Just Like an Israelite


Gentle Reader,

He is a boil on the butt of humanity.

– Ouiser Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias

Do you ever wonder why other people exist?

I do.

Because I am a ray of sunshine. I never do anything annoying. I am never ungrateful or ungracious. I am the epitome of all that is good and lovely. Polish my halo, nominate me for sainthood.

Eyeing the sky now, waiting for that lightning bolt.

Of course I’m just as irritating to others as they are to me. That’s who we are, what we do. All knocking against each other. Bouncing and pushing and poking. God, in His infinite wisdom, works in the midst of that jostling, patiently shaping us into the people He wants us to be. Easy to forget when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Hard to see when our eyes are clouded by the anger that always follows being mildly inconvenienced.

One day the Israelites started complaining about their troubles.

– Numbers 11:1b (CEV)

It’s funny, how we read the Old Testament and wonder how those people could be so stupid. They saw the sea split, the food fall from the heavens, the cloud and the fire. They experienced the Lord in great, mighty and amazing ways. The evidence of His existence and role as ruler was before their eyes each day. How could they complain? How could they doubt Him?

I wonder if we ever have the clarity to see ourselves as we really are.

We are no better than the Israelites who lived so long ago. They had the chance to step out in faith. The choice to live each day in the midst of mystery, trusting that He would always protect and provide. And sometimes they did so. Sometimes they got it right. Yet an entire generation died in the desert because the sometimes became rarer and rarer. That doesn’t mean that none of that group experienced the forgiveness of God. Scripture tells us that He always responds to sincere, heartfelt repentance with grace. That does mean that they didn’t get to experience all that He had for them.

Me today.

I’ve been cranky for awhile. Could be the weather. Could be the not sleeping well. Could be because I can. Really don’t know. All I could do today was complain. And complain. Ugh, I have to take care of this? I have to go do that? I’m so annoyed. I don’t want to. Stupid person on the road in front of me get out of the way. Mumble, grumble, definitely not feeling humble.

I wonder what I missed today. Since I kept my eyes down, on my problems (that aren’t really problems), it was impossible to see anything good. Impossible to notice the little drops of grace and peace that I know are scattered throughout the hours.

The Lord heard them and became so angry that He destroyed the outer edges of their camp with fire.

– Numbers 11:1b (CEV)

That’s something, isn’t it?

We don’t talk too much about God’s anger. It’s uncomfortable. If God can be angry, then that means we have some responsibility in this situation we call living. We make choices and they have consequences. While I truly believe in the love of God and will preach it until my dying day, part of that love is His anger. Not the reckless, fickle kind of anger we feel because we have to run an errand and we’d really rather take a nap. His anger flows from love. His affection for us is so fierce, deep and unending that He roars when we reject Him. He convicts us when we stray not because He delights in it but because He wants us to be safe, happy, fulfilled.

He’s destroying the outer edges of my camp with fire. My soul is squirming under His gaze because I know. I know I’ve been selfish today. I know I’ve focused on the wrong things. I know I’ve been whining about the provision and opportunities He has placed in my lap not because I’m amazing but because He is. I have dared to think that there could, perhaps, be something better.

When the people begged Moses to help, he prayed, and the fire went out.

– Numbers 11:2 (CEV)


At any time, we can turn around. We can talk to God. We can say, “Lord, I know I’ve been an idiot today. Please forgive me. Please help me.” And He will. As quickly as the fire begins, it dies out. The hand of conviction becomes the hand of mercy. Really, it always was, for conviction is a mercy in and of itself.

I am just as they were. I really can’t say that I wouldn’t have complained about manna or longed to go back to Egypt and slavery. I’d like to think that I’d be just like Caleb and Joshua, confident and brave in their faith, but I know myself. As I sit here, eyes heavy because I am writing this later than I usually do, I am hit once again by the enormity of God’s grace. He could have wiped me clean off the planet today and been more than justified (not that He has to justify any action, because He’s God). But I’m still breathing. I get another chance.

May I learn to never take that lightly.


Photo Credit: Andre Hunter

Content Yo Self

Along theWay @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I love Parks and Recreation.

Chris and I watched the show as it aired live. We’ve watched it completely through several times on Netflix. We can quote entire scenes word-for-word. Chris shares Ron Swanson’s love of woodworking and breakfast foods. At any given time I can be heard singing Jean-Ralphio’s classic, “Technically I’m homeless!” Both of us appreciate the beauty that is the Knope/Wyatt relationship. If we believed in spirit animals, mine would be April Ludgate and his would be Andy Dwyer. Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins are amazing land mermaids. Tammy 1, Tammy 2, Jeremy Jamm, Bobby Newport, Lil’ Sebastian…

Don’t worry – I didn’t forget the joy of Tom and Donna:

We are lit-er-ally P&R super-fans.

“Treat yo self” is a wonderful idea. In a culture that’s all about work, work and more work, as well as remaining constantly connected through social media and smartphones, it’s important to build a little space in our lives for relaxation. Eat a cupcake, see a movie, buy an expensive pair of shoes (that you’ve saved money for. Hashtag Dave Ramsey). In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with “treat yo self.”

But you know humans.

We just can’t seem to do anything in moderation.

In our Western, industrialized, competitive context, we swing from frenetic labor to “I’m going to go into major debt because I want that boat” without much thought. We are always striving, in work and in play, to keep up with…someone. Something. It’s rather ill-defined. We know for certain, however, that we are always and inevitably coming up short. Nothing is ever good enough. We are never good enough.

So onto the next deadline so we can get the next iPhone that we’ll have to make payments on by logging more hours.

Strangely, despite all the overtime and the missed vacation days, we lack discipline.

Really, we do. It’s not good that 40 hours a week is often understood to actually be 60, with little to no overtime pay. Or, if overtime is given, a tongue-lashing from the numbers guy comes along with it. “Yes, we need you to do this project that requires 87 hours of work but you have to get it done in 39.5. Kthanksbye.” There is no satisfaction accompanying a job well done, because the job is never done.

No discipline Monday-Friday equals no discipline on the weekends. Stay up too late, sleep too long, spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, shop too much. Hungover, emotionally or physically, we head back into the workweek, the ever-revolving hamster wheel of tasks and expectations.

On and on it goes.

Paul wrote:

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

– Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)

We don’t know how to do any of that. We don’t know how to be content in plenty. We don’t know how to be content in leanness. We don’t know how to be content, period.

Because we’re looking at the wrong things.

The big house isn’t going to silence the soul-gnawing sense of desperation. The corner office isn’t going to make the sacrifice of family and friends worthwhile. The string of letters on the parchment paper won’t bring peace. The money in the bank won’t achieve security.

Paul goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

– 4:13 (NKJV)

We quote this verse out of context all the time. I know I have.

Paul is grateful, and in spite of periods of difficulty, he has learned to be content (v. 11). Note that he learned this! He did not rely on favorable circumstances for his joy and strength. He found these in a higher source: in Christ (v. 13).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Doing “all things” isn’t about achievement. It’s about facing whatever the day holds in the knowledge that Chris is always present. Does that mean we deny problems? No. Force ourselves to shun treats? Of course not. Put simply, “all things,” for the believer, are mere things. Seasons. Times. Moments that pass. Christ is the end-goal, the treasure.

Knowing this is the only way that we can be content, and out of that contentment arises the ability to set boundaries. I don’t have to do the work of three people. I can say “no.” I don’t have to buy this thing that I don’t have money for. I can enjoy what I already have. Understanding that Jesus is King and that we are His children means that we don’t have to strive. We don’t have to get caught in the rat race or possess all that is shiny.

Of course, we cannot attain this perspective on our own. We’re not amazing like that. The only way we can conclude that this life, this world is not all there is and that something else matters a whole lot more is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His eyes. We have to ask Him for faith.

So, yes, work hard. And treat yo self. Just remember, neither in the working nor the treating does contentment lie.

Find it in the arms of Jesus.


Photo Credit: Kaylah Otto

How Can I Know That He Really Loves Me?

Look to the Cross

Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Lots of candy, glitter and general, commercialized cheesiness. That’s what I’m supposed to think about it, anyway. I’ve always liked the holiday. My parents used to leave my brother and I treats on the kitchen table, waiting for us to discover at breakfast, from the time we were little all the way through high school. As an adult, Chris and I have celebrated in a variety of ways, all of which usually end up with us at some thrift store or another, searching for buried treasures.

Tomorrow is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible; however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times. …

Jesus is calling His followers to avoid making a show when fasting, but rather to help those in need. He is calling Christians to think externally in avenues of service, instead of only thinking internally toward themselves. The point of that matter is this: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show. As you think about your life…where is your heart? Are you others-focused or self-focused? Do you desire to have true repentance and fasting as mentioned in Psalms 51 (especially verses 10-13, 17), or are your actions merely based on outward tradition?

What is Ash Wednesday? (emphasis mine)

I didn’t grow up observing Lent and the season isn’t heavily emphasized in my denomination, though sermons in the weeks leading up to Easter usually focus on reflection and repentance. In past years I have experimented with different forms of fasting; sometimes I’ve given up social media, other times I’ve abstained from food completely on Good Friday. There are not hard and fast rules regarding the season; I believe that fasting, whatever it looks like, is deeply personal and must be guided by the Holy Spirit. One thing I have learned, though: When I give something up in order to focus on God, I have to actually, you know, focus on God.

Basically, fill in the gap left by setting aside the smartphone with Scripture reading. Or prayer. Or silence. Or worship music. Anything that trains me to put my eyes on Him.

This year I am thinking about the point bolded in the quote above: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show.

All the fasting, contemplation and ritual in the world mean nothing if not done with sincerity. If the focus is just on the thing, rather than the Lord, it’s a waste.

Lent is about love. The great love of God that necessitated Incarnation, suffering and the Cross. Whatever we do (or don’t do) in the coming weeks should be out of a desire to thank Him for that love. To see ourselves as the weak creatures we are, the people totally incapable of saving ourselves. To gaze up into the sky, knowing that the Throne is just beyond our sight. To bow in humility, accepting that we can never do anything to earn His favor. It simply is, the greatest of gifts.

Long have I struggled with the concept of God’s love. I can explain it. I can define the terms for you. I can talk about the differences between agape, philos and eros. Intellectually speaking, I “get” it.

Feeling that love, sensing it in my soul, is another story.

We cannot allow our emotions to rule our lives. We have to operate out of what we know to be true. I know this. I preach this. Feelings aren’t bad, though. They are God-given. Jesus cares about what’s going in our hearts. A relationship with Him is about more than mental assent.

Honestly, that freaks me out.

I don’t like vulnerability. This may come as a surprise to you, given the things that I share on this blog, but I hit “publish” on the intimate posts only because I know that there are others out there who battle the same things I do and I can’t be the Barnabas that I want to be if I’m not doing the thing along with everyone else. If I had it my way, if I operated entirely out of my natural inclinations, only the sarcastic, intense, intellectual side of my personality would bleed through onto the screen.

So for me to know that Jesus has the desire to get in there and sort out all the feels in my heart so I can really, freely live out the things I know to be true…yikes.

He’s God, though. You can only fight Him for so long.

This Lenten season, I invite you to ask God one scary question (I’m asking, too): How can I know that You really love me? Then sit back and read. Open your Bible and watch Him in the Garden, agonizing, terrified of the pain and separation to come. Sit in front of the Cross, taking in the full horror of the Savior’s naked body, drowning in blood. Stand next to the women who could not bear to leave Him behind. Weep with Peter. Bow your head in the silence of locked rooms, hope snuffed out like the last bit of candle. Allow the weight of mourning and disappointment to press upon your shoulders.

Contemplate the great sacrifice this Perfect Man, the only Perfect Man, made – because of you. Because of me. Because He doesn’t want to let us go.

Lord God, You know how we struggle to feel loved. You know how easily we believe that You are just like we are, fickle and reckless in Your affection. You know how terrified we are that one day we will wake up and find that You don’t love us at all. Help us, Jesus, to come to the Cross in a fresh way this season. Help us to see with new eyes. Pierce our souls with the grace, the mercy, the true and lasting love that is ours by right of submission to You. Enable us to both feel and to know Your love that we may live confidently in this world, secure in the assurance that we are Yours. Thank you, dear Lord, for the Incarnation and the Cross. Thank You for the Resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Photo Credit: Diana Simumpande

Five Minute Friday: Privilege


Gentle Reader,

The husband is ripping out the floors in our house. This means noise, dust and chaos. Last night he spent a few hours chipping away at the glue the builders haphazardly slathered on to hold down the cheap linoleum (that I will not miss in any way). Didn’t make for a good writing environment.

Right now, blessedly, there is quiet.

And exposed subflooring.

Kate says: privilege.


Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has visited
and provided redemption for His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David,
just as He spoke by the mouth
of His holy prophets in ancient times;
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of those who hate us.
He has dealt mercifully with our fathers
and remembered His holy covenant—
the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.
He has given us the privilege,
since we have been rescued
from the hand of our enemies,
to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness
in His presence all our days.

– Luke 1:68-75 (CSB, emphasis mine)

The priest Zechariah hadn’t been able to speak for months. At least nine of them, but probably more like twelve. He had doubted God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel. He hadn’t been able to wrap his mind around his wife, long past the age of childbearing, conceiving a son.

So he was quiet.

Life went on, as it does. I imagine he attended to his responsibilities as best he could. Elizabeth must have gotten used to his silence. Sometimes he would write things down and share them with her. But no noise. No whispered words of affection. No angry grumbling. No exclamation of wonder the first time he felt the baby kick.

Then, finally, his vocal folds begin humming again. His tongue is loosed. He breaks into song.

Zechariah knew what it was to serve God. The day he met the angel, he’d been inside the Holy of Holies. The only time in his life he’d get to slowly, reverently pull back the curtain and step into the sacred space. He was doing his duty when the Lord rock his world. Everything turned upside down.

The enemy is not always without. More often, it is within. Doubts, fears, insecurities, jealousies, lusts. Zechariah lived at a time when his people were oppressed by a foreign power. Like everyone else, I’m sure he longed for the iron bars of Rome to be broken by the Messiah, the promised King. But in those long months of quiet, I wonder if he heard God. I wonder if their relationship deepened. I wonder if Zechariah learned to look a little farther, see a little deeper.

Certainly he knew that the Lord, the Rescuer, was coming.

What a privilege that was.