Washed in the Waters

The other day, I had to tell the story of Naaman from memory. Why? Because it was depicted on a coloring sheet at the preschool where I work and I have a class of overly curious four year olds. So there I was, wishing that someone had been clever enough to include this particular passage of scripture in the story Bible we use in the classroom. Wishing the coloring picture had been of Jonah or Esther or one of those other classic stories that I can tell backwards and forwards and maybe even upside down. But no, it was Naaman. Why? Because God apparently had something to teach me.

I decided to tell my class that Naaman was sick and his servant girl (whose unwavering faith in God I praised) suggested that he go see the prophet Elisha who told him to wash himself in a pool of water seven times and he would be healed.

I thought of that story again today and looked it up to see how I had done in my spontaneous retelling. (Leprosy is a sickness, right?) The thing that jumped out at me was something I forgot… or maybe something that had simply never seemed vital until today.

Naaman’s reaction when Elisha told him to wash himself in the Jordan River (Yeah, it was a river, not a pool. I must have been thinking about that guy in the New Testament. Technicality. But I did get the number right. So do I pass the test?)… Well, it’s a pretty interesting reaction. Naaman actually gets mad.

“I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy,” he says in 2 Kings 5:11. The next verse explains that Naaman walked away in a rage. Imagine that. This guy actually gets ticked off because Elisha doesn’t come out looking like Obi-Wan in his over-sized robe while waving his hand in the air and saying, “You do not have leprosy.”

Naaman started walking away from his miracle because it didn’t come in the form he was expecting.
It was supposed to be over with a wave of Elisha’s hand. This whole swimming lesson was a bit ridiculous. Because it’s not like Naaman had never bathed before. Leprosy wasn’t something you could simply wash away.

He didn’t understand that all God really wanted from him was obedience.

Thankfully his servants pointed out that he was being ridiculous and convinced him that it was time for a bath.

In Naaman’s defense, I’m willing to bet that his doubts weren’t entirely misplaced. I imagine that he had tried many remedies. After all, he was a wealthy, highly respected man who probably had connections to some pretty successful doctors. But none of them had a cure for his leprosy. Nothing he had ever tried before actually helped.

Now here he was again—justifiably skeptical—standing at the edge of a river where the God who doesn’t play Jedi mind tricks asked him if he really had enough faith to be healed.

Naaman immersed himself in a promise.

Seven times.

And he was healed. Instantly.

And that’s when Naaman knew that there was no God in all the world except the God of Israel.

May we all have to faith to immerse ourselves in God’s promises and let the waves of His love and mercy wash all our impurities away.

Beautiful Ending

You would think that Mary, of all people, would get it. After all, she was the one to whom the angel appeared. She knew from the start that the child she carried would be the Messiah.

With a birth announcement like that, you’d think it would be hard to forget who Jesus really was.

But apparently it wasn’t. If you read the first few chapters of Luke, you’ll find that Mary “treasured” and “pondered” the events of Jesus’ childhood, “marveled” at the prophecies spoken at His birth, and was “astonished” to find Him imparting wisdom to the teachers in the temple courts.

And I have to wonder how she could so easily forget who He was. Did staring into the eyes of a helpless babe somehow lessen her view of the Messiah? Did she not understand what she had signed up for? Did she ever get it at all? Because when I look at Mary’s life after that moment she said yes to God, I don’t see signs of that inspiring faith we’ve all learned to admire.

Sure, there was the day she urged Jesus into starting off His ministry by transforming a bit of water into wine, but then there was the day she and her other sons went to “take charge of Him,” convinced He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21).

What happened to her dream? What happened to her faith? And perhaps most importantly… how many times have I asked myself the same questions?

How many times have I abandoned a dream because I forget how clearly God breathed it into being? How many times have I “treasured” and “pondered” and “marveled” at things God had promised me all along? How many times have I found myself astonished that God is actually true to His word and that He is finishing the work He began in me?

I think that once upon a time, I prayed for a faith like Mary’s and it seems like I got it–though it’s not all I dreamed it would be. Because I missed a vital part of the story: the ending.

The last time we see Mary in scripture, she’s weeping at the foot of the cross. There’s no resurrection for her. I mean, there was, obviously, but it’s never recorded through her eyes. Our final picture of Mary is a broken, doubting woman living out the worst day of her life.

And if that’s where Mary’s faith will leave me, I’m reneging on my prayer. Because I don’t want to be guilty of forgetting God’s promise. I don’t want to stand weeping at the death of my dreams without ever getting to see the resurrection.

I want the kind of beautiful ending that finds me in the arms of God in the final scene.

Coming to Terms with Your Calling

Have you ever read the story of Jonah? And by that I don’t mean, were you ever in Sunday School when they talked about the guy who got swallowed by a whale? I mean, have you actually read it for yourself? In the Bible?

The basic summary of the story is that Jonah runs from God, God finds him, God delivers him, and Jonah fulfills the calling God gave him in Chapter One. Sounds like a pretty standard story. But here’s the thing that I find sets Jonah apart from all the other Biblical heroes: There’s absolutely no turnaround in his life. No repentance. Sure, Chapter Two is one, big, flowery prayer in which Jonah cries out for deliverance, but he never actually apologizes for disobeying God. Not once.

With a heart every bit as bitter as it was the day he first ran, Jonah goes to Nineveh where he preaches this big sermon of, “God will pour his wrath out upon you sinners.” He doesn’t tell them to repent… but they do.

And instead of rejoicing in the miracle God has performed through his message, Jonah gets angry and storms out of the city, begging God to take his life. “I’m angry enough to die,” he says. And that’s where our story leaves him.

It would almost be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

I wonder if Jonah ever got it. I wonder if he ever came to terms with his calling. I wonder if he ever went back to rejoice with the people of Nineveh, or if he avoided that city for the rest of his miserable existence.

Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to Jonah, but we can make sure this doesn’t become our story. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t want to be the kind of person who is so full of hatred that I refuse to answer God’s call. I don’t want to be the one who flees from the miracles God would perform in and through my life.

I want to be the kind of vessel that would bring repentance and instill life in the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people. But I know that repentance starts right here in this heart of mine.

So this is me, apologizing for all the times I’ve run away—all the times I’ve sought Tarshish when there are 120,000 people awaiting the words I’ve been commanded to speak. This is me, coming to terms with my calling and determining to find joy in doing the will of God.

For those of us who desire to glorify God with our lives, this is the point of surrender.

May He Find Us Faithful

“Gideon’s army.”

The words came to me in the middle of a message and I hurried to write them down on my yellow legal pad, wondering what relevance they have in my life today. So I went home, looked up the old story, and found that the words spoke deeply into my world today.

If you don’t know the story, you can look it up in Judges chapters 6-8, but the long and short of it is, Gideon was called to deliver his people from the hand of Midian. He set out with an army of 32,000 men, but God told him that his army was too big. So Gideon commanded anyone who trembled with fear to turn back.

This left Gideon with 10,000  courageous men – less than a third of his original army. You would think that would be good enough, but God still wasn’t satisfied. See, God knew that men are prone to take all the glory for themselves, and He didn’t want the Israelites to claim that they had defeated Midian by their own power. If God was going to deliver Israel from the hand of the enemy, He was going to do so with a faithful few. So Gideon stood by as God sifted through his army until there wasn’t much of an army remaining.

And the entire Midianite army fled from a mere 300 men.

I feel this is what God is doing in our world today. I look around and see so many people in church, but only a few who are truly committed to the cause. All around the globe, God is sifting through His army, looking for the ones who will remain faithful to the end.

In many areas of the world, Christians are fleeing their countries, running from the persecution that  threatens their very lives. In Egypt alone, an estimated 300,000 believers have abandoned their homes since the revolution began last year. And while it’s good to know that they are safe, it also makes me wonder… Where does that leave the rest of us? Who remains to fight for Egypt? Who remains to fight for my world?

Because sometimes it isn’t about being safe. Sometimes we must take risks. Sometimes we must go into battle with a mere 300 men, trusting that God knew what He was doing when He sent everyone else home. Because when you look at statistics like these through physical eyes, victory seems unattainable; but when you dare to look into the spiritual realm, you’ll find that God is about to do something that borders the miraculous.

And what I know with most certainty is that when the option is given to turn away from the upcoming battle, I don’t want to be one of those who tremble in fear.

I pray that you will find the courage to stand strong in the face of adversity. May you never lose sight of the vision God casts before you and may you always cling to the hope that is given to us in Christ Jesus.

The war is already won.

May He find us faithful.

Not 4 Sale

Yesterday was Freedom Sunday, and in honor of this protest against human trafficking, I proudly wore the words “NOT 4 SALE” on my arm. I’ve always been passionate about this issue, and after my trip to India with Bombay Teen Challenge, both the horrors and hope have become even more real to me. So here I am, championing this cause until I wake up this morning and stumble across a passage of scripture that makes me feel like a hypocrite.

“But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers –
would you now return to me?” -Jeremiah 3:1

The words stung my heart this morning because they reminded me of an important truth I had allowed myself to forget. There I was with the words “NOT 4 SALE” tattooed across my arm while I was selling myself short of God’s best for me. Somewhere along the way, I had allowed myself to get caught up in the little things – the petty distractions of life – when all the while God has been standing by the wayside saying, “Hey Rebekah, I have something so much better waiting for you if you’d only take the time to notice.”

It’s amazing how easy it is to stray from God’s perfect will. Even more amazing how difficult it is to see that you’re slowly slipping away from Him. Like I said, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Once you allow your life to get so filled up with little things, there’s no room for the truly important things.

Yet all along, God stands by the wayside with open arms, begging us to return to Him. Loving us when we are undeserving. He opens Himself up and gives us the opportunity to bring Him joy… or to break His heart once again by turning our backs on His desperate plea.

Let me make this clear: You are not for sale, so stop selling yourself short. God has something amazing in store for you, so stop chasing fantasies and let Him restore you to His wonderful reality. He doesn’t care what you’ve done or where you’ve been; He misses His little girl. He is begging you to return to Him, but ultimately, the choice is yours. Will you retreat into the shadows or run into His open arms?

As for me, I choose life.

Don’t You Know Anything?

About six weeks ago, I read the most haunting book about the Nazi regime. Since then (which is ironically the name of the book ~ Then), the catchphrase of one young character has lingered in my mind: “Don’t you know anything?”

Sort of random, but a well-written book will do that to you. Anyway, the phrase resurfaced as I read through the book of Isaiah and found words of a similar kind:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“Don’t you know anything?” Isaiah seems to be asking. And I could feel guilty, but I don’t. Instead, I’m merely thankful for the reminder. This verse started a whole list of questions in my mind.

Do you not know… that God is bigger than any problem you may face?

Have you not heard… that the Lord is mighty to save?

Do you not know… that God is in control of both the big and little things?

Have you not heard… that He’s going to win in the end?

Do you not know… that God loves you with everything He is?

Have you not heard… the song of love He sings over you?

Do you not know… that He’s waiting with arms wide open?

Have you not heard… how He desperately calls your name?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Don’t you know anything?

I realize how little I do know. More importantly, I realize that it’s okay to not know everything… just as long as I know that I can trust God with the things I don’t understand.

The In-Between Places

“Egypt’s prince became Israel’s deliverer – but somewhere in the middle he had to become Midian’s shepherd so he could learn how to lead in a godly way.” ~Shannon Primicerio

I’ve probably read those words about Moses a minimum of five times without ever really seeing them. This time, they jumped out at me. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I’m smack dab in the middle of the “Midian phase.”

Midian for Moses was an in-between place – a step away from where he didn’t want to remain, but not quite where he wanted to be. It’s a place most of us dread – a place of transition and change. Midian was a necessary tool in shaping Moses into the leader God desired for him to be, but he didn’t know that when he fled Egypt.

That’s the thing about in-between places. They never make sense while you’re in them. Sometimes you look around and ask, “God, why am I here?” But He never seems to answer, unless He gives you the occasional, “You’ll see.” But it would seem that you never “see” soon enough.

It’s frustrating to live in the in-between places. Sometimes all you can think about is how this isn’t where you want to be – even when you know it’s so much better than the place you left. Or worse, you turn out like the Israelites when they were waiting in the desert. You start to miss the place of bondage from which you fled. You start to think, “At least then I knew what was going on. I have no idea what’s happening here!”

But the thing is, God doesn’t want you to live in bondage. He doesn’t want you to merely exist; He wants you to thrive. So He takes you out of those places where you are slowly fading and He leads you into another place – the in-between place – because He knows the in-between places are necessary if you want to reach the other side.

So don’t dread the in-between places, even when they don’t seem to make sense. Don’t you know that God is making a deliverer out of you?

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” ~Job 23:10