Hold On

It’s exceedingly easy to bolt (or, rather, drag yourself) out of bed, to hustle-bustle the family out the door–to school and to work, to the gym or to walk the dog–and into the day. One thing leads to another, until you have to get dinner on the table, get the kids on to homework or sports or music, pay the bills, answer the emails, until eventually you collapse into bed, hoping not to toss fitfully through the wee hours before the alarm signals it’s time to do it all again.

And to ignore God’s presence in all of it. Just because we don’t acknowledge God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

Other seasons might find us crying out to God, painfully aware of our need for Him in this crazy, chaotic world, only to hear silence in response.

Just because we don’t see or hear God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

How long would it take a dozen brothers to have families that have families that have families enough to create a people group so intimidating that their host country begins to dread them, enslave them, then try to annihilate them? It’s got to be a while, right?

That’s the set-up for Exodus. The Israelites have their babies–which we understand to be signs of God’s blessing–and the Egyptians ruthlessly use and abuse the Israelites, which (somehow) results in more baby-blessings, this strange oppression-population explosion cycle playing out for likely a whole lot of years.

Where is God while His people are getting beat up?

The new king asks the midwives to kill the Hebrew boy-babies. They “fear God” and make up a clever excuse. And there, there is God, pleased with Shiprah and Puah’s God-honoring disobedience. God is pleased with them, so He gives them families of their own.

Did they recognize their own babies as a gift directly from God? I think they did, but I wonder if others could see God so clearly. All those Israelites “miserable with hard labor, crushed under a cruel workload” (The Message), did they remember the stories they had heard about the God of creation? About the God who watched over Joseph even when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt?

Did they look to the overwhelmingly bad circumstances of their immediate existence and despair? Or did they remember what they had been taught about the God who always sees His people?

I like to think that Shiprah and Puah act as a subset of a whole, that they are the specific example of God-fearing Israelites.

But then, I know from personal experience that it doesn’t always work that way. The world never is as it should be, and we rail against it and lose sight of God in our tizzy. And then, of course, there are the stories yet to come in Exodus of God’s people being just a wee-bit short-sighted and stubborn.

I come back to the main point of a sermon I heard long ago: When you want to ask why, it’s time to worship.

When life gets out of whack, when we can’t see our way past the circumstances, when God seems absent, then more than ever we need to hold on to God’s character and what He’s done in the past, and worship Him.

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 1

Connect
How might your childhood neighbors have described your family? How might your current neighbors describe your family?

Study
Read aloud Exodus 1.
Describe the Israelites (vv7-9, 17-19). What might the specific example of the Hebrew midwives tell us about the Israelites as a whole?
Why did the new Egyptian king perceive the Israelites as a threat, and how did he handle it?
Read Genesis 46:8 and Genesis 1:28. What might the echoes of Genesis in the beginning of Exodus mean to its readers?
The Egyptians dreaded the Israelites. What sense do you think the Israelites made of their situation?
Where do you see God in this chapter?

Live
Who appears in your genealogy of faith? How can a faith legacy make a difference?
Share some things God has done for you. How does God working in your past affect your faith presently?
When have you felt like God was absent? How did you hang on to faith during that time?
“Things are not the way they ought to be, but we rest in God’s promises. We have faith” –Peter Enns. How was that true for the Israelites? How is that true for God’s people today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God for the courage to live faithfully even when the world seems hostile.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 1:8-21 individually and with your family.
Why should you obey God?
Has anyone ever told you to do something you knew was wrong? What did you do?
Ask God to help you do the right thing.

 

The Person Right Here

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

True confession: because we work at a church, we don’t always hit a church on vacation Sundays. Because, in too many ways, church = work. We love Jesus, but we can’t help evaluating church (What would we do differently? What could we do differently?) in the midst of worship.

Seventeen years of vacationing in this one town, and this year the Spirit took us to church. A church plant/launch that began one month after our last vacation here: we noticed, we felt intrigued, we went to church.

We loved it! Inviting music, insightful sermon, everything felt familiar in the best ways, comfortable and unforced and, oh yeah baby, This Is Church!

It’s truly something when church ‘professionals’ are able to so fully enter a worship experience… So of course we wanted to greet the pastor, to thank him and connect and jive on this great God-led morning.

In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t.

He was all smiles at the handshake. Less so when he learned we were clergy on vacation. He said, “Hey, do you mind if I make the rounds?”

Of course, it is the pastor’s job to greet his own flock.

We made our way to their generous coffee hour, coffee and cookies and homemade apple pie–lions and tigers and bears, Oh My–the hospitality! People were warm, smiling, edging us deeper in.

When I joined Guy next to the always-welcome morning coffee, he was thanking the worship leader for her leadership. She couldn’t contain her God-and-church enthusiasm. She gushed her love for this church and what it has meant to their family, how they have experienced God in this place. We couldn’t help but smile and be grateful to God who makes all things new.

Still, I left feeling uneasy. The service had been an amazing whole, but…?

It hit me later: I saw a dimming in the pastor’s eyes, after we had shaken hands, when he realized we were not going to be new converts or new congregants. We were not going to be his. And so, we didn’t matter, at least in ways that matter. To him. I felt like, because we wouldn’t count, we didn’t count.

As Guy and I walked the coast, I told him my impression, my dis-ease even after an incredible worship experience. I encouraged him: the person in front of you is the person that matters. Not for what they can give you or how they might count on a tally sheet. They matter: to God, and to you.

The pastor should have been stoked to have another pastor totally digging the service he’d crafted. We went to the same grad school, had the same professors—that alone should have been reason to connect. We’re in sister denominations—another reason.

Instead, he seemed eager to be on to the next person. And if that person is someone in his congregation or community with whom he wholeheartedly engages, fine. Appropriate.

Except, we went to coffee hour. And never saw him again.

The worship leader got it. She was happy to share her experience of God in this place, happy to connect with people who want to connect.

A year from now, I imagine we will again plop ourselves in their pews. The experience warrants another go. And every other Sunday between now and then—every day between now and then—I hope we both remember that whoever stands in front of us is the gift God has given us in that moment.

Seasonal Recreation

How did you play when you were young? And how do you play now? I used to swim and bike for what seemed like days on end. I took art classes, played piano, and read. These days I hike or run or practice yoga. I write, play at art, and have an ever-growing stack of to-read books. It’s good to allow ourselves to grow in play, to try new things, to let go of things that don’t satisfy the same creative curiosities we once followed like rabbit trails. So long as we continue to take time for soul care, engaging in creation and recreation and play so that we can be transformed. We need to set aside time for activities that dust off our souls. You know what to do. Now go do it.

re:create recess #12: Danielle Humphreys

There have been a couple of times recently in which my recreation inspired creativity which led to transformation in me. Recreation, or ‘play,’ in this season of life looks different from when I was younger. In college, I remember being part of “Rec Sports” where recreation looked like playing intramural soccer or taking a fencing class. Being in Santa Barbara, it also meant a fair amount of time at the beach! I also used to read and do artsy-craftsy things, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy these anymore, but recreation now looks a lot like planting seeds and watching them grow into a garden. It also looks like getting out in nature or going someplace new, or listening to music. These are the things that take me out of my head and clear the dust off my soul; where space is created to dream, to feel, to hear and respond.

One such experience was on a hike at the Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. It was a beautiful Spring day, one of the first in the midst of what seemed like a never-ending wet winter. My friend and I planned to travel together and then spend time apart for soul care as we hiked the vast swath of land at the Abbey. Reaching the vista point, I sat and pondered a shrine there to the Virgin Mary. It reminded me of growing up Catholic and how honored she is in that faith tradition, especially compared to evangelical faith streams where it seems she’s only thought of at Advent and Christmas. I began journaling that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also a fellow traveler in this world and is one among the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1). She is also a fellow mother, fellow disciple and fellow sister. She went before me and cheers me on as I run the race before me. Her model of surrender, faith, trust and patience became new to me in that moment. Looking out at the surrounding towns and landscape, I decided to take out my small watercolor set and paint what I saw. I didn’t paint Mary, but imagined her sitting with me. My understanding of Mary had been re-created.

I also find that listening to certain worship music draws me close to the heart of God and gives permission for my soul to feel and experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. Like I mentioned, the Pacific Northwest winter was a brutal one, even for the Oregon natives around me! One day it was finally dry enough to put the garden in so I carved out space to get all the plants in the soil. The song in my earbuds as I worked was “Bitter/Sweet” by Amanda Cook. The lyrics are simple and repeat. “You make all things new…You turn the bitter into sweet…You turn the winter into spring…You make all things new…”

I found myself praying this to be true as I planted summer squash. I prayed for spring for my friends, for our church and for myself. As I mounded hills of soil around each plant, I prayed for God to be the foundation that supports us, for our roots to grow down deep into the soil of God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17, NLT) for fruit, and for protection around tender plants, and tender us.

Another time, I ended a long day by listening to worship songs. As the words, melody and truth washed over me, I began to have a conversation with God. I prayed about needing to know God was with me, because I sensed that the Spirit was asking me to be prepared for something new, which made me feel scared. I imagined myself and my family being taken to the unknowns of outer space. The conversation I was having with God started to come out in pictures, so I started drawing them in a small notebook. This became a sacred moment, one that transformed me from a place that felt dizzying and uncertain to one of intimacy and trust in the goodness, faithfulness and nearness of God.

Later this week, I am doing something really out of the box for me (in this stage of my life) and going on a backpacking adventure in the mountains with a group of women I don’t know beyond the friend who invited me! The homebody in me was pulling out cookies from the oven when I got a call from the group and learned that we would be ascending 7,000 feet, and that our gear included both a helmet and an ice ax. What have I gotten myself into?! Recreation via adventure! Blowing dust off of a weary soul. Being surprised by the creativity that springs forth on the journey. Stars and glaciers and the beauty of British Columbia. New soul sisters and pilgrims on the journey. And for certain, there will be re-creation and transformation. I can.not.wait.

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, (still) adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 kiddos and 1 dog. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. She is the Associate Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Covenant Church where her husband Matt is also on staff as a Pastor.

Glorify

The kids and I didn’t make it to church today. Despite my “Church Professional” status, despite our family commitment to make worship attendance the best of all possible habits, life happens. Today, life happened to this family and we skipped corporate worship. Sigh.

Ironically, the topic for today’s sermon was “Glorifying God.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of man (humankind) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We were created – and blessed, loved, chosen, predestined, adopted, forgiven, redeemed – to worship our Creator.

Thank God that His presence isn’t limited to the church sanctuary, that the whole world is, in fact, His Sanctuary. Thank God that we have been united with Christ, that He is with us all the time, everywhere, that everything we are and do can be worship-filled.

Today that has looked like praying aloud with the kids in the car; running errands; prepping healthy breakfasts and lunches for the school/work week ahead; cleaning house; and caring for the kids. And reading Scripture, praying, and blogging about it. A balance of sacred and what we call “secular” but is just as sacred, the mundane, in the company of Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-14 is a beautiful hymn of praise to God. The study questions can help you wrap your head around Paul’s message of God’s glory, but don’t miss the experience of God’s glory as you read and meditate on this passage.

While I am all in favor of emphasizing our corporate identity as God’s people (and aware of the potential dangers in overemphasizing the personal), I also recommend inserting yourself into the reading – “my” for “our” and “me” for “us” – in order to own and live into the glorious truth of what God has done for you.

As you read, look for what this passage says about who God is and what He has done. Also look for what it says about God’s people, who they are and how they should live. Read it through at least twice, listening for what God would impress on your heart.

The first time I read it, the words in the NIV’s verse 12 – that we might “be for the praise of his glory” – grabbed me. What does it mean to simply “be” for God’s glory? How is that different from anything I might do as a result of His love and grace?

The next time I read it the word “lavish” (again NIV) stuck with me. God lavishes the riches of His grace on us. That sounds so delicious, so decadent, so extreme – and God is!

Today, reading from the NLT, the phrase “united with Christ” stands out. Perhaps I need those words today more than usual because I was unable to unite with Christ’s body, the Church.

Whoever you are and whatever you do – individually or corporately – may you revel in the lavish blessings of God’s grace as you spend time with God in His Word.

Connect
When have you experienced the glory of God, and what was that like?

Study
Read Ephesians 1:1-14.
What stands out to you from this passage?
List the blessings Paul describes that every Christian has as our inheritance in Christ.
For what purposes has God chosen and predestined us?
What might it mean that we are to be “the praise of his glory” (vv. 6, 12, 14)?

Live
Since we were created for the praise of God’s glory, what does it look like to glorify God in your everyday responsibilities and relationships?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Offer to God in prayer words and phrases from this Scripture. Close by praying that God will be glorified in your life, your home and neighborhood, and in the world as He works through your worshiping community.