town road,” I can stop calling it crazy town road. This is NOT crazy, it is who he is. When I recognize him, instead of being quick to be offended (How in all that is good and holy, did you conclude that I am taking your children away from my, “yes, of course?!” What kind of person do you think I am?!) I can, instead, extend grace. I can see the love, commitment, and attachment to me that exists within his response. A response I previously believed was crazy. Likewise, he can see that I am being loving when I tell him the truth, because he knows that my truthfulness is my way of communicating love, even when it isn’t what he wants to hear.

However, the complexity of forgiveness is even more true of ourselves. I am the most guilty of beating myself up and not extending grace to myself. I bet you are too. This is universal. We are much more willing to forgive others than we are to forgive ourselves.

Well over a decade ago, I wronged and hurt someone that I loved. I have carried guilt and shame over this for such a long time. Other people have come and gone in my life, and I have been hurt in significant ways, yet I managed to forgive and move past those offenses. My own wrongdoings over a decade ago still haunt me. They follow me.

The person that I hurt harbors less anger and bitterness toward me over it than I do toward myself. I guarantee it.

Forgiving ourselves is HARD. But knowing ourselves makes it a little easier. As I have learned more and more about myself, I’ve begun to understand my own motives in the decisions that I have made. I don’t want to be controlled. I have a deep need to right wrongs. I am compelled to do what other people say can’t be done. I have to prove that I am strong, and fight back against bullies. Because I never do anything partway, doing these things can monopolize all of me, and if I am not careful, I can get lost in it.

Knowing this about myself, makes it a little easier to give myself grace.

Being Like Jesus

If we are called to be like Jesus, then we are called to extend grace. To one another, but also to ourselves. After all, Jesus didn’t just come to reconcile my husband and God. He came for me too.

What about you? Have you ever taken the time to truly get to know yourself? I don’t mean what you like, what you dislike and where your politics lie, but who you are, really. What motivates you? What energizes you?

Have you taken any of these personality assessments? What has God revealed to you through them? Has it helped you be more grace-filled?

If you’d like more information about the Enneagram, check out “The Road Back to You,” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I just devoured it in two days.

Lord, Thank you so much for the gift of self-discovery. Thank you for helping me be more aware of how I impact the people around me. Please continue to open my eyes. Help me walk the line of never letting go of the unique person you created me to be, while remaining cognizant of the needs of those around me. Thank you for grace, and for helping me extend grace to others and to myself. Make me more like you. Amen.

I love this; I hear a little of each of the 9 types in this song!

Discovering God in People

The Impact of Social Distancing

I was created for community. I find God in people.

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you find God in the silence. Maybe you need quiet and peace; nature and serenity in order to commune with God. Maybe you’re the kind of person who finds God in the stillness of the night sky, or in the colors of the sunrise or in the melodies of music.

I find God in people. We are his image-bearers, so this shouldn’t be the shock that it is. We were created in His image, to do His work, to be His representation here in creation. And yet, the more I realize that I find the Lord most in people, the more shocked I have been.

You see, this is not a typical Christian-ese thing. We aren’t taught that we will discover God in people. In fact, that is something we’re discouraged from doing. We’re told that people will let you down- and that’s true. We’re told people are fallible and sinful…also true.

But. BUT.

Shelter in place. Quarantine. Covid-19. Social Distancing. These things have taken away one of my lifelines, and as I have reflected upon why this has been so difficult for me, I have realized a truth about myself. It’s because I find God in people. So when you take PEOPLE away from me, it is much more difficult for me to commune with God. I feel further from the Lord because I am further removed from his image-bearers.

A Story full of People

When I look back on my journey of faith, it is FULL of people who loved unconditionally. It is full of experiences with PEOPLE who reflected God back to me. People taught me about God’s love. Silence didn’t do that. The still night sky, reflective periods at sunrise, and even sweet moments of worship music did not do that for me. People did.

When I was 15 years old and I accepted Christ for the first time, I didn’t do so after quietly contemplating atonement. I wasn’t seeking forgiveness as much as I was seeking acceptance, love and community. PEOPLE demonstrated that to me. A friend, inviting me to a concert. A band, welcoming me in as if I was one of their own. A community of believers taught me what love looked like, what unconditional acceptance looked like, and I learned about God through them. People. Human beings. Teenagers, even.

When I experienced abuse later that year, it was a person who showed up at that house to pick me up and take me to a safe place. God was at work, surely, but he was working through that young friend to remind that I was worthy of being rescued.

The summer after I graduated from High School, I experienced depression and anxiety in a very real and profound way. It was a person, a young man, who showed up at my home repeatedly. In that period of time, stillness, silence, quiet, the dark night sky, the colors of the sunrise- these things were my enemy. These things did not draw me closer to the Lord. They did not rescue me. They did not save. They were not healing. Do you know what was? That young man, who never let me feel alone. That young man, who pulled me out of isolation, and when I couldn’t bear to go, sat with me in my brokenness. In those moments, God was present for me. He never left me, He never abandoned me. He showed up through a person. He loved me tangibly, as this person loved me tangibly. That is what my love language needed, and He created me. He knows, more than anyone else, how to love me best.

When I went through a divorce and my best friend, who is an atheist/agnostic, showed up for me and never left my side, I experienced God’s love for me through her. When she knows me, my thoughts and my motives even better than I do…that’s God too. God’s image bleeds through her, even when she doesn’t claim His name. God gave me her.

When my daughter, June, died in a late missed miscarriage and my people rallied around me, that was God showing up for me. When I took my broken heart to the alter and felt a soft hand on my shoulder…yes. It was a person. A young woman who has become a dear friend… But it was also God. Because God is in people. When she touched me, I saw and experienced God’s love for me. His heart beat in time with mine and He was distraught at my pain. I saw that reflected back at me through her.

You see, these were people supporting me. I won’t discount that. Every person represented in these paragraphs is incredible. They are complicated, imperfect, fallible people whom I dearly love. But God was in them. God was working through them, whether they realized it or not because God breathed himself into us, as humankind, back at the dawn of creation. We are his. We bear his image. He dwells within us. Within people.

A Significant Impact

That is why, when a crisis strikes and people are taken away from me, I feel further removed from God. This is how God created me- to see His image reflected in people. In this moment in history, I cannot have these experiences. At this point in time, I have the stillness of the night sky, the beauty of the sunrise every morning and melodies of worship music. I can find silence and stillness, if I look hard enough, although that is not as easy in a household of seven. I have God’s Word, which I treasure. I thank the Lord for things like Social Media, Zoom, FaceTime and Marco Polo, which give me some hint of interaction with God’s image bearers.

But I don’t have people. Technology gives a cheap imitation when compared to the beauty and majesty of God’s creation- of us, of people, of the power and impact of the image bearers of God.

There is light, though. Today, our friends parked their car in front of our home to pray over us. This is the second time we’ve had friends do this for us during the shelter in place order. An Instagram girl-vent session led to a donation to our nonprofit, because it, “felt like a God wink.” I am seeing the strength of our team at the Pregnancy Resource Center, as they step up and do incredible things and make adjustments to keep serving while also keeping our community safe. I am so impressed by these people I get to serve with.

I long for the days when we can reach out to one another. Where we can invite one another in and rescue each other, like those teenagers did for me. I am eagerly anticipating a day when we can we can hold our loved ones who are broken. We will sit, side by side, wrapped up in each other, present in one another’s brokenness, the way that young man was for me when I first battled depression and anxiety.

I look forward to rallying around people. Together. Arm in Arm. Hand in hand. The way my people rallied around me when June died.

I am hopefully believing in a day when I can lay my hand on the broken-hearted again, and allow God’s face to be reflected in mine. When someone can once again see the Lord’s love reflected in my eyes, and feel his presence in my touch, like I experienced at the alter years ago…that will be a beautiful day, indeed.

Until then, Friends, We’re all in this together.

Come on, You’re dancing a little, right??

Worship Where You Are

I can’t carry a tune in a basket.

It’s true. I wasn’t blessed with a singing voice. That is not my contribution to the body of Christ. I’m not someone that the whole world WANTS to listen to sing.

Add to that the fact that we have been spoiled here in the American church with praise and worship that mimics a concert. Instruments and amps, cords and connections and sound professionals all come together every week to make sure that our worship experience smoothly ushers us into the presence of the Lord.

Many churches have entire teams of people whose responsibilities on Sunday morning include creating the ideal worship environment. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. One of the church’s roles is to help us walk in our relationships with the Lord.

Then Covid-19 came and turned our traditional American church experience upside down.

Suddenly we’ve all become a little like David. We’re in hiding, seeking refuge, looking to the Lord for deliverance, refuge and strength. But are we running to Him, singing his praises in authentic adoration and dependence?

It’s so easy, when things get hard and the world seems like an inhospitable place, to retreat. We aren’t used to worshiping when the kids are running wild, in our dirty, messy houses, with dogs barking and a million tasks pulling us in a million directions. Usually we set aside a time for worship. We say “On Sunday, I’m leaving my home and going to church, where I will silence my phone, check my children into the nursery/send them off to Kids’ Ministry and spend some time in worship.” Now, suddenly, that has been taken away from us.

Like David, we’re in a dirty cave, wondering what the future looks like. We’re hunkered down, but have we cast aside all of our pride? Have we set aside our desires to perform? To be the best, to have it all together, to look great to those watching? Are we still caught up in “Sunday Morning Best” attitudes?

We are called to worship the Lord right here, right now. In the middle of this chaos. In the middle of our messes. With kids climbing on us and bosses breathing down our necks as we attempt to work from home while homeschooling our kids and social distancing. We’re called, as sons and daughters of the King, to pause in Holy Devotion to the Lord in the midst of our messy living rooms, with kids asking us questions and dogs in our faces. In those moments, we’re called to lift our voices to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I was reminded of this today, when my dear friend and our church’s worship leader, Amber, posted a video she made for our little small town church community. Because of the shelter in place order, our church service on Youtube is not a full, live service. We are not getting our worship band all together in one place right now. Our Sunday morning church message is just our beloved Pastor sharing the message God has placed on his heart.

Amber created a worship set for us in her kitchen. She set a chair in front of her kitchen door, and there, with her Kindergartner asking her questions and her dog trying to get all up in her business, she offered her praise and worship to the Lord. A Capella- no background instruments. Alone. On Camera. For all of us to see.

It was one of the most beautiful, humbling things I have ever seen. I sat on my couch, in my pajamas, singing my soul to the Lord with tears streaming down my face. Turning on praise music while I clean my kitchen is not the same as pausing my life, and offering myself wholly before the Lord in worship.

We are called to worship where we are, all the time. Our souls long to connect with the God who traded Himself for us. We are created to press pause in the chaos that has become our lives and sit before the throne in humble adoration of the one who was and is and will always be.

Take a moment today, and stop.

The world isn’t going to stop making noise around us. We have to be the ones to stop, right in the middle of the chaos and sing our souls before the King. Let your joy shine through. Let your gratitude show. Let the Lord see your hurting, humble, redeemed spirit. You are His and He is yours and nothing will ever change that.

Life is beautiful, even in the midst of chaos, because he is the giver of life. He is healer, redeemer. He is a chain breaker. He is restoration, freedom and all that is good and right in the world.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness, come in to his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100, NRSV)

Lord, Thank you for this reminder today. Thank you for the beautiful moments of worship. Thank you for Amber and for all that she gives to me as a friend and to our church as a worship leader. She is such a blessing. I needed to be reminded that worship goes beyond just playing praise music and singing along. It’s pausing my life in a moment of adoration. I do adore you, Lord. You are my everything, and all that I have is yours. All that I have comes from you. Where would I be without you? I can only imagine. Help me continue to draw closer to your presence in authentic worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Amber’s Home Worship Set, for Shelbyville’s First Assembly of God
I hope it moves your spirit like it did mine.

Pressing Pause

The alarm clock wakes me up way before I’m ready. Tired is just a state of being. I don’t even remember a time when I wasn’t tired. I roll out of bed, and my phone is already full of notifications- Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are calling to me. I have 47 emails even though I cleared my inboxes…all four of them…before I went to bed. The kids are screaming in the kitchen. Breakfast.

And so the day begins. I swear I am going to slow down. The littles are dressed and off to school before I have time to even process that I am awake. I’ve cleared half the emails, cleaned up the kitchen and showered before my husband comes home from his night shift job- we high five in passing as I’m heading out to the office.

Then it’s go-go-go all day. I swear I’m going to slow down. Sometimes I remember to eat lunch, but most of the time client appointments, phone calls, emails and tasks are pulling me in a million different directions and I just forget. I’m consumed. Occasionally I come home at 5:30, but often we have evening events. Someone has practice, a ball game, church events or Bible Studies…all good, healthy productive things.

I say that I’m going to slow down, press pause and take the day. I even built work-from-home days into my 2020 schedule and took Carey Nieuwhof’s High Impact Leader course...I had just begun to implement the set calendar that he recommends before COVID-19 turned our worlds and our schedules upside down.

But even work-from-home doesn’t stop the constant onslaught. We’re still a chronically busy society. Even when I work from home, the phone rings, email pings, and my task list is far longer than the time I’ve given myself to complete it. I swear I’m going to slow down...but am I? Am I, really?

It’s all kind of a lot sometimes.

The last few weeks have turned our lives upside down and inside out. Normal is no longer normal. Here in IL, we are under “Shelter in place” orders until April 8th. We aren’t to be out interacting with people unless it’s considered “essential.”

Suddenly, so much of the busyness should have been ground to a halt.

And yet… we found a way to be busy.

Virtually overnight we found a way to do everything…well…virtually. School went to school-from-home. Work went to work-from-home. Church went to church-from-home.

Now, rather than being go-go-go out in the world, we are go-go-going in our homes.

Not only are we still doing our jobs, but we’re doing them with our kids at home while we educate them and handle more meals and more messes at home than ever. We are also doing ALL of the activities that have been sent to us from our church leaders while we stream Sunday morning services and jump on Zoom calls multiple times a day.

And did I mention how many times we’re supposed to sanitize everything and wash our hands?

It’s…well…exhausting.

I’ve been convicted, over the past few days, about my propensity to GO. Yes- of course I spend time in God’s word and I am intentional about prayer, but how much time do I spend not DOING?

What about you, friend?

God’s word is full of direction regarding rest. There are numerous references to the Sabbath and plenty of Psalms that reference the peace and rest that God desires for us. He also freely gives it to us, and it’s clear that God does not want us to work ourselves to the bone.

Jesus Desires Rest for His Workers

There is a beautiful little gem that I wanted to share with all of you, tucked into Mark 6:30-31. It’s positioned between the death of John the Baptist and Jesus feeding the 5000. Jesus wanted his friends to rest, and this is what set the stage for the feeding of the 5000!

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught…” (Mark 6:30 NIV) Can you picture it? All of the apostles, huddled around Jesus, sharing their stories of ministry. They were in the trenches, sharing the truth and doing all that Jesus had asked.

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat…” (Mark 6:31a NIV)

Friends, this one hit me right in the gut. They were busy doing ministry, and there were so many people coming and going that they didn’t even have a chance to eat. I relate to this on so many levels. Anyone who knows me well can tell you- my forgetting to eat because I get so caught up in what I am doing is a running joke. Our receptionist at the center will bring me my food because I will put it in the microwave, then get caught up in the work of ministry and forget about it. Thank the Lord for that woman!

Busyness kept them from having a chance to eat. They weren’t doing anything bad- they were busy in ministry! But, Jesus insisted that they press pause. He wanted them to rest. “he said to them, Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31b, NIV)

This act- the attempt to get his apostles to a quiet place where they could rest and eat in peace- is what led to the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.

“So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place’ they said. ‘and it is already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘That would take more than a year’s wages! Are we to spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’

‘How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’ When they found out, they said, ‘five-and two fishes.’

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and two fishes and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of men who had eaten was five thousand.” (Mark 6:32-44, NIV)

Jesus longed to give his apostles rest. He wanted them to have a quiet, solitary place to enjoy a meal. He valued them, and he valued their rest. The willingness to pursue that rest led to one of the most well known miracles in all of scripture.

Pressing pause honors God. Quiet, peacefulness and rest gives God space to work, where there would have otherwise been noise, plans and activity.

I can’t help but wonder if, in the midst of the COVID-19 chaos, we’re not hearing Jesus whisper to us, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Maybe, just maybe, He is calling out to us. Maybe He has a “Feeding the 5000” moment ahead, but we’re so busy Go-Go-Going that we’re missing it.

We have to be willing to go to a quiet place and get some rest. God works in the quiet. God works in the still. God works in the willing hearts of his people. Are we willing? Are we willing to be still and quiet? The minute we had the opportunity to, we quickly found a way to fill it.

Pressing pause is an act of obedience to the King. Pressing pause tells the Lord, “I trust You enough to not be in control of this moment in time.” Pressing pause is choosing faith, choosing hope and choosing Jesus over the demands of the world.

The world will not stop demanding of you. You will give and give and the world will take and take. Mark 6:30-31 tells me that when I give and give to Jesus, He looks out for me. He longs to take me to a quiet place where I can rest.”

That is what love looks like.

Lord, thank you for rest. Thank you for wanting me to rest, even when my life and the world seem to demand more and more of me. Thank you for seeing the work that I do in your name and offering me a quiet place at your feet to sit. Help me to embrace rest, to sit in the quiet and to not be pulled in by the constant pressure to do more. I need you, Lord. More than yesterday. I ask that you be with us as we face the uncertainty that is pandemic has brought. Give us peace that surpasses understanding, and help us make wise decisions. Most of all, help us to always be a reflection of you. Amen.

Discussion Questions:

What pressures have you experienced to do more, and forego rest? How are you navigating that, and choosing to press pause?

How are you finding peace and rest in the midst of all that has happened lately?

Drop any responses in the comments!

Selfless Love During a Crisis

Paul’s Shipwreck: Acts 27

It has not been a low-key week. Change has been happening day by day, hour by hour as we try to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 situation here in the United States. I’m the Director of multiple pregnancy centers, so we have been in a constant state of analysis, trying to determine the best ways serve our communities while protecting and preserving the health of all. I’m a mom in a household of 7, trying to do what is best for my husband and children. I just had surgery to remove my gallbladder and appendix. Like many of you, we did not attend church services on Sunday morning. Instead, we utilized streaming services to worship and engage with our church community.

When I first started studying Acts 27, I intended to blog about Paul’s exemplary leadership. After all, Paul was one of the greatest leaders in scripture. He was a leader in the early church, and he wrote a large part of the New Testament. The narrative of Acts 27 begins with Paul being taken by ship as a prisoner to Caesar, and ends with him leading 276 men through a shipwreck. How does one go from prisoner to the leader who saves 276 lives? Fascinating stuff!

However, as the last two weeks have unfolded, and the COVID-19 virus has taken center stage in our lives, the Lord began to reveal new, interesting details from this narrative to me. I began to read this passage with new eyes. I noticed things that I hadn’t noticed before. I want to share those revelations with all of you today.

The Background

As I continued to study Acts 27, the Lord took me backwards through scripture. Back in Acts 23, the Lord revealed something to Paul that became very significant to my study as I have watched this COVID-19 situation evolve here in the United States. The Lord revealed to Paul that he would bear witness in Rome before Caesar. This seems like such a little detail, but it became significant as the narrative played out. He ended up getting arrested and put on a ship with a bunch of other prisoners, headed for Rome.

You see, Paul had inside information that nobody else on the ship had. Paul knew that he would arrive safely in Rome. He had no reason to be concerned about his safety during this long voyage because God had already revealed the next step to him- he was to bear witness before Caesar. Paul couldn’t exactly do that if he died on the way, right? He had to know that he was safe. If God intended for him to survive and bear witness, it would happen. Paul had seen God perform incredible, supernatural miracles. He had every reason to believe that God would ensure his safe arrival in Rome.

Traveling to Rome

The voyage was a long one. Along the way, the sailors made some choices that Paul disagreed with. He was a seasoned traveler, and he believed that they needed to stop for their winter break when the sailors believed they should press on, stopping later. Although Paul had earned the respect of his guard, Julius, the sailors overruled Paul and the voyage continued.

Then the storm hit. It was epic. It was one for the ages. It ravaged them, and through this crisis, Paul’s leadership and selflessness became apparent. He stepped into the crisis, and began to speak into the decision making. He looked at the situation, using wisdom to make decisions that would preserve all lives on board. He wasn’t trying to save himself- he was secure. He was advocating for others.

Later, an angel revealed to Paul that all lives aboard the ship could be saved, but they would need to run the ship aground.

What a scary thing to have to do. They had to crash on purpose.

Selfish or Selfless?

The sailors were not crazy about this plan. They were thinking about themselves, and they weren’t concerned enough for the other men on the ship to follow through on a plan that was less convenient and less ideal for them. They had a different plan… one that required less of them, but saved themselves. They planned to take the lifeboat for themselves, abandoning ship. With them gone, there would not have been any people skilled enough to safely bring the ship aground left on board. The crash would have been far worse. People would have died.

But Paul, in his wisdom and forethought, recognized the value of every person on board that ship. He understood that each person bore the image of God, and he was convicted- if all lives COULD be preserved, then Paul was going to do all that he could to ensure that they were. He was not willing to sacrifice some lives, even though he knew he was meant to make it safely to Rome.

He ordered the guards to cut the ropes holding the lifeboat. That left the sailors with no selfish choice- they had no good choice but to run the ship aground.

So they did. As the ship broke apart, those who could swim swam ashore. Those who could not swim grabbed a plank and floated toward the shore.

Nobody died. 276 men survived the shipwreck.

When facing a crisis, Paul unselfishly expected those who had more, were more capable and could contribute more to do so. He expected the sailors to stay and run aground even though that wasn’t the easiest for them. He expected everyone on board to contribute to getting the ship as close to shore as possible, so that those who could not swim would survive. It wasn’t what the sailors wanted to do, but it was necessary to preserve the lives of ALL. The lives of others are worth our inconveniences and discomforts.


Choosing Selfless Love

Paul knew that he was going to be fine. He knew that God would ensure that he arrived in Rome. Just like most of us know that COVID-19 won’t kill us. For most of us, we won’t feel well for awhile and then our lives will go back to normal. But we are not called to do the bare minimum to bring our lives back to some semblance of normal. We are called to radical, selfless love for the least of these.

We should be willing to do more, go further and be inconvenienced and uncomfortable in service to the least of these. For Paul, those were his fellow prisoners, the guards and the people on board who could not swim.

For us, in this crisis, the least of these are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. They are the people who won’t just bounce back from a COVID-19 infection. Loving them well means willingly sacrificing our comfort, our normal, and our daily lifestyles in order to preserve their health and safety.

It’s not an issue of choosing between fear and faith. It’s choosing between self-preservation and self-sacrifice for others.

Jesus said that we would be known by our love. (John 13:35) We have been given an opportunity to display that love. We have been given a chance to show the world that our habits, routines, ceremonies, incomes and creature comforts are not more valuable than people. We now have a chance to reflect Jesus. His self sacrifice was far greater than this, when he allowed his body to be broken for us at the cross.

Social distancing is nothing compared to the cross. When we choose to honor one another, and when we choose to serve the least of these, we choose to serve the King.

Be selfless. Love your neighbor well. Serve well.

Today, in the midst of this crisis, serving well means honoring social distancing.

What other passages come to mind, as you think about the commands to love one another well, to serve the least of these and to be known for our love? How do they apply to the current situation that we are in, with COVID-19 spreading in the United States?

How else can we love and serve well in the midst of this?

I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share in the comments.

Lord, I am so thankful for your Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of me. I’m thankful that you speak directly to my heart, about things happening in our world today through your Word that was written so long ago. Your Word is timeless. Please continue to reveal your heart to us. Help us be a reflection of you in a world that is uncertain. Help us reflect your love- your selfless, never ending love- well. Help us make wise decisions. Give us discernment as we move forward through the days ahead. We know that you remain with us, even when the circumstances we’re in don’t make sense. Thank you for never leaving my side. We love you, Lord. All we have is yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Aaron: Leadership and Blame

Exodus 32

I am not good at being wrong. I don’t like it. My flesh wants to deflect, defend and justify.

It takes a lot of effort to behave differently when I am wrong. I have to be intentional with confession and repentance. When I am in prayer, I have to be careful not to slip into justifications. I don’t want my prayers to turn into, “Lord, I know I am a sinner, but here’s WHY it’s not THAT bad…”

I am a sinner. I am saved by the blood of Christ. I NEED to be saved, too. It’s not because of all of the circumstances that put me in impossible situations, making I feel like I have to sin. I am just a Sinner. Capital S.

We are all a little guilty of playing the blame game. We all justify and downplay our own choices, blaming other people and minimizing our contributions to toxic, destructive situations. I have. You have.

Aaron did.

Aaron and the Golden Calf

Aaron was kind of a big deal. He was Moses’ brother. He helped Moses lead the people out of Egypt and was essentially his right-hand man. He was a prophet, High Priest and ultimately became head of the Israelite Priesthood. He was important, well-respected and considered to be a representative of God.

In Exodus 24, Moses traveled up Mount Sinai to commune with God. There, God gave him the Mosaic law. He was up there for 40 days and 40 nights.

That’s a long time.

Going into all of this, the people were not given much instruction. God had provided for them in many ways along this journey, so surely He would provide now…right? Moses left little instruction: just that Aaron (with Hur’s support) was in charge while He was gone.

“Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. (Exodus 24: 12-18, NRSV)

I’m sure that wasn’t terrifying at all.

Their leader, entering the Glory of Lord, which looked like a “devouring fire on the top of the Mountain.”

Then they heard not a peep.

Not a whisper. Not a sound. For forty days and nights. Moses was just GONE.

Aaron was the de facto leader during this 40 day time frame. Can you imagine leading in those moments? Everyone tense. Everyone afraid. Everyone anxious.

Moses was their connection to the One True God. He was their go-between. He was their connection to the Supernatural Realm. Suddenly, he was gone and they had no idea when he was coming back.

Desperate times.

Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of insight into what happened during that 40 day time period at the bottom of the Mountain, while Moses was receiving the Law. How rapidly did things decline? How long did it take for it to escalate?

When Moses did not return quickly enough, the people surrounded Aaron. He was their leader. He was in charge. He needed to DO SOMETHING. They gathered around him, pressuring him. The walls were closing in.

“Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:1-4, NRSV)

Yikes.

So Aaron cast a golden calf. Then he built an altar, where they offered sacrifices and burnt offerings. It was wildness, revelry and perversion. God was angry. Moses was angry.

It was not good.

Moses went back down the Mountain. He tossed the tablets, which broke (the Law that he just spent 40 days obtaining, mind you.) He destroyed the calf, grounding it to dust. Then, Moses confronted Aaron.

Imagine the confrontation.

Rock, meet hard place. Talk about a “crucial conversation.”

There was no “good way” for this exchange to go.

Leadership Matters

Aaron was supposed to be in charge. Moses trusted him to lead well. Moses was in the process of doing something VERY important, and had left the task of overseeing to Aaron. He dropped the ball. Epic, royal failure.

I’m sure we can all reflect on conversations like that- at work, at church or at home. You left a task in someone else’s hands. You trusted them. They’d executed before. You believed they were capable. Then they failed you. You were Moses, burning with righteous anger, tossing the Law aside in your quest for vengeance.

Or maybe…just maybe… you were Aaron. I think we’ve all been Aaron more times than we care to admit.

You were entrusted with something important. You believed you could handle it. When the job was given, you thought you could execute it. Maybe it was at home, at church, at school or at work. Maybe it involved the way you interacted in a friendship or relationship.

You are a good, strong, smart, and courageous person.

But the pressure got to you. The people got to you. It all became too much. In the middle of your overwhelm, instead of turning toward the God who had already delivered you, you took matters into your own hands. The end result was catastrophic. You ended up creating an idol to just silence the noise.

Then Moses showed back up. Accountability came back into the picture and Aaron did what we are all tempted to do in those moments.

He deflected. “Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil.” (Exodus 32: 21-22, NRSV)

Ahh, yes. The people are bent on evil. Aaron’s leadership failed because the people were bent on evil. That must have been it. This may have been true- again, we don’t know the full context of what happened in those 40 days, but nothing justifies Aaron’s choice. Ultimately, Aaron created the idol. Aaron made the decision. Aaron was left in charge, with Hur as his right hand man.

Dire Consequences

Keep in mind that while on Mount Sinai, Moses pleaded with God on the people’s behalf. When God expressed his wrath about the idolatry ,Moses begged Him not to destroy ALL of the people. When he got back down the Mountain and saw what was going on, he moved forward.

“When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild*, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.’ ” The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day.” (Exodus 32: 25-28)

Blake Griffin, NBA

Oh. My. Goodness.

Lines were drawn in the sand. Moses gave the people a chance to choose- were they for God or not?

They were not all for God.

And it was not pretty.

Can you imagine being one of the sons of Levi? Having to slaughter your brothers, friends and neighbors, because they chose idolatry? These were severe, dire consequences.

All of this could have been avoided. It didn’t have to happen like this. Aaron did not lead well, and then, when it came time for accountability, he passed the buck.

This convicts me.

How many times have I passed the buck? How about you, Friend? How often have we failed in big ways, that have dire consequences, and refused to take responsibility?

Authentic repentance means taking ownership. That means when we fail, we have to own it. No excuses. Authentic repentance means removing, “But I was just so angry/hurt/tired/lonely” from our vocabulary.

As Leaders, we have an even greater responsibility, because ownership means not passing the buck. The buck stops with us. We cannot, as Aaron did, argue that, “They asked for this.”

We are responsible. ” From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48, NRSV)

Aaron didn’t get this right at the foot of Mount Sinai, but there is good news. His story didn’t end there. He went on to be anointed and consecrated, the Head of the Israelite Priesthood. He did big, great things for the Kingdom of God.

You can too, Friend. So can I.

Our stories don’t end in our deepest season of failure. We serve a God of redemption, restoration and freedom. There is hope.

In the middle of your overwhelm, choose the God who has already set you free.

Lord, Thank you for setting me free more times than I can count. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for entrusting me with the things you’ve entrusted me with. Please help me honor you in those places. Give me courage and power to be humble, honest and take ownership when I need to. Forgive me Lord, when my leadership fails. I know I won’t always get it right. Give me discernment and wisdom so that I can do better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*italics added for emphasis

Choices: The Messes We Make

Joseph and His Brothers

I have made so many choices that I’m not proud of.

I’m imperfect. There have been times in my life when the guilt and shame were debilitating. I have had moments where being forced to look squarely at my own choices took my breath away. Guilt. Shame. Blame. Hurt. Heartbreak. Wrongdoing.

I’ve made the wrong choice more times than I care to admit. Sometimes, because God’s grace is so, so good, the ramifications of those wrong choices were minimal. I was convicted. I re-set my feet on the right path.

But other times…oh my.

There have been other times when my choices were vile. They were selfish. My motives weren’t pure. I made choices that were self-serving. I made choices out of fear, or envy, or to meet my own needs without regard for the needs of others.

I am a broken, sinful, fallible human. I need a Savior. I did before I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life at 15 year old, and I have needed Him every day of my life since then. I will need Him every day until I die, because I know that I will not always make the right choice. Left to my own devices, I am not always good, honorable and righteous. I want to be. I strive to be. But sometimes I fail.

The reality is that, right or wrong, legal or not, the choices that we make have a lasting impact on our lives. Our choices impact the people around us. Sometimes God uses our wrong choices in big ways, but that doesn’t change the wrongness them.

This reality played out in Genesis. Joseph was his father, Israel’s, favorite child. His brothers hated it. To make matters worse, Joseph had a dream that his brothers would one day bow down to him- that he would reign over his brothers.

I don’t think that helped the situation at all.

They were jealous of him. They didn’t like him much.

Then one day, they made a terrible, selfish decision.

Israel sent Joseph out to check on his brothers, who were tending flocks. When they saw him coming, they hatched a horrible plot.

Mob mentality.

I can just hear the whispering.

“We’ll show him.”

“Who is bowing down now, huh?!”

One son’s anger feeding off of another’s bitterness. Misery loves company. Contempt and conspiracy make great besties. You’ve seen it happen. A vent-fest turns into something more. It becomes gossip. Then gossip breeds conniving and conspiring, and conspiring becomes a choice.

When Joseph arrived, his brothers made a choice.

First, they decided to kill him.

Thank the Lord for Reuben, who tried to speak some reason into the chaos. “Don’t shed any blood,” He said. “Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” (Genesis 37:22) He’s hoping they’ll throw him in the cistern, forget about him, and then Reuben can safely return Joseph to his father.

Not gonna happen, Reuben.

Oh- they did throw him in the cistern, after stripping him of his beautiful cloak. But then the Ishmaelites showed up.

They realized that they didn’t have to kill Joseph to get rid of him. They could sell him.

So they did.

They made a choice.

In order to get rid of their brother, who made them feel small, irrelevant and jealous, they sold him into slavery.

THEY SOLD THEIR BROTHER INTO SLAVERY.

Then, to cover it up, they dipped his cloak in some blood and took it back to their father. They allowed this man to believe that his son- his beloved, favorite son- had been killed…devoured by wild animals.

Another awful, self-serving choice.

Can you imagine the grief? The overwhelming, debilitating, awful grief? Israel said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” (Genesis 37:35)

And these 10 young men just allowed their father to experience that. They were only concerned about themselves. They were caught up in their own worlds, in their own lies, and in their own emotions. They did not weigh the cost their choices would have for anyone else.

That cost was substantial.

To us, this sounds SO awful.

I mean, I would NEVER sell someone into slavery to get rid of him.

I’m a sinner saved by grace, but I was never THAT far gone…right?

And yet.

How many choices have I made that were, in fact, this self-serving?

What about you, friend?

How many times have you made choices, only thinking about yourself, without any real thought or consideration for the other people who were going to be impacted?

I’m so thankful that God’s grace is sufficient for me in those moments. I’m thankful that God can take our sinful, selfish choices and create beauty out of ashes. I KNOW that he does this-not just because he has done it in my life, but because He did it with Joseph.

The story of Joseph doesn’t end with him being sold into slavery.

Fast forward. Joseph’s life is a wild ride, that ultimately lead’s him to Pharaoh. Pharaoh had two dreams and Joseph was the one summoned to interpret them. The dreams were deeply troubling to Pharaoh.

Joseph interpreted them, explaining to Pharaoh that they indicated 7 good years of great abundance followed by 7 years of severe famine.

Then Joseph made a suggestion. He suggested that Pharaoh put someone in charge of ensuring that food be collected and preserved during the 7 years of abundance, so that when the famine struck, Egypt was ready and it’s people were not devastated by the famine. Pharaoh loved the plan so much that he put Joseph in charge of it. As a result, Joseph rose in rank and authority. He became the second-in-command of all of Egypt. He was subordinate only to Pharaoh himself, who was regarded as god-like.

I bet Joseph’s brothers never anticipated that selling their brother into slavery would lead to him becoming second in command of all of Egypt.

Now, the period of abundance hit Egypt, and Joseph followed his plan. He stocked up on supplies. 7 years passed, and then the famine hit.

Egypt was not the only nation impacted by the famine. However, because of Joseph, Egypt was prepared. The storehouses were full, and Egypt was saved.

But it wasn’t just Egypt that was saved.

Other nations were also able to come to Egypt, buying food from their storehouses.

Joseph’s…relocation to Egypt ultimately led to multiple nations being saved from famine.

Joseph’s family felt the impact of the famine as well. They heard that there was food in Egypt, and traveled there in order to escape the impact of the famine.

The very people who sold Joseph into slavery were ultimately saved because of his preservation plan.

Through all of this, God reunited their family. The brothers and Joseph came face to face. Forgiveness, grace, and family restoration occurred. Israel was reunited with the son that he had mourned so deeply for so long. In fact, the entire family of Israel relocated to Egypt, where Joseph was able to ensure their safety and security.

God redeemed their story.

You see, Joseph’s brothers made an awful choice- A self-serving, sinful choice. What they did was wrong.

No matter how God ultimately used that choice, it was still wrong. God’s redemption doesn’t justify our selfish decisions.

Can you imagine being one of those brothers, seeing Joseph again for the first time? The relief? The fear? The anxiety? The guilt and shame?

Guilt and shame are so powerful, especially when we have made choices we regret. I’ve made some doozies.

We’ve all been a lot more like Joseph’s brothers than we want to admit.

You probably haven’t sold anyone into slavery. I haven’t. But I bet you have choices that plague you with shame. Maybe it’s sex. porn. addiction. abortion. infidelity. divorce. over-eating. anorexia. aggression. bullying. gossip.

Maybe you struggle with your internal dialogue and emotions. You battle depression. Anxiety. Jealousy (that’s what got Joseph’s brothers into so much trouble!) Inadequacy. Fear. Fear and inadequacy have led to SO much of my terrible decision making.

And all of these things lead you to a deep, debilitating sense of shame.

But there is good news.

There is good news.

God does not leave us in the midst of our guilt and our shame. He redeems our stories, just like he did with Joseph and his brothers. He sets us free. God can, and will, use the choices you have made- the ones that fill you with guilt and shame- to impact the world. You matter. You are still valuable to God.

You still have Kingdom impact.

Nothing is beyond the reach of God. .

Even though Joseph’s time in Egypt led to nations being saved from famine, his brothers’ decision to sell him into slavery was still wrong. God’s redemption doesn’t justify our selfish decisions.

It just means that God is so, so good. It means that his power, his grace, and his love for us is SO much bigger than any choice we could ever make. His love is bigger than my sin, my mistakes, and my insecure internal dialogue.

God can heal. God can make new. God can set free.

Maybe your choice isn’t about slavery. Probably not.

Today, you have a choice to make. You can choose to walk with God now, instead of making the same old choices, that lead to the same old problems. You can choose beauty from ashes.

You can choose to let God use your story.

Lord, thank you for stories like Joseph’s. Thank you for reminding me that you are still at work, even when I make the wrong choice. You know the choices that I have made. You know my ugliest, most broken, sinful places. Forgive me, Lord. Set me free. Redeem my story. I’m offering myself up to you today, asking you to use my choices in some way to share your love with the world. Help me walk with you. I want to walk with you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources

If you or someone you love is struggling with abortion regret, please visit this page for more information on support in going deeper into the healing that God has for you. This service is available to both men and women. Godeeperstill.org

Women: The Unsung Heroes of Moses’ Story

Surely, I am not alone when I say that as a woman, I have felt invisible in my contribution to the world.

I remember the days of being a full-time Mom, part-time student and part-time employee well. At one point I had three small children and was nursing two of them, was working two part-time jobs and going to school part-time. We owned a small townhouse and my husband worked nearly full-time, about a 30 hour work week, and he was going to school full-time while receiving the G.I. Bill. Between the G.I Bill and his income, he was the one primarily supporting us, although my part-time income was necessary to keep us afloat.

I was the one carrying the brunt of the labor at home, which is not uncommon for women. There are multiple studies out there that demonstrate that even when women work outside of the home, they still carry the bulk of the work inside the home as well. (Pew Research Group, Economic and Social Research Council) This was exhausting. I was up all night long with two little ones who were nursing around the clock. As a nursing mom, my body was on constant demand, and since my husband could not, practically, help me breastfeed, he consistently got to sleep. Then I got up in the morning, got my oldest off to school and handled my own online classes and the housework. When my husband was home, I worked. At night, I worked. On the weekends, I worked. I cooked every night, I did the baths and the bedtime routine and I kept the whole well oiled machine moving and shaking.

And it never failed. Some well-meaning person would always come along and affirm my dear, wonderful, hard-working husband. “I don’t know how you do it! How do you balance work, school, and your family? You’re such a good man. Such a great provider…Cassi, you’re so lucky to have a husband that works so hard to take care of you like this!”

Y’all. It’s not that I wasn’t thankful. I WAS. I still AM very thankful for how hardworking this man of mine has always been. I have such gratitude that he has always made sure that our bills were paid and we had food to eat. Really, I am.

But I was SO. TIRED.

I was burning the candle at both ends.

And it felt like all anyone saw was him, and his hard work, and I was just a recipient of his benevolence. Meanwhile, I was in the trenches, doing some really hard stuff and I didn’t feel seen. Or heard. Or validated. I just felt REALLY, REALLY Tired. Not to toot my own horn here, but he was getting all of this validation and I felt like an unsung hero. I wondered sometimes what would happen if I just disappeared for a week or two. A month. I bet if I vanished for a month and the whole well oiled machine just fell apart completely they’d SEE me then!

Have you ever been there, Friend?

You do the things. You work SO HARD. You keep everything moving in just the right way and nobody sees you. They don’t say, “Thanks for wiping my butt, Mom!” or “Thanks for producing Milk and providing me with the sustenance to STAY ALIVE with your body even though it is a direct drain on you to do so….”. Nope. Nothing. The world just rushes right past you.

When I read Moses’ story this time around, I realized how many women were really unsung heroes, making it possible for the Israelite people to be set free. I noticed these little references to women who did BIG THINGS. Without their courageous acts, we wouldn’t have the BIG story of Moses demanding, “Let my people GO!”

It started in Exodus 1, with Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives. Pharaoh demanded that they kill all of the baby boys. All of them. However, these faithful women feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, so they disobeyed him. They were the first, out of every person in this historical drama, to have the courage and tenacity to stand up to Pharaoh. That was no small thing. Doing so could have had dire consequences.

These two women truly were the catalysts for the Exodus. Without their faithfulness and commitment to God first and foremost, as well as the courage that was necessary to execute an act of civil disobedience, there would have been no Moses. No baby boys at all. No basket in the river, no plagues, no “Let my people go” and no parting of the Red Sea. When you fear God more than man, progress persists. Scripture devotes about a paragraph to them, but that does not reduce their importance in God’s Big Rescue Plan. They don’t get the accolades, but they are critically important!

Because of them, the people became strong. So strong, that Pharaoh had to give a new order- “Drown all of the baby boys in the Nile.” (Exodus 1:22)

Then, another brave woman entered the story...Moses’ biological Mother, Jochebed. Not only did she give birth to a baby boy, but she managed to hide him for three months while Pharaoh was having all of the baby boys drowned.

Have you ever tried to hide an infant? I bet it’s as hard as it sounds.

When she realized she could not hide him anymore, she played the system a bit. Sure, she put him in the Nile, but first she made a basket for him, tucked him safely inside it and placed the basket in the reeds along the bank of the river.

And here is where Unsung Hero #4 entered the story. Little Miriam, Moses’ sister, was tasked with the important job of keeping watch over her baby brother until someone found him. Can you imagine? Most sources I found placed her age between 5-10 years old at this time. She was just a little girl, but she was given a big job.

Sometimes I feel like my calling is too big for me. I’m comforted when I remember little Miriam, who was just a child when God called and empowered her to do this BIG job for His Kingdom. When He calls you, He also equips you.

Miriam didn’t just stand back and watch, though. When Unsung Hero #5, Pharaoh’s daughter, showed up, Miriam interacted with her! What a courageous little girl, to approach the daughter of Pharaoh and boldly suggest that a Hebrew woman (their mother) nurse the baby for her?!

And then there’s Pharaoh’s Daughter. I’m going to call her Tia, because I have come across multiple different variations of her name. (Bithiah, Batyah, Termutis, Thermuthis…)

What an example of using your privilege for good. Tia knew that these baby boys were being drowned and she took pity on Moses. She was probably very aware of Pharaoh’s resentment toward the Israelite people. I’m sure this adoption wasn’t exactly well-received. Imagine the daughter of a white-supremacist adopting an African American baby. What she did was right. It was also very brave. She used her power, her influence and her resources to save the one she could save. She couldn’t save them all.

My heart aches when I think of the number of Israelite babies that were drowned in the Nile. The number of parents who were forced into the unthinkable rips at my soul. The grief, the despair…I cannot even imagine. It makes me think of things like one child policies and the lies the abortion industry (and our culture) tell today to convince women that abortion is the only real option they have in certain situations. The Israelite parents were in impossible situations. Tia couldn’t save them all.

She had some power. She had some influence. She had some authority. Not enough to stop the violence, the persecution and the oppression… but enough to save one.

It probably cost her. I can’t imagine that decision was sunshine and roses. But she recognized in that moment that she had access and privileges the Israelite women did not have. She utilized those privileges, not to make herself bigger, not to draw attention to herself, and not to get MORE, but for good. She took what she had been given and she shared it. She saved Moses’ life that day, and because of that act of selflessness, an entire nation was set free.

Oppression was cut short. Stopped in it’s tracks.

Have you ever felt that helpless?

Who am I, anyway? This issue, this thing is too big for me. I am just one person.

How can I end slavery? Oppression? Racism? Misogyny? Abortion?

It’s all just so big.

You can’t. YOU don’t have to.

You just have to be obedient, in the moment. Take advantage of the opportunities that God has placed in front of you. Be willing to make yourself uncomfortable. Be inconvenienced. Sacrifice your privilege for the cause. You’re a piece of the puzzle. When perfectly placed, the picture emerges.

Tia did, and she changed the course of an entire nation’s history. It wasn’t even her nation.

These five women were unsung heroes. They pushed the men and drove the course of events, shaping history. They gave God room to move.

I want to encourage you today, Friend. Be obedient. Keep doing the hard work. Keep moving and shaking and oiling the machine. You may not get the accolades and the celebration. Your obedience may cause friction with people around you. It may be uncomfortable, exhausting and it may stretch you beyond what you believed you were capable of doing.

Remember though, you are part of God’s Big Rescue Story.

Every time you say yes, every time you sacrifice of yourself for someone with less than you, and every time you choose God over man, you are investing in the Kingdom.

Be a Hebrew midwife, standing against the powerful, loud voices in the room. Be a Jochebed or a Miriam, courageously doing what is right. Be a Tia, sacrificing your own privilege to further the Kingdom of God.

You’ve got this, because God’s got you.

Lord, thank you for always having me. Thank for perfectly placing me to be useful to you and your Kingdom, even when I feel invisible to everyone else. Help me remember that I matter, that my contribution matters, and that all of the affirmation and accolades in the world are nothing compared to being a piece in the puzzle that IS your Big Rescue Plan. Use me, Lord. Lead me to the assignments that you have set aside for me. Remind me that I am Yours, and that when I am doing Your Work, in Your name, then things like slavery, oppression, and even genocide can be thwarted. Help me remember that I don’t have to change the world, I just have to be obedient in the tasks you have assigned to me. You will use them. Use, them, Lord. Change this broken world, and touch those that are still trapped, in some way, by the sinfulness of this world. It’s in Jesus’ Holy name I pray. Amen.