28 April 2016

Of His Job

In the grand tradition of parents enslaving their children - because when I was younger, there was a time I was certain the only reason my parents had kids was so we could be their servants, because that's what it felt like when I was in the middle of my fourth episode of Saved by the Bell for the afternoon and I had to turn it off to go set the table (so what if my mom hadn't sat down since she got home from work and was now slaving over the hot stove - I had to watch Zack take Kelly to the picnic-table prom in their jeans, for the fourth time, since, of course, I'd already seen every episode in triplicate) - we have also given our servants children chores.

We've eased into it, so now that they've been used to emptying the kids' plastic dishes from the dishwasher, we've given our eldest the task of fillling it at the end of the day (and when she complains, I almost never pull out, "When I was your age, we didn't even have a dishwasher!" - almost never). The thing is, though, even though we've given her the task, I still haven't grown accustomed to not doing that portion of my job - it's still second nature to contiue clearing the counter of dishes throughout the day, so that by the end of her first day on the job, as she approached, down-trodden at the thought of this menial manual labor, she discovered a counter void of dishes and a dishwasher half-full of dirty ones. 



"Mom, did you put the dishes in the dishwasher?"

Thinking nothing of it, because I hadn't necessarily gone out of my way, but merely had done what was habit at this point, I responded, "Yeah, I guess I did."

A smile slid out and she said with genuine gratitude, "Thank you!"

It occurred to me that I had done nothing more than I've been doing regularly for the past seven and a half years of her existence, yet this was the first time she had even thought to thank me for putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

And it felt good.

Because it wasn't until the task became her own that she stopped to appreciate that someone else would do that instead. It never occurred to her that it had always been me doing the dishes instead of her, because it had never been "her" job before.

It was a sweet moment. 

And I realized as I contemplated this encounter that it's exactly what God did for His creation. When the first two humans were in the garden, it was His job to watch over them and take care of them, to protect their righteousness. They didn't even have to worry about deciding what was good or evil - their sole task was to simply be and to simply be with God as he strolled with them through the garden daily.

Unfortunately, they were deceived and they made wrong choices and from there it was and is a continual story of man trying to watch out for himself, trying to make himself "good," not even recognizing much of the time that God has always been there rescuing and upholding them with His righteous right hand.

So, they built a tower to try to get to Heaven on their own, because they really thought they could do it. And He thwarted their efforts, recognizing they would never be happy so long as they were trying to do this on their own. Because they didn't realize He was already there. He already wanted to be with them. He'd wanted that all along.

And eventually, as though He were saying, "Fine - you want this to be your job? This job of being righouteous enough to be mine? I'll show you what you need to do," He gave them laws to follow. Tablets filled with laws. This is right, this is wrong. Do your hair this way. You cover your head, but you don't cover your head. Do this. Don't do that. Eat this. Don't eat that. Laws. Everything that would be required to be righteous enough to belong to Him.

Because they never trusted He could do it for them. And all along, He had a plan to show them. It was always Him.

After centuries, the plan came to fruition. God Himself came down as a man and completed the task we'd been trying to do on our own all along - He made us righteous. 

"For as by one man's [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's [Jesus'] obedience the many will be made righteous" (Acts 5:19)

"Out of the anguish of his soul . . . shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11)

And it wasn't until the job had been ours - this job of making ourselves righteous through our own actions - and we felt the weight of a task we were inadequate to fulfill, that we were finally able to see that someone else was holding us up all along. At this moment of redemption, we recognize that the task of being made righteous was completed by the Son of God who hung on a cross, and we turn with a smile on our face and say, "Thank you." Thank you for being there all along. Thank you for completing the task we were unable to complete - the one that we were never designed to complete in the first place. 

Gratitude is the only response to the undeserved righteousness poured over us at the cross.

Thank you.

It's His job. It always has been.

13 April 2016

Of Being Fed


We're still in Mark. Last week we covered Jesus feeding five thousand men and their families with five loaves of bread and two fish. Today I read about His feeding four thousand with seven loaves and a few fish. A pair of well-known stories, but what amazes me are the reactions afterward - particularly of his disciples, who still don't quite seem to understand Who this man is that they're following.

As if almost any interesting teacher can turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed five thousand men with 12 baskets of food leftover.

You know, they see that every day, which is why it's such a shock to see a man walking on water. Because there's something that can't be explained (I mean, I know it's shocking - but what make it the final straw, really?).

Seriously, guys?

So, after he feeds the four thousand, the Pharisees approach him demanding "a sign" - an undeniable indication that He has actually come from Heaven - because all these other party tricks - healing lepers, casting out demons, feeding multitudes, raising the dead - anyone could do that. Well, Jesus isn't about proving Himself to the eyes - He's interested in a heart-deep understanding. And if hearing what He has to say has no effect on their understanding of Him, seeing what He can do won't do much for them either. So He denies their request.

Later, in the boat with His disciples, He warns them of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." To which they respond in their eloquent wisdom by arguing with each other over the last loaf of bread - because Heaven knows there's not enough to feed those 13 men on that one boat. 

In fact, Heaven does know exactly how much bread they have. And Heaven knows they just watched this man they're following feed a total of nine thousand men with a grand total of twelve loaves of bread and they still don't get it. They still don't get, as my ESV study notes put it, that this man in the boat with them is "none other than the eternal creator and giver of life." 

They still think He's talking about food.

And they still don't get that if it's the food they're worried about, He'll always be able to provide for it. He is always willing and able to provide for the physical needs.

But His priority, as He proves time and again - not the least of which in feeding these throngs of people through a miracle rather than sending them away so they can all be sustained with nutrients and rest, seeing that the sustenance they need can only be found in His presence, in His words - His priority is to meet the spiritual needs of the people.

And what Jesus is warning them against in speaking of the leaven of Pharisees and Herod, is about taking to heart the worldly wisdom of even "religious" leaders and kings. The puffed up teachings about the outward life that do little to sustain true life. 

Do we hear that warning?

Do we truly understand that God is so much more concerned with what goes into our hearts than what goes into our bodies?

Do our prayers reflect His priorities? Or how much of what we fall on our knees about pertains to our physical needs, comfort, safety? And, conversely, how much of what we take to His feet regards the spiritual needs of our friends, our family, our nation, our planet, ourselves? Does our ratio reflect His?

And in this culture of organic, un-processed, clean, trans-fat-free, non-GMO, no-artificial-sweetener obsession, how concerned are we, by comparison, by what is entering our hearts?

Because we gladly fill ourselves up with the puff of this world - what the news articles tell us, what the entertainment industry feeds us, what the blogs list for us - knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. Leaven, leaven, leaven. And while we're watching every morsel that enters our mouths we're missing the boatloads of trash that are entering our hearts.

And Jesus is saying, "Do you not yet understand?!"

Let our hardened hearts be softened to the true message He came to give. No amount of physical provision and outward change can ever satisfy what our hearts truly crave - the nearness of the eternal creator and giver of life.

Beware the leaven.

07 April 2016

Of the Day the Mommy Quit


Yesterday I quit.

I was just done.

And when you consider that my full-time job is Mommy, that's kind of a big deal.

But as I tried scrubbing off stubborn dried-on egg remainder from the morning before so I could make breakfast (because, you know, washing the egg pan when I'm actually done with it would be too much) with an inadequate washcloth (because my normal discloth was sitting in the washing machine, where it had been, also, since the day before) with a whining second-grader who didn't want to do spelling, crying as she does every day, hoping she'll get a different result (other than "Suck it up, buttercup" - we're all about compassion in this house) and trying to talk an apathetic first-grader through his math problem, with nothing more than shrugs and "I don't know"s in response to every leading question I can think of without out-right giving him the answer, I realized I was just done.

Here I was, having spent hours already that morning changing diapers, doing Bible Study, emptying the dishwasher, filling the dishwasher, cleaning counters and answering questions - working so hard at just being Mom. And there they were, with very simple tasks in front of them, too upset that they couldn't just do whatever they wanted, that it was somehow easier for them to do nothing or cry than to just get it done and move on with their lives. So many of us had work to do and I was the only one doing it.

So I quit.

I threw the washcloth in the still-crusty frying pan, declared, "I quit. Make your own breakfast. Teach yourselves. I'm done."

And I walked away.

There was stunned silence for a moment before the crying started. Mommy had quit on them and they were hungry and how were they going to get food? And when was Mommy coming back?

I sat down in the den, pulled my laptop into my crossed legs and decided I could do whatever I wanted, now that I had no job. I sifted through email and overall ignored the commotion happening only a few yards away and three steps up.

Somewhere the toddler had gotten ahold of something (a not-dangerous something - I'm not completely heartless) that made the four-year-old upset and he wanted me to do something about it.

"I'm not Mommy right now. I quit. I'm sorry."

The second-grader took matters into her own hands and removed the object from the tiny fingers. The toddler, incensed at this injustice, was crying.

I was listening to music.

The oldest, the one who didn't want to do her work but was shocked that Mommy wasn't doing her own, continued to impress on the others the severity of what just happened.

"Mommy's not going to make us breakfast!" Because this, this lack of eggs on their plates when they were perfectly capable of pouring a box of cereal, was going to be the death of them, and didn't they understand this was important?!

I sat and pondered where to go from here as I let the frustration simmer down from a boil.

Obviously I recognized that my resignation would not be accepted in the long-run. At some point I would have to pull myself back to my job. But when would that point come? At what point would they actually pour their own cereal and make up for my lacking? And should I maybe just feed the toddler, at the very least?

Ten minutes passed.

The commotion upstairs quieted as they resigned themselves to the fact that Mommy really wasn't going to do anything else.

And then two sad faces appeared at the top of the steps.

"We're sorry we didn't do our work."

"Oh? Do you see how maybe it's good for people to do the things they don't want to do?"

The girl seemed oblivious to the point I was making, but the boy seemed to understand the desired response: "Yes."

"Because you want me to make breakfast, even though I don't want to. Doesn't that mean that sometimes we have to do the things we don't want to do?"

"Yes," from the boy.

Then the girl spoke quietly and sorrowfully, "I'm just sorry because I love you and I don't want you to be sad."

Well, I'll take it.

I motioned for them to come down. They slowly walked toward me, not sure of what else might be necessary to make this right. I wrapped the girl in a hug, kissed her forehead and declared, "I love you." The boy came a little quicker and received the same response - a hug, a kiss, "I love you." The toddler came in, too, lips puckered, ready for her snot-covered kiss (the snot was from her nose, not mine). The four-year-old decided this was a good moment for some affection, as well (he's a hugger).

Refreshed, I set the computer aside and pulled myself back up the stairs to the waiting frying pan that still needed scrubbing.

I was surprised to notice the wet washcloth that had been resting in the crusted mess as I simmered had used the time to soften the hardened places - and it all wiped away with very little effort. Breakfast was on its way.

Sometimes we all just need a little time to rest in order to soften the hardened places and get back to where we were meant to be.

04 April 2016

Of the Purpose of This Redeemed Life

The women's Bible Study group I am so privileged to be a part of is currently working its way through the gospel of Mark - reading the story of Jesus through the hurried words of a man who got His telling of Jesus straight from the mouth of our brash and beloved disciple, Peter.

This morning, I was in chapter five, where we see Jesus addressing a demon-possessed man living among the tombs of Gerasene - naked, screaming, with the strength to break all chains and shackles. He can't be restrained, but he can't be free.

Jesus comes to him, speaking not to the man himself, merely the host for the legion of demons within, but to those who possess him, casting them out to nearby pigs, so they may have their destructive desire fulfilled on at least some portion of God's creation - just not the portion so precious and prized as a human soul. Because a human soul is worth so much greater than two thousand pigs.

And as people come running to see what the commotion is about, they see this unrestrained man really, finally, free, sitting, clothed and in his right mind. Clothed, because after Jesus restored his spirit, He restored his dignity. And "in his right mind" because, as the ESV footnote states, he was "properly functioning again as an image-bearer of God."

And isn't that what we are all called to? To be cleansed, dignity restored, properly functioning as image-bearers of God? Because though we may not all have the physical demons within, we all have inner demons with which we wrestle - particularly before coming to Christ - that destroy our ability to properly bear His image, as we seek the temporary fix - greed, vanity, lust. And as we are restored to our original function - to serve as image-bearers, we are to take on the characteristics that define Him - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. We are to be in our right mind.

And once we're there, we can suddenly recognize there is only one place we want to be, just as the redeemed former-demoniac of Gerasene recognized, and that's with our Redeemer, our Rescuer. We long to be with Him.

As I was emerging from the fog of depression only about a year or so ago, this was the one thing I wanted. Because if this world was so ugly, why couldn't I just depart and be with Him? Wrapped in His beauty, singing His praises for all of eternity?

Yet, that's not where He wants us. Not yet.

For those of us who remain, He has one command, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (Mark 5:19).

It is interesting to note, this is the first time in Mark's account that we see Jesus actively encouraging someone to tell others about Him. Previously He had been very adamant about not spreading the news. He had silenced demons against speaking His name and had told a healed leper, "See that you say nothing to anyone."

Yet this man receives the command to go forth and spread the word. Why?

Of course I can't tell you with 100% certainty what Jesus was thinking, but I wonder if it was because this man redeemed of his demons had a true heart for Jesus - recognizing that with his new healed state, he could live a free life and all he wanted to do with that new life was follow after Jesus.

And this is the kind of testimony Jesus wants told.

He wants hearts that are completely for Him to draw others to Him, not for a spectacle of displayed power, but for the true healing and mercy found only in Him.

This redeemed life isn't about me - it's about making His name known.


15 February 2016

Of Fitting the Pieces Together

One theme God has been revealing to me lately in my time in His Word is that if something doesn't seem to make sense in context, it probably means I'm missing something. Of course, that would seem obvious, but I've so often chalked it up to something cultural or something in the original language I just don't get, but it doesn't hinder how I understand what I do know.

Yet, multiple times in the past few weeks I have come across a portion of Scripture I thought I knew and suddenly found a new note or cross-reference that sheds a whole new light and I can see, mentally, a puzzle piece clicking into place as I think to myself, "That makes SO much more sense now!" As though I had previously been tossing aside those pieces, thinking they just didn't go anywhere, and now, as they fall into place, there is one complete picture and I realize there is nothing unnecessary in Scripture.

He did it again this morning.

I have been working through, with my Bible Study ladies, Angie Smith's first Bible Study: Seamless. In this study, we are, once again, covering the entire story of the Bible from cover to cover. As opposed to our time in the 66 Love Letters, this study is a quick survey of the entire Bible, so we're mainly hitting the highlights, but in chronological order, which is a bonus.

Last week, we covered the ten plagues God sent to the Egyptians while Pharaoh hemmed and hawed over releasing the Israelites. Something that has bothered me for a long time on this subject is the phrase "and God hardened Pharaoh's heart" - which we see happening repeatedly after each of the plagues.

Why would God do this?!

If Pharaoh is ready to release God's people and that's the whole goal of this operation, why would God harden his heart so everyone involved has to endure so much more hardship?

One answer with which I had satisfied this query was that perhaps God was working to show Himself to the Egyptian people. I had heard that because of this period in Egyptian history, the word of God's power had spread through much of the ancient world, so that many feared Him and His people,
 the Israelites. After all, we read this to be true when Joshua's spies encounter Rahab who declares their Lord the God as "God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11). Because of what happened in Egypt, the residents of Jericho were living in fear, their hearts melted - which paves the way for the successful conquest of Jericho and the beginning of the Israelites' claim to their Promised Land.

Certainly that was a factor.

But, as I was reading through this Bible Study, Angie pointed out something I hadn't recalled hearing before (or maybe I had, but it had certainly been buried under mounds of other things I'd heard and forgotten): Each of the ten plagues specifically addressed the Egyptian gods and the aspects of life they supposedly had control over. It was the God of Israel's way of showing His power over these false Egyptian deities. Note the following chart (or click the link here to see it as a PDF).

Well, again, that's certainly fascinating. So, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so He could specifically display His power in all arenas supposedly controlled by other gods. That seems to make a little more sense. But, still, why?

Was it because the Egyptians would come to fear and respect the God of Israel, as well? Was this a foreshadowing of His welcoming all peoples into His people? I felt as though I remembered reading somewhere that this theory may have been accurate.

But, overall, it was a piece that just didn't fit. And because my brain couldn't figure out what to do with it, I chose to overlook it and move on.

And then we got to today's study. We're in Joshua now, where we addressed the above story of the spies visiting Rahab and consequently God destroying the city of Jericho and from there, all of the Promised Land. All of the Land is now given to the Israelites as He declares to them, "I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant" (Joshua 24:13). All of these He gives to His people, not because they have earned it (if you question that, read all of Exodus and Numbers, trust me, Israel does not deserve any of it), but because these are His people and He has made a promise to Abraham that He intends to keep. 


The descendants of Israel making their home in Egypt, later oppressed by the Egyptian ruler into slavery, had been serving the Egyptian gods?! Now, maybe this isn't news to you. You're thinking, "Yeah, Angela, we all knew that." But I certainly had not heard that little tidbit before. 

I had always lived in my ignorance, fully imagining that God's people weren't annoying and unfaithful to Him until after they escaped Egypt and were sad that they had to leave their happy little homes of slavery. I imagined them slaving away in Egypt, worshipping their God, faithful to Him and wondering when He was going to keep His promise to rescue them, counting down the 400 years He told Abraham they would be waiting. And it's entirely possible and probable that many were. But there were at least some who had chosen the gods of the locals to be their gods, as well. Probably in addition to the God of their father Abraham. 

And here is where the puzzle piece clicked neatly into place. God didn't send ten plagues just so His name would be feared among the nations, or just so the Egyptians could see His power. He needed to harden Pharaoh's heart time and time again, provoking ten specific plagues, so the Israelites would see His power over the Egyptian gods. So the Israelites could see He had control over every aspect of life that they had begun to depend on the false gods of Egypt to protect.

He needed to show them Who He was, not just so Pharaoh would let them go worship their God, but so that they would want to do so. He had to make life hard where they were so they would get uncomfortable enough to leave for the something better that He had planned for them.

Well, oh. My. Word. Doesn't that just tell a whole different story? Doesn't that one little verse in Joshua just bring a whole new reality to this story we've heard since we were children? 

And don't our hearts beat raw to realize He still uses that tactic today. Because we are an unfaithful people who would rather live in the darkness, where it sometimes feels safe, than escape into the Light where He has such glorious lives awaiting us. We would rather seek comfortable living on this earth, where we are bound as slaves to the things of this world, than look ahead eagerly to the land that has been promised to us - our homes in Heaven. We often opt for comfort over going out to serve a God who has proved Himself faithful. 

And once again I see how these Israelite people of the Old Testament were always meant to be a picture to us of who we are - the ways we wander, the ways we vacillate between obedience and unfaithfulness, the ways we fail and the ways we turn back to Him. 

Thank you, Lord, for caring enough to bring us out of darkness, even when we do not, in the least deserve it.



29 January 2016

Of Peace in the Middle East

It is no secret that I have recently become enamored with the book of Colossians. What may be a bit of a "secret" is that, through this love and passion for the message of this book, God has prompted me to write a Bible Study on the four chapters of this powerful portion of Scripture. Now, what will become of this Study and who will actually get to read it is still unknown and, frankly, isn't the focus for me at the moment. What I know is that God has asked me to write, and so I do. It's up to Him what happens after that.

All that to say, I'm continually reviewing the lessons I've learned in recent months, holding dear and writing eagerly on the passages that spoke most to me, but then wondering what to do with the stuff "in between." While I prayed this morning over what there was to say, exactly, about Colossians 1:5b-8, He suddenly called to mind what struck me most when I was reading through this passage in the fall. Something which, in light of current events, is still striking me.

In Colossians 1:5b-6, Paul writes, "Of this [referring to the hope for believers that is laid up in heaven] you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing - as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth . . ."

All of this sounds pretty standard, right? He's encouraging believers in a growing little church in Colossae and reminding them this gospel that came to them has gone into the "whole world" where it is bearing fruit and growing.

I'm smiling now, because this is where my mind was blown a little.

Because, as one who sits in a comfortable chair in a warm sanctuary on Sunday mornings, organ playing, slides projected on the wall, just under the beautiful wooden cross to remind us all why we're there, I tend to separate my real world with the world of the Bible. Of course, I believe every word of it is true and this is an actual representation of History, but I'm really good at segmenting history history - like what we learn in schools or what relates to current events - from Bible history. As if they exist in two separate realms. And, as far as church history goes, it seems to feel like, yes, the New Testament church was our beginning, but then it jumps in my head from Paul to the English church, Martin Luther, etc. Sometimes it feels like that's where we began - this western church is our history.



But where was this New Testament church of Paul's day?

What was "the whole world." as far as Paul was concerned?

The footnotes on this passage from my ESV Bible Study say this: "It has now been roughly 30 years since Christ's death and resurrection and Pentecost. The gospel has indeed spread from Jerusalem into Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and likely into Egypt, North Africa, and Persia as well."

Notice, it went to Rome, yes, but it didn't just head to Europe, but to Africa and the Middle East. As anyone familiar with modern western missionary efforts will tell you, North Africa and the Middle East is considered the most dangerous region to take the gospel today.

And I consider, then, the spread of the early church and the faith of early believers and I ponder, is it any wonder, or any coincidence, that these are the locations now most known as the seat of Islam?

Is it any coincidence that this is where Satan first planted the seed of this religion which is now the biggest combatant against Christianity?

Is it any coincidence that this region has had such a multitude of hearts hardened against Christ's followers that one cannot even bring the gospel into the very place it originated without threat to one's own life?

But, then, we must also see the further truth of this realization. Communities of believers in the Middle East - Syria, Egypt, Turkey - were born and were bearing fruit and growing the gospel long before King James ever ordained a single translation of Scripture. Would it not stand to reason, if the word which was spread into all the world and continues to grow and change lives, was growing and changing lives in the Middle East in those days, that communities of believers that can trace their lineage back to the Colossian church, or the Ephesian church, or the Philippian church, might still exist?

That maybe, when the gospel was spread, only 30 years after the death of Christ, to Syria, that descendants of those early Syrian believers, who have passed the truth of their faith and the hope laid up for them in Heaven, from one generation to the next, might have managed to reject false teaching, holding fast to the teachings of Paul, who so adamantly warned against "plausible arguments" (Colossians 1:4) that may have deluded new Christ followers, and withheld the spread of the new religion sweeping their nations. Is it possible that, maybe, there are those in the Middle East who have never been swayed by the words of a false prophet, but continue to cling to the cross?

A good friend tells of a time he met a Middle Eastern believer and, awed by his belief, despite his nationality, he asked this believer when he and family came to faith in Christ. The answer he received was, "In Acts, chapter 2."

We tend to forget, as Western believers, that these nations which present such a threat to our lives and our peace, were the birth-place of who we are, as a church, and as the Body of Christ. Yes, it is well-known that Satan has very thoroughly seemed to have accomplished his mission in these regions. But that does not mean God is no longer at work there, as well. His Word continues to grow, spread and change lives, even with very little influence from western believers.

So, maybe, when so many live in terror of those fleeing for their lives from war-battered nations, it could be recognized that some of these that seek refuge are, in fact, believers, who flee for their lives because their blood is demanded from them because they cling to the blood of Christ. And these are not simply new believers, rejecting any sort of false religion they once held, because someone has managed to sufficiently risk their lives to get into the region so many are seeking to escape, but these may be well-established believers because there remains a rich history and heritage of Christ in the very places where the church was born.

Perhaps, armed with this knowledge, we can change our perspective on the Middle East and see what is truly happening - nations torn apart by the ancient battle between spiritual forces. Not because a false religion wins, but because Satan still feels threatened by what God started in these places two millenia ago.

Perhaps when we encounter, then, or hear of those who follow a false prophet we can see them not as enemies, but as those who have been deceived by the one who has been waging war against God himself almost since time began. And our hearts can break.

And maybe we can cry out on our knees for hearts to be turned back to the Father, rather than bodies turned away from our shores.

Let us not forget, there was once Peace born in the Middle East. And if God has not abandoned them, neither, then, shall we.

27 January 2016

Of the True Presence of God

A friend recently told me that my finest quality was my willingness to stand by my convictions despite the consequences.

It was one of the most meaningful compliments of my life, though I doubt how strongly I stand by my convictions at times. I appreciated that somehow, despite what I consider failures, someone has seen this in me.

As I pondered this statement, it occurred to me that while I don't always stand proudly for things I believe are right, but I have a tiny twinge of doubt about, there are some things to which I hold firmly: that every life is valued, wherever or however it originated; that it is the Christian responsibility to protect life of any kind; and the reason I care about life is because I believe, without a shadow of a doubt in the One Who gave us life - God. And I believe He is intimately involved in the details of these lives He created.

While I have believed, as long as I can remember, this God existed, and while I have read His Word nearly daily for two decades now, I can point you to the exact moment I knew without one shade of questioning that He was there and that He has His hand constantly near to His creation.

It was the last day of August, 2004.

I had spent the entire summer working at a Christian camp for girls (an absolute dream) - which meant I had spent an entire summer in "worship" services that consisted of the camp theme song for that year and various other child-relatable songs. Perfectly wonderful for them, not quite enough to scratch my own soul-itch, though.

I longed for the type of worship service I had become accustomed to: contemporary songs, dim lights, hands raised high as I praised my Creator.

And on that last day of August, back in school again, our university hosted their first worship night of the new semester. I was so thrilled to be there.

Yet, in the dim-ness of our small campus chapel - the historic building that evokes the quaintness of 100 years of worship - surrounded by fellow students raising their hands to sing to God, I could not put my heart in that place. I felt stifled, surrounded by bodies, oppressed by heat and with a sudden urge to just escape.

So, I did - pushing gently past those lost in song, climbing over others bowed to their knees in prayer and heartfelt adoration, just shoving toward the door.

I stepped outside and breathed deeply. Fresh, cool air.

I had the sudden realization that the soul-drink I truly needed wouldn't be found in a room filled with bodies and sound, but in the quiet alone-ness of my own heart.

I walked across our dark, mostly deserted campus, to the steps of the much-larger chapel, the one in which the student-body gathered weekly as a mandatory qualification to attend this school.

I climbed up the steps, sitting near the top, looking out over the large marble cross towering over the walkway leading up to the building. In the distance was the small white chapel from which I had just escaped, and from which emanated softly the sounds of the continued worship set.

I held my Bible in my lap and I sat in silence. Listening. Waiting to hear God speak, as I had longed to learn how to do for many years after I once and for all invited Him into my life, to lead me as I followed.

And in the quietness of my soul, I heard "Habakkuk."

Now, I knew this to be an obscure book of the Bible - one of the "minor prophets" - a two-page book toward the end of the Old Testament. I knew that much.

But I didn't know anything else. I didn't know where, exactly, to find it - between which other small, obscure books it was sandwiched. I didn't know what it said. And I had certainly never thought to look there before.

For all these reasons, I felt maybe it was God asking me to turn there now. But, then there was that part of me that always speaks up when I think I hear His soul-whispering: Was that God? Or just one of my own random thoughts?

But, then, who randomly thinks of Habakkuk?

As I contemplated, I began to slowly sift through the pages of my Bible, vaguely trying to find my way there.

Of course, I was in Oklahoma - and we all know what comes sweeping across the plains of Oklahoma. And as I meandered through the tissue pages, the wind came along and began fluttering them swiftly by. I leaned back on my hands, simply watching the flitting pages of my Bible resting on my lap, wondering, bemused, if maybe the wind would carry me where I needed to go.

The pages stopped.

I looked at the top of the page on the left. Nahum.

Well, that's not Habakkuk. And that's where I was headed, right? So, I gently lifted the right side of my Bible, hoping the still-blowing breeze would pick up the pages once more to continue turning to wherever I felt called to be.

The pages would not move.

I wiggled the book a little more forcefully. Tried to slightly lift a page to give the breeze something to cling to, but there was nothing.

Still, the pages would not move.

They were held fast in place.

Well, fine, I guess my fingers would have to do the work.

The fingers of my hand began to lift the page on the right and I stopped.

Right there, opposite that final page of Nahum I had seen on the left, was the large, bold title of the next book.

Habakkuk.

I tremble as I type this now, as I do every time I tell this story, as I'm sure I did in that moment, when all I could do was sit in shocked silence, not even attempting to find a verse or passage, but giving the moment the full weight of what it was.

The God of the universe had come down, or at the very least, commanded the wind itself, to turn the pages of the Bible sitting in my lap to the exact place He wanted me.

Me.

I have never in my life felt as small as I felt in that one moment. I looked out over the darkness and saw tiny insect wings in flight, as is common on a late-summer evening, recognizing He designed every detail of that seemingly insignificant insect. His fingers formed the grass and placed the stars in the sky. And He knows them all by name.

And He knows me.

Who am I? Who am I that He would care to carry me to the place in Scripture He wanted me to be?

I was completely, entirely, humbled.

And in that moment everything I had ever believed was finally and ultimately confirmed. There is a God. And He is intimately involved in the workings of His creation. And He deeply cares for His children.

I am a child of God.

I know that I know that I know this - and I will cling to this truth for all of my life.

Now, a side-note, because while, for me, the importance of this event in my life is so much more about the way God showed Himself than the words I read on the page after, I know others will be curious.

Habakkuk, if you ever open your Bible to read it, is not an uplifting book.

There is a reason no one has heard of it.

It doesn't have the pretty poetry of the Psalms or the wisdom of the Proverbs. It doesn't tell a great story like Jonah or give us insights into the life, death or resurrection of Christ.

It's about destruction and despair and violence. It's a man crying out to God for vengeance for His people.

And it's in the Bible for a reason, but it's not a typical book to turn to when you're in need of some soul encouragement.

However, He did point me to Habakkuk 1:5 - which was the only verse I'd heard from the book up until that point:

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told."

Again, this doesn't quite hold the same meaning in context as it does when it's read right there, all by itself. Because what God is referring to regarding what will happen among the nations is, yes, destruction of them. BUT - there is an amazing feeling knowing there are still things happening among the nations that we would not believe if we were told. Some wouldn't sound that great. But some would. And God is still working.

In fact, the very next day, on the heels of this passage, and of this humbling that fully convinced me to go wherever He would lead, He sent me on a journey I would have never predicted or seen, one that carried me all the way to Russia, where I fell in love with a people that most of the western world doesn't understand.

And, finally, at the end of the short three chapters of the entire book of Habakkuk, there are these verses, a prayer of the prophet who just delivered these words of destruction to God's people, verses to which I still cling, especially on the hard days:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

So, there you have it - these are the words that most spoke to me that one dark evening in August - unexpected words of encouragement tucked deep in the Old Testament.

But mostly what spoke to me that night on the cold stone steps was the real, tangible presence of God, right there in our midst.