Beholding His Face

Our church has a wonderful ministry to moms and their young children called Mom2Mom. I am one of the “mentor moms” since I and my children are older. At each monthly gathering, a mentor mom will share a short devotional. I did this last year, and you can read it here, and this week I was honored to share again. This is what I shared.

My Weakness

It is rather ironic to me that I should, first, be involved in this moms ministry and, second, be asked to share. This is because growing up, I was the younger of two girls, and my mom and my sister did everything for me. They did all the cooking and cleaning, and I did as little housework as possible. I was not that domestically minded, and I rarely babysat. So when my own children came along, I loved them wildly, but I didn’t know the first thing about how to take care of them! I was learning through each stage of their development, and as soon as I would figure out that stage and feel on top of things, they had moved right on to the next stage! And just when I thought I had things mastered with my first child and would be an expert with my second (yes, I really expected this!), she came along three months early and threw a wrench into that plan!

Also, my children aren’t yet grown. When I think about giving wise advice to young moms, I’m not even proven! So while it would be great to bring in adult children and point to them, and therefore to me, as models of all that wise parenting can bring, the reality is my kids aren’t that old. Though they have faith that is growing, we’re all still learning and growing, and our story is ongoing—though in reality, I know that’s the case for everyone.

So rather than point to my kids or point to me—which even if I could, I wouldn’t want to—I wanted to point all of us to look up and into the face of Jesus Christ.

Easter and God’s Grace

We just finished the Easter season where I was struck again at the thought of what Jesus has done for us. We who are sinners, separated from a holy God by our sin, are able to know God and have fellowship with Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He took the place we deserved, bore the penalty and weight of our sin on the cross, and rose again in victory. Now by faith in Jesus, we are restored to relationship with God. What grace! We didn’t do this; God did! That’s how much He loves us. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This gives me great hope, not just for an eternal future with God, but for even today—abundant life in the here and now. When I make a mistake as a parent, be it from ignorance, by accident, through my sin, or whatever it is, I have a God who loves me, who offers forgiveness, who helps me, and who can give me wisdom for parenting.

This doesn’t mean I hang my hands and do nothing as a mom, just trusting God to take care of everything. While I am indeed dependent on Him and trust it will be His Spirit’s work in my children’s life that transforms them, I nonetheless know that I need to teach my children, and I want to do all I can to show my children the grace and love of God that He has shown to me. Rather than simply trying to change their behavior, I want to see into their hearts and help shepherd them to Jesus. I so often fail, but I’m so thankful that God helps me in this wonderful adventure of being a mom.

Beauty Found in His Face

I have just come through a couple of surgeries for skin cancer on my face. During this time, as I wrestled with the idea of having a scar, I was reminded again of the massive love of Jesus for us, that He would suffer and die and bear scars in His body for us (John 20:24-29). Imagine that!

One of the big things I came to realize, though, was that beauty is not found in the absence of scars, but in the presence of Christ. Through my time reading God’s Word, the Bible, each day, He brought me to verse after verse to show me this truth.

Exodus 34 is about Moses who, after having spent time with God, came down from the mountain. His skin shone, and his face was so radiant that the people were afraid, and he had to wear a veil.

Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” The radiant face comes from looking at Him. 

2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is found in the face of Jesus Christ.

In Psalm 80, the psalmist asks that God would restore them, that He would make His face shine that they might be saved.

Psalm 67:1-2 similarly says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”

Brokenness and Beauty/Suffering and Glory

During this time, I also began to see that God takes broken things and makes them beautiful so they we might shine for Him. This is also similar to the way He takes our light and momentary afflictions (brokenness) and through them produces an eternal weight of glory (beauty, shining) far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17, Rom. 8:18).

These experiences are working out something in us that will actually make us more beautiful and able to reflect and shine for Him if we go through them beholding His face and His beauty. Our beauty comes from Him. And we can actually ascribe beauty to His name through our praise (Ps. 29:1-2), which I pray will ever be on my lips and in my mouth (Ps. 34:1), even as a scar sits there to remind me of this necessity.

How Do We Behold His Face?

The question then becomes “How do we behold His face?” We can do this through the study of God’s Word and through prayer, in both ways taking pleasure in the presence of Christ.

Study the Bible

It’s important to study God’s Word, the Bible, not just good books, helpful though they might be at giving us practical parenting tips. Set aside time to read the Bible each day. It can be a psalm or using a Bible reading plan or doing a Bible study. It was through Women’s Bible Study at our church that I began to grow and learn and be transformed by God’s Spirit through spending time daily in His Word. This is a vital spiritual discipline. God’s Word will not return void.

Pray God’s Word

Similarly, we want to pray. Pray before we read the Bible asking God to open our eyes and heart to understand. We can also take what we read in Scripture and pray it back to God, pray it for our children. Here’s one way I’ve done that this year.

May His Face Shine Upon You

The content of this talk has been new to me recently, a new theme, and I haven’t had time to wrap it up into a neat outline. These are therefore somewhat disconnected thoughts that I would like to shape more, but I hope you will remember God’s grace and His face when you think of this talk! And I conclude with Numbers 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Lessons from Gideon #4

Our summer Bible study on Gideon by Priscilla Shirer ended last week. I’ve previously written some of the “Lessons from Gideon” that I’ve taken away from this study here:

As we conclude, I wanted to gather some final thoughts.

Gideon became the valiant warrior God called him to be. We see early in the study in Judges 6 and 7 how he and the 300 men chosen by God routed the enemy in God’s strength alone. We see how Gideon was in conversation with God, in communion with Him during this time, even if it was just receiving assurance or confirmation of the plan. God was patient with Gideon, and Gideon obeyed God and believed Him.

Yet as the story nears the end, we don’t see Gideon talking with the LORD anymore. I suppose it could mean that it just wasn’t recorded, but we also see in his actions that he may have started to do what the Israelites were so famous for doing — what was right in their own eyes, but evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1).

It’s not conclusively clear, but we see things such as:

A.  When the Israelites asked Gideon to rule over them because he had delivered them from the hand of Midian (Judges 8:22), though Gideon refused to rule over them (Judges 8:23), he did not give the credit to the LORD for defeating the Midianites.

Though this may seem subtle, it’s important. The very reason the LORD had reduced the number of men who would do battle to only 300 (from 32,000) was so that Israel might not become boastful, saying their own power had delivered them (Judges 7:2-3).

B.  Following that exchange, Gideon asked the Israelites to each give him an earring from the spoil (Judges 8:24). With this collection, Gideon made an ephod and “placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household” (Judges 8:25-27).

An ephod was a specially designed garment for the priests to wear, intended to give them God’s guidance and instruction. Shiloh (35 miles from Ophrah) was the designated religious center for the people. So Gideon had set up in his city something intended for the priest at Shiloh. Perhaps this was for convenience, something he thought might be good, but it led to devastating consequences as it became a snare to the people.

Though Gideon previously, at the LORD’s instruction, had taken down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father, and the Asherah beside it, and built an altar to the LORD (Judges 6:25-28), it’s as though he has forgotten that they were not to worship other gods or make for themselves something that would be an idol. Could the story of Aaron making the golden calf (Exodus 32), collecting gold and earrings to make a “god” to worship, have been so far removed from his mind? It’s as though history repeats itself, and it is perhaps a picture of generational sin that will continue time and again unless we are in relationship with God, following Him, and allowing Him to break strongholds.

C.  In Judges 8:30-31, we see Gideon had many wives and 70 sons. He named his son, born to him by his concubine, Abimelech, which means “my Father, a king,” perhaps indicating how Gideon saw himself, even if he had refused to be ruler.

Priscilla outlines other things in the week previous to this last one where we first see Gideon perhaps begin to move away from God: taking vengeance on the men at Succoth, anger and violence at Penuel, and disgracing the Midianite kings (Judges 8:15-21). Though we can’t conclusively say this wasn’t what God wanted Gideon to do, we do see that Gideon doesn’t seem to be communicating with God as before and seems to be led by his passion and desire for vengeance. Priscilla describes these things as a domino effect, and it ultimately then seems to lead to taking credit for what God had done, the building of the ephod, many wives, and more.

In the end, as soon as Gideon died, “the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon), in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel” (Judges 8:33-35).

It’s a sad ending.

We thought about what our idols might be, how we might be on a slippery slope headed in a way that doesn’t please God, sometimes without even realizing it. It’s so vital that we stay in God’s Word and in prayer, asking Him to reveal these things to us.

Even as I type this morning, I do so on a new computer that arrived yesterday evening. I prayed about whether we should make this purchase, concerned that what starts out good could become a snare to us. I prayed this morning to ask God to make this of use for His glory and to be of good. But I do see how easily these things can become other than what they were originally intended. So we must remain watchful, prayerful, seeking the Lord, reading His Word, following His Spirit’s leading, hearing His voice, obeying Him.

I’ve loved this summer study. I’ve loved the focus it’s given me on my home as my first calling before I move out to other things. I’m thankful for a slow summer with time off work to be able to build on some of these things God has revealed. I’m thankful for the cautions God puts before us as we see how Gideon’s life ended. I’m thankful that we have a God who is strong and who gives us His strength in our weakness. And I pray that we who studied together will continue to walk in God’s way, knowing Him more, and doing what pleases Him.

Lessons from Gideon #3

GideonThis summer I’ve been tracking here some of the things we’ve been learning in our summer Bible study on Gideon. Priscilla Shirer, the author of the study, suggested using social media and the hashtag #lessonsfromGideon to do this. My “Lessons from Gideon” #1 and #2 are here and here.

At the end of the “Lessons from Gideon #1” after offering 6 lessons at the midway point of our study, it seemed like I should close that entry with some kind of concluding point, which as I thought about it was this: “7. God seems to be patient with Gideon as he makes him the mighty warrior that He called him to be.”

In fact, though I didn’t know it then, the patience of God was the theme for the next video session and the start of our Week 4 lessons. We discussed it last night.

One friend pointed out how amazing it was that the angel of the LORD would wait for Gideon while Gideon went to prepare his offering.

We saw how God was patient with Gideon as he questioned the angel of the LORD, then as he laid out his fleece twice, and as God Himself offered for Gideon to go down to the enemy camp to receive encouragement and confirmation before the battle. God is a God of patience.

That God should wait for us! How incredible is this?! If we have the notion of a God who is removed or uncaring, we need to think again. He is patient toward us to draw us to Himself, to salvation.

As I reflected more on this, it reminded me of this post on “The Patience of God” from Christmas 2013.

One other highlight from last night’s study: As we looked at Gideon’s assistant Purah who went with him into the enemy camp — perhaps so that if Gideon were to forget what he heard, Purah could remind him and help strengthen Gideon — we talked about our own friendships like Purah and how we can encourage one another and help hold each other accountable in various ways as we pursue God’s call.

At the end of the study, it seemed like we were all offering encouragement to one another, not necessarily completely intentionally, but as an overflow from our discussion. How beautiful it was to speak words of encouragement to friends, to come alongside them in their journey and say, “I see God in you through _____” or “I love the way God uses you to _____” etc. and to hear it back, “You are gifted in _______” etc.

One woman said something to me that I had never thought about in quite that way, though when she said it, I could remember immediately something even from childhood that evidenced it was true. But I’d never seen it as a gift, and in fact, recently had begun to diminish the whole idea of using it. To have it re-identified as a gift and consider how God might use it was something unexpected, but that sparked all sorts of ideas.

So these conversations allowed us to offer encouragement, receive encouragement, support one another in our giftings, and spark a little flame inside of what God could use, maybe something we’d long forgotten about or never known. I think we all left excited to look for ways to encourage others this week in things we see God doing in their lives.

I loved how Priscilla ended the video mentioning two parts — the part we do, but much bigger than that, the part God does. We cooperate in what He is doing, and He gives us His strength and the power of His Spirit to accomplish it for His glory. It is exciting to see what He is doing and be a part of His work in the world. (Ephesians 2:10)

Again, I only capture a few points here, but this is an excellent study. I continue to be grateful for it, for the women God has brought together this summer, and the enriching discussion we have each week centered around God’s Word.

Lessons from Gideon #2

It’s the early still of the morning, the best part of the day. The house is quiet. Through my den’s East-facing window, I see again the mercies of God as the sun rises on a new day, pointing me to the true Sunrise from on high.

This year I’ve been trying to give God the firstfruits of my day. Spending time in prayer and God’s Word in the day’s first moments has anchored me for the day ahead; given me time to express again my praise and trust in God and my need for greater faith; convicted me of sin; guided me in my path as I bring my requests before Him; given me peace and a time to thank Him; and blessed me in many unexpected ways.

But isn’t that always the case when we approach God in faith through Christ? In worshiping and surrendering to the One who created us and knows us and first gave to us — the One who did not spare His own Son so that we could be saved from our sins — we find our true identity, what we were made for, and are strengthened in Him for another day.

I shared last time some of the lessons from Gideon I’ve been taking away from my summer Bible study. Here are a few more:

Priscilla Shirer pointed out in the first session that Gideon was part of a nation that had stopped moving forward, how in this study we might find a “divine green light” on somewhere God might be calling us, and we can move forward in His strength.

As we’ve moved along in the study considering what God might be calling us to by looking at Gideon, Priscilla has pointed out that we have spheres of influence, and we must start in the circle nearest to us. So picture a target with a center bull’s-eye and the circles working outward. These are our spheres of influence.

Though Gideon was being called by God to deliver Israel from the Midianites’ oppression (Judges 6:14), Gideon’s work would began in the circles closest to him. He first had to pull down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father and cut down the Asherah (wooden symbol of a female deity, my Bible says) beside it (Judges 6:25). Then he was ready to move outward to another sphere.

“The journey of fulfilling our divine purpose will almost always follow this same pattern,” Priscilla writes.

She also notes, “Choosing to do our primary work in the smaller, less noticeable spheres and devote our best gifts there is often a foreign thought to us. We usually want to jump from the center directly to the perimeter of impact, skipping over the areas most closely connected to us. The result? A life and calling that eventually implode, caving in upon their shoddy, unstable structure.”

This resonated with me. It’s so easy to want to jump to something that looks bigger, to move outward to what might give me more gratification, without stopping to look inward or to focus on my first calling in the home. That is more invisible and often harder, with perhaps less immediate results, so it’s easy not to be as intentional with those central and foremost callings from God.

If we are married and have children, our husband and children are a natural calling not to be overlooked for something more. We won’t have to step on them to fulfill some other ministry. Other callings will enhance and be unified with those first ones.

I think this is so hard for Christian women today. We are being encouraged (in pure and good ways) to be dreaming, considering our passions and desires and how they can be used, taking new territory, moving to a next greater step, willing to give it all to go to something big and unknown. If we aren’t careful, though, we can begin to look to those things to fulfill us, rather than bring glory to God, and these things can cause us to shortchange the most central callings God has given us right in our home. What God calls us to will not be at the expense of our husband and children; it will be in conjunction and in harmony with our homes and family.

Priscilla writes, “These innermost circles are often the ones that offer the least amount of recognition. This is why so many people try to circumvent them. And yet your greatest impact will be done here — in the ordinary rhythms of your daily living.”

So I’m challenged not to look past the inner circles. In my life, I suppose it would look like this (I list church because I work there).

my spheres of influence
my spheres of influence

So while I began this study wondering or even hoping for some greater call on my life to emerge, the one that has settled in my heart is first and foremost in my home. I’ve become convinced that these calls don’t become separate, individual, and distinct, but work together in a way that will hopefully please God and bring Him glory. (These are lessons, though, I’ve been having to learn over the last 10 years!)

I’m thankful for a God who loves us, who calls us to Himself, who forgives us, who is merciful and patient with us, who gives us our identity in Him, and who does have purposes for us to accomplish in the world. May we seek Him for what that looks like so that we will neither move forward where He hasn’t led or shrink back in fear from what He is indeed calling us to.

Help us, Lord, as we work from the center out, to find ourselves in the center of Your will. Amen.

Lessons from Gideon #1

GideonThis summer my mom and I are hosting a small group Bible study on Gideon by Priscilla Shirer. This is the first Bible study of Priscilla’s that we’ve done, and we are loving it! She is a gifted communicator and teacher, and I also have a particular fondness for her knowing her connection with Dallas Seminary where my husband also studied.

We are at the halfway point of the study, and Priscilla encouraged us in the last video session to keep a record of the work God has been doing in our lives. She has also invited us to share throughout the study on social media our #lessonsfromGideon. This then is my attempt.

I am not a visionary. I don’t always see the big picture. I’m more analytical and in the details of the everyday. Throughout my working years, I have supported visionaries, who do see the big picture and future goals, by assisting with the details and hopefully helping to achieve the goals.

I often see this come into play in Bible study. I can do the lesson for the day and love it, but when I finish, I find myself wondering later what it was about and how the whole study fit together. It’s like I have a lot of separate puzzle pieces, each of which are interesting and helpful, but it feels a bit disjointed to me without the overall vision that I haven’t quite grasped. However, once it’s fitted together into the whole and I can see the big picture that’s been coming together, it starts to settle in deep in my soul, and I’m able to find the lessons God has in store. In Bible study, it often means I need to do the studying, not just be fed what others have studied, as wonderful as that is.

So this last week, I’ve taken these parts I’ve been holding, these puzzle pieces, and gone back to the Scriptures and studied for myself – in this case, Judges 6-9. It has helped me answer the questions that have arisen in our Bible study group and in my own mind.

Then this morning, when I awoke, it was like all the pieces were coming together. As I journaled out what God was revealing, I was encouraged by the wonderful truths he was leading me through. And as I turned back to the lessons for reinforcement of these truths, I realized this is what it had been saying all along — my heart just hadn’t quite pieced it together into the whole! I am so thankful that God helps me in my weakness — which happens to be a main theme of this study!

Studying God’s Word is fascinating! It feeds our soul and leads us intro truth. We ask Him to guide us by His Word and Spirit as we seek Him and as we come with a humble dependence to know Him more. So what are my lessons from Gideon?

Here are a few:

1.  Partial obedience by God’s people led to giving up ground to the enemy until they ended up in dens, caves, and strongholds in the mountains, as a people oppressed and brought low with their land devastated and them lacking sustenance (Judges 6:1-6).

2.  I suspect when they first disobeyed (this partial obedience), the people did enough to think they were actually obeying, but they were really giving up ground, little by little, for various seemingly good reasons to their limited minds (i.e., the enemy had iron chariots in one case so that would surely be too hard to defeat, or perhaps it would be better to enter into an agreement with a group who could help them later rather than defeating them now, etc.).

3.  What they were doing that was “right in their own eyes” was actually “evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 6:1).

So I ask myself: Do I see my own partial obedience for what it really is? What ground am I giving up? Where am I doing right in my own eyes that may actually be evil in God’s eyes?

4.  Gideon may have wondered how he ended up in the wine press beating out wheat in hiding to keep it from their enemy. When the angel of the LORD appeared to him, Gideon questions why this oppression has happened and where the miracles were that their fathers had told them about. Was the LORD really with them? He doesn’t seem to recognize the people’s role (of disobedience, doing evil in the sight of the Lord) in this present situation.

Are we sometimes blinded from the reality of how something has developed in our own lives and wonder where God is when perhaps we have done things our own way?

5.  But God is rich in mercy. We see over and over again in Scripture that He responds to those who cry out to him (in this particular study, see Judges 6:6-7). Gideon is who God raises up to answer the cry of His people.

It makes me wonder: Are the wondrous acts of God reserved for those who call upon His name? We see the Israelites cry out from their bondage in Egypt, and God raises up Moses to lead them out. We see this same thing over and over again in the book of Judges, as with Gideon. We see it in many of the smaller stories woven in Scripture. We see it in the Psalms, telling us to cry out and He answers. And much, much more. So whether we are living in obedience and calling on His name daily and in this way seeing His mighty works — or whether we need to stop and return to Him and cry out to be delivered from an area of bondage– it seems the moment we call out His name, He stands ready to deliver and demonstrate His mighty power.

6.  Though Gideon sometimes appears fearful, it doesn’t seem so much a cowardly fear as a practical or reasonable one (not that that is necessarily better, and perhaps in some ways, these fears are the same, both demonstrating a need for greater faith):

  • He’s beating out wheat in the wine press because to do it openly would cause the enemy to take it (Judges 6:11).
  • He’s told not to fear after seeing the angel of the LORD face to face (6:23) because maybe he had heard that “no one can see God and live.”
  • He takes down the altar by night because he understandably fears his father’s household and the men of the city (6:27).
  • He asks for the signs of the fleece indicating some possible anxiety and needing a confirming sign given the task he was being called to (6:36-40).
  • He goes into the enemy’s camp, as God offers, so he can know that it will be given into their hands (7:9-15), indicating again some nervousness and need for reassurance.

7.  God seems to be patient with Gideon as he makes him the mighty warrior that He called him to be.

There is much more I could write and plan to write – much more that Priscilla points out, including our identity and callings, how we live life in the routine and ordinary, things we need to let go of, etc. But at this halfway point, I just wanted to list some things that are coming together for me.

Praise God for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, our Deliverer, who has redeemed our lives, forgiven us of our sin, and given us new life in Him through faith in Jesus. May we turn to Him and call upon Him, living in light of this reality every day, looking to Him to revive us, restore us, and deliver us. He is our Mighty Deliverer and a God of abundant and full redemption. Praise Him!