A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on presence. You can read it here. (For those of you reading from our Scriptures 1 class, it was a post I did not tag for class.) In that post, I share my thoughts on the presence of Jesus with us specifically when we pray. Perhaps this is why the presence of God at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 stood out to me.
In 1 Kings 8, Solomon has finally completed the temple, and the time has come to dedicate it. The author tells us as the ark was brought to the temple Solomon and the people were “sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered” (1Kings 8:5 NRS). What a joyous day in the life of Israel. They had finally constructed a permanent dwelling place for God. After the ark was installed in “the most holy place,” the inner sanctuary of the temple, “a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:10-11). What an amazing theophany of God’s presence among God’s people!
Sometimes I wish God would show up in such a visible way. Often, our experience of God’s presence while tangible, is nearly indescribable. However, I wonder, if God did show up in a visibly tangible way, would we recognize Him? Or would our western, scientific brains have some explanation for the theophany? Is our view of God big enough to allow for such unexplainable events?
A quick story. One summer during camp, rain was threatening our last night of worship which was to take place in an amphitheater overlooking a lake. Rain was imminent according to the radar and the clouds. Swimming and other outdoor activities had been rained out several times through the week. So I prayed for God to hold the rain until after our service which on the last night of camp could be quite lengthy. We started our service with the distant rumble of thunder, but as we watched the clouds (and the radar) the rain split and went right around us. It was raining nearby, but not at the camp. We were able to finish our worship service, time of response and prayer, and eat s’mores around the bonfire. The rain came right as our campers headed back to their cabins. One of the workers at the camp facility tried to tell me the lake had some impact on preventing the rain, but I choose to believe God acted on our behalf protecting our time of worship and displaying his glory for all to see.
I don’t know about you, but I am never perfect. Ouch. That’s hard for this perfectionist to admit, but it’s true. Try as hard as I might, I am just not perfect, and I never will be. Perhaps that’s why David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.
In 1 Samuel 13, God rejects Saul as king after he impatiently offered a burnt offering instead of waiting for Samuel. In verse 14, God tells Saul, “…the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people.” He is speaking of David.
David, the raiding pirate. David, the adulterer. David, the murderer. This certainly does not sound like a man who follows God wholeheartedly. Or does it?
David commits many sins. However, he repents completely and humbles himself before God repeatedly. We see this most clearly in 2 Samuel 11 & 12, the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and its consequences. After the prophet Nathan’s parable and rebuke, David admits his sin. He then humbles himself before God praying and fasting on behalf of his and Bathsheba’s child who has been struck ill. Through the picture painted by the author of 1 & 2 Samuel, we see David communing with God, talking with God, relying on God for protection, writing psalms of praise to God, dancing before God as the ark is brought into Jerusalem, and seeking God’s direction. I think God calls David a man after his own heart because God knew David’s heart, and his heart was devoted to God. Sure he messed up. But he never wavered in his devotion to God. In comparison to Saul, Solomon, and the myriad of kings of the divided kingdom, David stands out because of his wholehearted devotion to God. He is remembered as a wholehearted follower of God despite his imperfections and missteps. What better way to be remembered?
Throughout the stories of Saul, David, and Solomon we often read of a person who has attained the privilege of eating at the king’s table. We see this with Mephisbosheth in 2 Samuel 9. David desired to show kindness to someone from Saul’s family for the sake of his friend Jonathan. Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, and David did not hesitate to show kindness to him. Eating at the king’s table was one of the many things David did for Mephibosheth.
Over the weekend, Aaron and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of his cousin Hayley. The ceremony was beautiful and meaningful. A true worship service. The reception was like something straight out of a movie. It was in a garden at a sculpture museum under a canopy of trees amidst peaceful fountains and stunning sculptures. The trees were lit by hundreds of tiny light bulbs, and the tables were set with fine china and crystal. I felt as if I was at a royal dinner. In the midst of all this beauty, my mind drifted to the kings of Israel. Was this what eating at the king’s table was like? Was there live music and dancing? Fine wine and people dressed in their finest? What must Mephibosheth have felt at the generosity and kindness of King David?
From here my mind drifted to thoughts of heaven and a feast at the ultimate king’s table, the King of Kings. What a joyous day it will be to be in God’s presence!
I am taking a spiritual formation class this semester, and one thing we have been talking about recently is truly being present with people. Present in the mundane, present in the messiness, present in the highs, present in the lows. Presence is the idea of completely setting myself, my agenda, my problems, my joys aside, and truly listening to the other person. Presence is allowing someone to fully express the depths of their emotion without interjecting my advice or my stories.
Our professor begins our class every Tuesday and Thursday with a spiritual practice. Tuesday we began with an imagination prayer exercise in which we imagined ourselves sitting and talking with Jesus about things which we had recently been on our hearts. As I sat there next to Jesus, I poured my heart out to him. Words came tumbling out of my mouth as they often do when I’m at my most vulnerable place. The interesting thing to me was not what I said, however, but what Jesus did in response. Rather than tell me some grand advice or comforting word, Jesus just held me. Jesus, God Incarnate, the Savior of the world, simply hugged me.
At first this was frustrating to me. Why didn’t Jesus tell me something? But as I’ve had time to think and process this experience, I began to realize Jesus did the only appropriate thing. He was present with me. He listened to me. He gave me space to express my deepest heartaches and frustrations and He sat with me in that place. I wonder how often Jesus desires to be present with me, but I fill our time together with a bunch of words. Not that words are bad, they are a necessary part of our lives and play an appropriate role in prayer. But sometimes I think Jesus desires to sit with us and offer the comfort of His touch but we miss it because we are so busy talking at Him.
I’ve often wondered how some people spend hours in prayer. “I would run out of things to say,” I’ve often thought. But perhaps that’s the point. These people are not spending hours talking but simply being and allowing Jesus to be with them. We expect answers when we pray. What if the answer is Jesus’ presence?
The last 24 hours have been a roller coaster of emotions. We have been to the deepest, darkest valley and back again. Through it all, I have been overwhelmed by God’s presence and the peace He brings. Sometimes presence is more powerful than words or answers. With presence comes peace.
As of 3:09am eastern time on Sunday, October 16, I am an aunt. Nolan Andrew Beazley was born yesterday to Aaron’s brother Luke and his wife Brittany, and we couldn’t be more thrilled! Aunt Stephanie. That still sounds weird to me! It’s also quite a mouthful. Maybe Aunt Steph is better. Either way, we are super excited and ready to meet the little guy. The only problem? He lives in North Carolina. Boo. I really hope we don’t have to wait until Christmas! Congratulations Luke & Brittany!
I can just imagine Gideon’s face when God told him “you have too many men for me to deliver Midian into [your] hands” (Judges 7:2). I imagine him thinking something along these lines: “Are you sure God? Have you seen the Midianite army? You want to reduce my army of thousands down to 300?!” (Find the whole story of Gideon in Judges 6-8.)
But God in His infinite love and wisdom had a plan for those 300 men. In Judges 7:2, God goes on to explain why He wants to reduce the army: “in order that Israel may not boast against Me that her own strength has saved her.”
Put another way: “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” –George Muller
If God wants to use 5 counselors and Aaron and me to show His love to campers this summer, who am I to question Him? After all, He often uses a very small number of people to do very big things. (Gideon isn’t the only example. Read Judges. And the rest of the Bible for that matter.) While I still hope and pray that God will provide at least one more counselor, I can rest in the knowledge that His plan is perfect. I have faith that He will provide the staff we need to run three weeks of camp. And in the end, God gets all the glory because the only explanation for Camp Machaceh’s success is His provision.
When I was a senior in high school, my senior class at church selected Joshua 1:9 as our theme verse for the year.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
We recited this verse each Sunday morning. It was a fitting verse for such a transitional time in our lives. However, I have realized that God’s message to Joshua about courage is an important one for most stages in life. In college, I needed to trust in God’s presence and guidance as I made decisions regarding my major and other future decisions including getting married. Over the last 7 years, I have needed to be courageous and rely on God’s guidance as Aaron and I started Camp Machaceh. Courage also came into play as Aaron and I transitioned to seminary and life in Waco. I find much peace in God’s promise to always be with Joshua wherever he went.
Over the last few weeks, my mother in law was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer and underwent surgery to remove the tumors. She is home from the hospital and well on the road to recovering from surgery, but she faces a long road of chemo ahead of her. My prayer for her and our family on this journey is Joshua 1:9. Regardless of the outcome or the difficulty of the road, I pray that we will always remember and take courage in God’s presence with us.
I am part of a minority group. This may seem like an odd statement considering I am a white, middle class American, but I am a minority all the same. You see, I am left-handed in a world created for right handed people. Ever noticed how the pen attached to the credit card machine is geared toward right handed people? Or how most desks in college classrooms are for right-handers? So it is no wonder I have always enjoyed the story of Ehud in Judges 3. Now don’t get me wrong, it is quite a disturbing story. Ehud showed up to present tribute to King Eglon, but when the king was left alone with him, Ehud drew his sword and “thrust it into Eglon’s belly.” The Bible includes all the gory detail about the entire sword entering his belly and the fat closing over it. Overall, a rather disgusting story. What I like about this story, though, is in verse 15- “But when the Israelites cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man” (emphasis added). Ehud was able to carry out his task of killing King Eglon because he was left-handed. The guards would not have thought to check Ehud’s right thigh for a weapon because everyone was right-handed and would have strapped their swords to their left thighs. Often being left-handed was looked down on and in some cases seen as evil. But here we see God using Ehud to rescue his people, and the writer pointed out that he was left-handed. I guess being left-handed has its perks after all.
Some days I am simply amazed that God, the Creator of the Universe and all that is in it, wants to be in relationship with me, a finite, fallible human. Today is one of those days.
Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God foretold their future rebellion to Moses.
“Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the Israelites; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness for me against the Israelites. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I promised on oath to their ancestors, and they have eaten their fill and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, despising me and breaking my covenant. And when many terrible troubles come upon them, this song will confront them as a witness, because it will not be lost from the mouths of their descendants. For I know what they are inclined to do even now, before I have brought them into the land that I promised them on oath.” Deuteronomy 31:19-21
God knew their inclination to turn from him before they ever set foot in the land. He knew they would adopt the beliefs and practices of the people of the land, forsaking him. The interesting thing to me is that he let them enter the land anyway. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just leave them to die in the wilderness and find some other way to reveal himself to humans? Yes. God could easily have revealed himself without using humans. But the point is he didn’t. God chose to use fallible, whiny, selfish humans to carry out his purposes on earth.
Even though God knew the Israelites would ultimately rebel, he still allowed them to be a part of his plan for the salvation of humanity. The same is true for us. We will most definitely screw up and say the wrong thing or make bad decisions, but God is there even in the messes we make. In fact, he is in the business of making beauty out of our messes. I have found this to be true in my life, and we see this time and again in Scripture. Just read the list of people in Jesus’ ancestral tree. It is definitely not a list of saints.
Today I am grateful that I get to be a part of God’s story in spite of my imperfections (as hard as it is for this perfectionist to admit!). And the next time I feel like I’ve made a mess of things, I will take comfort in the long line of imperfect-mess makers God has used to carry out his plan in the world.
Dependency. The word conjures up a range of thoughts and emotions. Dependency on God is always something I was taught to do by my parents and something I have strived for throughout my life. However, my understanding of dependency has taken on a new meaning over the last six or seven years.
Six and half years ago Aaron and I were living in Colorado Springs, Colorado preparing to enter camp ministry. We had gotten married a few months before moving there, and we were looking for a job in the Christian camping world. We were in the process of interviewing for a job at a camp in Durango, CO, when God did the unthinkable. He sent us back to Texas to start Camp Machaceh and work with underprivileged youth in our home state. This was a shock to our mountain loving selves, but we knew we had no choice. To stay in Colorado would be disobedient. Within a few months we found ourselves back in the metroplex figuring out what it meant to start a nonprofit organization. Through my experience with Camp, I am constantly challenged to be dependent on God whether for donations, volunteers, or even weather. We have seen God do amazing things through the ministry, a testament to His power and provision. Through each stage of this ministry, I learn something new about dependency. Thus, I cannot help but wonder what it must have been like for the Israelites during their desert years.
The Israelites were dependent on God for everything, much to their chagrin at times. They relied on God for food and water. They relied on God’s protection from their enemies, and they even relied on His guidance as to when to travel and where to camp. In Numbers 9, we learn that on the day the tabernacle was set up, the LORD descended on it in the form of a cloud. This cloud remained there, appearing as fire by night and cloud by day. However, when the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle, the Israelites knew it was time to move to a new location, and they would set out travelling until the cloud settled in a new location. Verse 23 of Numbers 9 particularly struck me:
“At the command of the LORD they would camp, and at the command of the LORD they would set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.”
The Israelites had nothing apart from the LORD. If God had not been with them, guiding them, providing for them, they would have been left with nothing and would have most likely perished. This made me rethink dependency a bit. While I still think I have been dependent on God for many things in my life and for most all things regarding Camp Machaceh, I wonder, can I truly understand dependency unless I have relied on God for everything down to food, water, shelter, and clothing? Or is simply realizing that without the generosity of others I would be in a much different place a recognition of dependency?