Family Champion

Recently I had to travel for work and missed my family terribly.  It was only for a few days but I longed to be home with my husband and our son Justice.

I believe this longing for home and family is inherited from God. The Bible shows us, story upon story, God is a good and loving Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be near His kids.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve walk out of the flourishing garden and life God created for them because they made the devastating choice to decide for themselves, independent of God their Father, what was good and evil in their own eyes. But God knew they would make this choice to severe their dependence solely on Him. He had a way to bring them back to Himself once again. Nothing would keep His children away from His love and presence forever.

The Old Testament is brimming with stories of God chasing after His kids, walking with them through the struggles of life and ultimately drawing them back to Him.

God’s pursuit of His children is called mission. Mission is the redemptive work of God. It’s also a participatory word. The redeemed followers of Jesus – those who’ve acknowledged their need for Him and accepted His free gift of grace – make God’s mission known and lead others into experiencing it by how they love those around them.

The mission of God is illustrated throughout the Biblical narrative. One example is found in the Exodus story. Throughout 400 years of grueling captivity, God heard the cries of His enslaved children, the Israelite’s. He responded by empowering Moses to speak up for the Israelite’s and free them from the hand of Pharaoh.  God didn’t stop there.  He used Moses and Joshua to lead the people to the Promised Land; a vibrant and flourishing land flowing with milk and honey. The Exodus and Promised Land stories point to the story of Jesus and the redemption, freedom and life of flourishing He freely gave through His life, death and resurrection.

The first mention of God as redeemer is found in Exodus 6:6. “Therefore, say to the Israelite’s: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.’”

The Hebrew word for redeemer is go’el. Christopher J. H. Wright writes, “A go’el was any member within a wider family group upon whom fell the duty of acting to protect the interests of the family or another member in it who was in particular need. The term might be translated, ‘kinsman protector’ or ‘family champion.’”

The Israelite’s would have understood go’el – God’s rescue from slavery and His redemption of them – to be a family matter. The God of the Israelite’s would act as their family champion and provide freedom and flourishing out of His overflowing love for them.

Upon miraculously crossing the Red Sea and securing safety from oppressive Pharaoh, Moses and Miriam burst into song for the God who protected and championed them to freedom with these words:

In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” Exodus 15:13

God was go’el for the nation of Israel. He brought them out of slavery, captivity and oppression. He rescued them from political unrest. He avenged their oppressor Pharaoh. Years later, Jesus, the personification of the same God who was go’el for the Israelite’s, became go’el for the entire world. He is the “family champion” for God’s global family and He leads the way to a holy dwelling with God. As the Redeemer of the world, Jesus took on the mission of God to protect, defend and rescue, especially those enslaved, under threat, experiencing loss of all kinds, poverty, hunger, persecution, and every type of injustice.

Christopher J. H. Wright explains further, “As go’el, therefore, God will exert himself to whatever extent is necessary on their behalf for their protection or rescue.”  This is the mission of God; to extend His reach into all the Earth, to protect, to be Father and family champion for all people. It’s why Jesus came. It’s why He is the rescuer, the redeemer and the hope for the world. And He doesn’t stop there.

As God empowered Moses to participate with God as go’el redeemer, for the Israelite’s, by His Spirit, God empowers His followers to join Him in His global redemption project. The greatest commandments Jesus gave are found in John 13:34. He said to His disciples, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Today is as good as any to live like the redeemed. The reach of God extends to you and through you, fueled and powered by His Spirit, to protect, rescue, redeem and bring the hope of Jesus to your little corner of the world. There is no mountain too high, ocean to deep, political unrest too great, and division too wide for the love of Jesus to reach and redeem. There is a road that leads to the safety and protection of our creator and family champion and it’s found in the forgiveness, rescue and redemption only Jesus brings. He is the way, the truth and the life and he’s paved the road that leads to a holy dwelling of a good and loving God.

God doesn’t expect you or me to be the go’el redeemer of the daunting global issues we face today. Rest easy, that’s His job. He only asks we serve those around us, those in our spheres of influence, out of love, in the same manner He has loved us.

In a world questioning the goodness and presence of God, the actions and words of the redeemed, declare He is not only good, alive and well, He is with us in everything!

Follower and friend of Jesus, you are a family champion to your people so that they see and know the go’el who has been in hot pursuit to bring them home and to a life of flourishing designed for them. Love your people well today.

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It’s in the Simple Things; Or is it?

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How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
How plainly it shows what he has done!–Psalm 19:1

It’s not uncommon for my son Justice, to wake up from his nightly slumber, clapping his hands and grinning at the start of a new day. From his crib, his baby browns scan his room, his whole face smiles as he glances from his toys to his pictures and room decor.

Throughout each day, he’s likely to dance with gusto to his favorite Motown hits playing in our home. While running around outside, he waves to helicopters flying overhead and behaves as a mocking bird when the crows perch themselves in the tree above, caw-cawing along with them. He flails his arms with excitement at the sight of food he so enjoys to eat. And he gets the giggles when it rains.

Recently I said to a friend, “It’s in the simple, everyday things Justice finds his greatest joy.”

And then it struck me like an Easter bonnet on a church lady.

Simple.

Are the birds, rain, the sun and moon, all creation, not to mention huge, heavy, metal objects that defy gravity and fly through the sky, simple? Or could it be I have lost the awe in such wonderful things?

I’ve come to realize it’s officially a sad day the moment I consider it simple the moon perfectly hanging in space or water falling from the sky in all shapes and forms.

Job also lost awe in the day-to-day acts of God. Granted, Job was in a much different situation than in my life, however, Gods response to Job is a response to us all.

Read what God once upon a time told Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for itand set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?

“Have you ever given orders to the morning,or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

“Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?

“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? –Job 38

If ever you’ve wondered if God can be a little sarcastic, well, now you know.

There is nothing simple at the beautiful and perfect order in which God creates and orchestrates day in and day out. All of which, I am convinced, is done so, so that we might see and know of His glory and His love for us.

For He is relentless in His pursuit of us and has done and will continue to do everything He possibly can to help us see Him and know Him in a real personal way. The sun rising each day, the bloom of a flower, the buzz of a bee hard at work, and all of creation is one such way God reveals a piece of who He is to us. He wants us to know Him, to trust Him, to find our strength, purpose, passion, all of who we are in Him.

Justice is correct in his morning hand clapping and applause and excitement with the beginning of a new day. And so once again, I learn from my baby, the love and joy that God Himself pours out on this momma. Each day I wake and breath, a miracle takes place. So tomorrow when I wake, I will applaud alongside my boy and together we will acknowledge and thank God for the miracle of our lives and all that is good around us.

Recognizing Injustice

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When I first became aware of the sobering statistics of modern day slavery I wondered how I had been in the dark for so long, not knowing there were 27 million+ people bound in slavery around the world. I was 28 the first time I learned that slavery still existed in the world – in the world I lived in, in my country, in my state, in my county, and even in my city.

How had I missed this?

By that age, I had traveled a handful of times internationally, including a 6-week long stay in Moldova – a European hub for trafficking victims – and yet I did not know about this ugly injustice. At 28, I had a seminary degree in world missions and yet I was unaware such acts of violence and brutality upon people, could and did happen every day to millions around the world.

Was I living in a barn in the middle of Iowa? No I was not thank goodness, but I sure felt like it as I slowly began to recognize a much different world than the one I had been living in.

Have you felt the same? Do you remember when you first learned of an injustice that made your blood boil? What did you do about it?

I knew I had to do something once I knew about the realities of treating people like cattle at the auction. I did my research, I googled up a storm, linked up with top organizations combatting slavery like International Justice Mission and learned all I could. And learn I did.

As a Christian, I began a hot pursuit of what God had to say about injustices in the Bible. I desperately wanted to know what I was to do knowing slavery was active all around me.

Did you know there are over 130 verses on justice in the Bible? That doesn’t include the dozens of mentions of righteousness (more on this later but by righteousness, I’m talking about it’s Greek root – a synonym of justice – not simply having to do with morality as the English language has reduced it to).

At the very core of God’s heart, is justice. It’s part of His DNA. Justice is the quality of being just or fair. It’s the principle of moral rightness. Therefore, injustice is a perversion of God’s justice.

Check out what Gary Haugen says about injustice in his book Just Courage.

“The sin of injustice is defined in the Bible as the abuse of power by taking from others the good things that God intended for them, namely, their life, liberty, dignity, or the fruits of their labor. In other words, when a stronger person abuses his or her power by taking from a weaker person what God alone has given the weaker person – God judges this as sin. And what has God alone given to all of His children? God has given life, liberty, dignity, and the increase that flows from a person’s love and labor. Accordingly, when more powerful persons abuse their power by stealing those good things, they commit the sin of injustice.”

In order to recognize injustice, I believe we must know the One from whom justice flows and whose throne is firmly grounded in justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.” Psalm 89:14

How then do we know God?

God, in His love for us and desire for us to know Him personally, reveals Himself to us in a few unique ways.

First, we can know God by experiencing His creation all around us. When I slow down the rat race we call life, I am more aware of the beauty around me such as a magnificently colored sunset, the vast Pacific Ocean and it’s crashing waves tossing sand around forming the beach I so love to enjoy or the mountains of valleys of Yosemite. In creation, we can know God.

Secondly, God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus. Jesus, is God’s way of writing Himself into our story so that we could relate to Him and know Him in a way that our pea-sized brains could comprehend. When we know Jesus, we know God.

Thirdly, God reveals Himself to us in the Bible. There we find truth about who He is, His character of mercy, love, grace and Creator of all good.

Keeping a Sabbath, talking and listening to God through pray and studying and meditating on the truths of His word, give me, not only eyes to see, but guidance to know what to do when I encounter an injustice.

Ken Wytsma says to “pursue justice means to pursue God.” The key to recognizing injustice, is to know the One who is just.

Resting in His Arms

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Of all of the things that come with being with a mom – the mommy brain, sleepless nights, cuddles and snuggles, drool, poop and oh so much more – one of my absolute favorites is when my 13 month old Justice, crawls up into my lap, tucks his arms in against his one-pack-Buddha-belly and falls asleep resting on me.

Justice has a sleepy song he sings to himself just before he fads into slumber. Well, calling it a song is a bit of stretch; he sounds more like a creaking door, in need of a serious douse of WD-40. He creaks and creaks until at last he relaxes and settles in for a good nap on his momma.

And I love it! I often wonder what he’s thinking as he sings his creaky song and zero’s in on sleep.

If you’ve been in Christian circles long enough, you may be familiar with those who admit guilt over falling asleep while praying, especially at night. Maybe you’ve experienced this. This is bad theology.

I think God loves – no, more than loves – He delights in us, especially in those moments when we speak with Him, yes, even when we fall asleep while with Him.

I am filled with joy when my boy crawls up into my lap to rest. It shows me he knows he can come to me without reservation. He comes knowing and trusting that I will hold him, rock him, soothe him, give him gentle pat-pat’s on his back and squeeze him tight when he needs his rest.

How much more does God delight in us when we trust Him enough to go to him when we need rest. To sing our sleepy, weary, worn out, songs to Him when we need to vent?

Psalm 116:1-2 says, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned his ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.”

He bends his ear to hear you. In your joy, your thanksgiving, you heartache. He cares so much he literally cuffs his ear, bends it towards you and listens.

Years later Jesus affirms the Fathers listening, caring and loving character when he says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:2-29.

Are you in need of rest today? Are you walking through your days singing your sleepy song, longing for rest and a bended ear to hear you? Look no further; for God is near. Crawl up into his lap, tell him what’s going on and take a snooze, resting and trusting in his unfailing love for you today!

Sleep Baby Sleep

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Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

I haven’t slept in over a year. Some days I am tempted to tape my eyelids open. It’s my son Justice. He’s just not a sleeper. If you’re a mom you know just how many sleep “experts” there are out there and varying opinions of how to help your baby sleep through the live long night. Have you read author Ava Neyer’s take on sleep training? It’s hilarious because it’s true – no matter what the so-called experts say, some babies just don’t sleep. End of story.

Back to Justice. I don’t know what keeps my boy up at night. I’d like to think he’s busy solving the world’s problems or mind engineering the next great invention. However, he’s more likely to be day dreaming of milk and his toy airplanes he loves to fly around the house.

Two nights ago, as he lay awake in his crib singing to himself at 2am, I thought about how tired I was and wondered what I had done to my boy to make him hate me so much by refusing us both sleep. Minutes felt like hours and the night felt like days. I. Was. Tired.

As the night dragged on and Justice continued to be content awake in the night hours, so long as I was by his side, it was brutally apparent how fragile I am. Without sleep, I can’t think, my mind goes into crazy mode, wandering around from the next days to-do’s to I-wonder-if-Ellen-DeGeneres-will-finally-call-me-to-invite-me-on-as-guest-cohost.

My mind wandering led to reflection on how different – better – God and who He is as a heavenly parent is. In my sleepless state, I was reminded of how dependent I am upon my creator. While I’d like to sleep until the cows come home, God never sleeps. He never grows tired, needs a break, takes a time out, pushes the pause button or stops looking out for his creation, for his deeply loved kids.

As I stood over my son’s crib, waiting for his eye lids to become heavy enough they’d finally close, I thought about how God never shuts his eyes over me or over you. No, he is continually present with us and watches over us without fail day-in and day-out.

Several years ago, I was visiting family in Alaska where I saw a bald eagle soar over some of the most breathtaking and beautiful landscape. It was the first time I had seen such a beautiful creature in the wild. Eagles soar with their wings outstretched. It looked so graceful, almost floating in the crisp, cool, Alaska sky. I was surprised to learn eagles are fly challenged from the time they are hatched from their little eagle eggs. It takes several weeks for a baby eagle to learn to fly. And it’s not at all graceful. They first jump out of the nest onto a nearby branch. They hop from branch to branch, jumping a little further each time with their wings stretched out to feel the wind beneath them. Eventually they take the plunge and struggle to take flight. It’s not at all graceful.

Yet God says we will soar on wings like eagles. He must be talking about grown eagles, who have learned the art of flying, trusting in the wind beneath their wings – insert Bette Midler tear jerker Beaches song here – because baby eagles don’t know what they are doing. They need to learn how to jump and trust in the wind blowing beneath them.

It’s in our weakness, or in my case the other night, my tired, frail, bonkers state of mind that we can know without a doubt that God is constant, strong and always with us, lifting us up for His purpose and glory. How many times do I fret with matters in life out of my control, unable to rest and trust in my heavenly Father who knows all things and who holds all things together?

Justice eventually got to sleep the other night. Not for long, but he’s learning what it means to relax, rest, sleep and trust. Thanks for teaching me to do the same Justice.

Learning to Delight in the One who Delights in Me

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“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37: 3-6

I used to read this passage and only have eyes for, “the Lord will give you the desires of your heart.”  How wonderful I thought. God wants to give me the desires of my heart! I seemed to subconsciously ignore the part about delighting in the Lord and trusting him. Details…details.

Before I had my son, I delighted in things like

  • a good sandwich
  • a well brewed cup of coffee
  • a leisurely walk on the beach
  • a pistachio chocolate bar
  • a mason jar full of freshly made juice
  • the feel of the southern California sun on my face

Now that I’m a mom, when I think about what I delight in, it’s my son every time. He brings me so much joy, I find myself singing silly songs to him and dancing as if I could with him. I wake up and think of him. I wonder what he’s doing throughout my days at work. I physically ache to see him and hold him when he’s not with me. My days are consumed with thoughts of him and joy filled interactions with my him.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is well known Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God is with you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

God is with us. Not only with us, he calms us as we tread through uncertainty, fear, chaos, busyness, etc.. He loves us. On top of all of that, he absolutely rejoices in us so much so he bursts into song at the very thought of us! If I do this with my son, how much more does our Creator and Father delight in us?

Of the many theories of how the creation story played out, my favorite is the one that suggests God sang creation into being. What if God, in his overwhelming love for all his creation, sang all things into being? What if he delights in you and in me so much that he is ever present, ever caring, endlessly loving and rejoicing over us with song each and every day of our lives?

When we know we’re loved, it changes how we live. If anyone has ever affirmed you, applauded you, encouraged you, doesn’t it give you confidence to be comfortable in who you are, inspire you and motivate you to love and encourage others the way you’ve been loved and encouraged? Have you experienced this? I hope so!

My son has taught me what it is to delight. I’m awestruck when I consider how God delights in me. And I have a lot of learning to do when it comes to delighting in God. As I think of my son constantly, I’m reminded to meditate upon my Creator and giver of every good and perfect in my life.

David, a man coined as a one after the heart of God, delighted in God’s word. “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Psalm 119:16

What if I delighted in Gods word the way I delight in my son and coffee? Just as I desire to bless my son with basic needs – food, clothes, shelter, etc. – I also desire to give him above and beyond what he needs, encouraging him to go after what he desires. I think it works the same with God. God longs for us to know him, to receive his gift of life through belief and acceptance of his Son Jesus and to bless us beyond what we could ever imagine. He truly delights in us in ways we will never fully comprehend. His love for us is overwhelming.

And so, thanks to learning what it means to delight from my son, I am learning how to delight in God, in his word, his ways and in his unwavering love.

What do you delight in? What causes you to burst into song at the very thought of it? Do you know how much God delights in you and rejoices over your life?

May you know how your Creator delights in you and may you find absolutely joy and delight in him today!

What is God’s Plan for Justice?

Have you ever stopped to pick up trash on the ground that you didn’t put there? Not long ago I was walking down a fairly busy street with cars zipping by and as I walked by a bus stop, I noticed a piece of paper lying in the grass nearby. My first reaction was to ignore it, after all, I didn’t put there so it wasn’t my problem. I walked on past the trash.

I didn’t get much further down the sidewalk before I changed my mind about the trash and went back to pick it up. What excuse did I possibly have when there was a trashcan conveniently located at the bus stop nearby making it easy to discard properly?

Picking up the trash and putting in the trashcan where it belonged was really no big whoop. I was however, surprised by how difficult it was for me to just pick it up to begin with. Why had I hesitated? What was I afraid of? Sheepishly I admit I feared mostly what people I didn’t even know zooming by would think of me if they saw. How often does fear lock your kneecaps and paralyze you from action in life? Have you ever hesitated to help someone in need out of fear?

Ken Wytsma, in his book, Pursuing Justice, says that justice is what ought to be. It’s what life was like before sin entered the world back in the Garden of Eden. Life in the garden was created in perfect order by God and all things worked together as they ought to. It was just. Justice is such a vital part of Gods character. Wytsma points out there are more than two thousand verses in the Bible directly related to justice. He goes on to say, “Justice is the hallmark of God, a distinctive and pure feature of His character that defines Him and His will for the world.”

King David writes, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” In other words, justice is a big part of who God is. Psalm 45:6.

Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Missions, says that’s God’s plan for justice in the world is you and me. Yes you read that correctly. It’s us! And God does not have a backup plan. We are his plan for restoring and redeeming the world back to way he intended when all things were just and right. You can listen to a short video here of Haugen talking more on this.

I realize picking up trash on the ground is a teeny tiny example of the idea that we are God’s plan for justice in the world but what I like about it is it’s something we can all grasp. Trash should be thrown out in a trashcan. It should never be thrown on the ground. We all get that.

The same can be said about a number of hardships people face today. God never intended for children to be orphaned. He never intended for parents to bury their children. God never intended for children to be enslaved, trafficked or abused in any manner. And God never intended for his perfect and beautiful creation to be littered.

As unbelievable as it may sound at times, God’s plan to restore order the way he did intend is through us, his followers. In John 13:35 Jesus tells his followers, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

People will know that God is good and loving when his people do good deeds and love others.

So whether you pick up a piece of trash that shouldn’t be there or you provide school supplies to a kid in need as a new school year begins, be encouraged because you are carrying out God’s plan for justice in the world.

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:20

*Originally posted on http://www.conversantlife.com dated Aug. 27, 2013