Exodus 12: A Lowcountry Grief

Exodus 12: A Lowcountry Grief

The rain transformed into steam that rose from the sidewalk as quickly as it fell from the sky. The grey moss clung to the low hanging branches of historic trees that seemed weary from fighting gravity. The distinct smell of marsh, salt air and body odor hung faintly in the air; a reminder that no amount of deodorant could save you in such oppressive heat.  The low country is beautiful in the most enthralling and nostalgic of ways, but today the humid air was thick with bittersweet memories.

We gathered in the old Presbyterian church (I say “old” because it has been there for as long as I can remember) like sweaty sardines packed in a tin. I briefly wondered, as I always do on summer days in the South, why I bothered to wear makeup or straighten my hair. As I surveyed the sanctuary, I quickly realized I was not the only woman mentally asking herself those questions. The melody of “Amazing Grace” flowed from the pianist’s fingers as the familiar words rolled off my tongue. We gathered to remember, to celebrate, and to grieve my uncle, now a witness to the fulfillment of our hope in the Gospel.

There are things I think I will never understand this side of eternity. Diseases like ALS and cancer, which have stolen beloved family, or cases of horrific injustice and trauma that have intersected with my story serve as some examples. Words and stories I read in Scripture that make me question the love, justice, and grace of God exist for me as well. Some folks are comfortable with allowing unanswered questions to hang in the air, others feel the need to fill the space of uncertainty with some rationale or platitude. I fear I fall often into the latter category, becoming the very individual that irritates the snot out of me. When I read chapters such as Exodus 11-12, in which Moses details how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and wiped out one nation’s entire generation of firstborn children and livestock, I struggle with liking God. I want to know why He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that even if he wanted to change his mind towards Israel and grant them freedom, he was rendered incapable. I want to know why Pharaoh’s son and every firstborn in Egypt had to suffer for Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to set Israel free. These are unsettled questions that have hypothesized answers and yet they hang in the air of uncertainty. The older I grow, the more comfortable I am with unanswered questions and the bolder I become in expressing them, but I still think they are for the birds.

My kind husband humored my persistent questions on this passage this afternoon. He sacrificed his hope of a quiet lunch as I interviewed him, curious to know his thoughts. “God gave Israel an out that He did not give Himself,” he said midway through our conversation. “He passed over the homes with blood on the door posts, but He did not pass over His Son.” God experienced what every parent who lost their firstborn the night of the Passover experienced; and while I do not understand the fullness of His ways, I cannot allow the uncertainty to negate what I know to be true. That in moments of inexpressible grief, tremendous loss, and deep sorrow there exists a God who can identify with our emotions and experiences because He has not spared Himself from them. That we can gather to mourn the loss of a life well-lived and yet simultaneously rejoice in the reality that he is whole, complete, and more fully alive than ever before because God did not pass over Himself.

The beauty of the Gospel is rich and complex; extending into our deepest places of grief in the truest form of empathy. While we wait with expectation and hope for the day when our limited minds can comprehend the divine, we can rest in the uncertainty with a God who has experienced every weight and emotion we carry. We can grieve with the raw honesty that dwells deep in our bones and know that we are fully seen, wholly loved, and held by a God who gave His Son to restore for us all that is broken.

-a

Frayed Edges & Squeezy Packets

Frayed Edges & Squeezy Packets

If you were to ask me how I have been doing over the last week, the first response to roll off of my tongue would be “Good!” My second response, the one to really close the convincing case for the state of my wellbeing would be, “I’m fine!” Neither would be that honest or accurate in describing the state of my soul, or my mind, or my physical body though.

I struggle to admit that I am not doing well because I often feel I have no reason to be unwell. I have a great life: I am healthy, my family is healthy, we are able to pay our bills, we are loved and celebrated and cherished. I am so thankful when I recall all that makes my life so rich and so full. Yet during weeks like this past week, that glimpse of my life goes from inspiring thankfulness to conjuring up shame. Shame because I am anxious, so anxious that I struggle to make decisions or complete tasks. Shame because I am angry, so angry because I am pushing those I love most farther away in fear. Shame because I am so exhausted I can barely listen to one more babble, which sounds more like yelling at the moment, or deal with one more middle of the night wake-up call from the nursery. Shame because I cannot enjoy my beautiful baby boy because I am so overrun with insecurity. Shame for having so stinking much yet feeling discontent. Shame for believing that I should know better than to fall for these damn lies. Shame.

It is one thing to say, “It is okay to not have it all together.” It is another thing entirely to be content in living out that truth; in genuinely believing that it is okay for your life to be scruffy, messy, disorganized, and imperfect. And not just that you left a few dishes in the sink or a pile of laundry on the bed – for some of you Type A folks, that is huge! – but that you can silence the voice of the accuser in the deepest, most overwhelmed parts of your soul with the reality “It is okay to not have it all together.”

It is okay to not have it all together. It is okay that your toddler either throws all of your thoughtfully prepared food on the floor or spits all of it out – surrender to the squeezy packet. It is okay that dog hair and mud are still covering your floors even though you have tried to clean them on a daily basis – put the broom down. It is okay that your washer has held a load of clothes for a few days – rev that sucker back up again. It is okay to dip that dark chocolate straight into the peanut butter jar – go ahead and double dip. Maybe these scenarios and more have occurred in my house this week. The problem is not saying “It is okay” – the problem (for me anyways) is believing it.

Believing that I am loved by God no matter what I do or do not do. Believing that I am enough as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend because He says I am enough, because He has redeemed me and declared my value worth the death of Christ. Believing that every aspect of my personality, even the introverted, overly anxious, perfectionist parts, have all been intentionally woven together in a way that uniquely displays God’s image to the world. Believing that He loves the very parts of me that I find most unlovable. Believing that His compassion towards me is sufficient grounds for me to extend compassion to my weary, wounded soul. Believing that He took a sufficient beating for me on the cross so that I can stop beating myself up over my shortcomings. Believing that He is God and I am not; that I do not have to have it all together because He always has and always will.

Feeling frayed is not the same thing as being unthankful. May we give ourselves permission to address the frayed nerves, the threadbare soul and the worn out heart strings from the well of compassion that Father God has towards us. Then may we extend that kindness and compassion to one another in the warmest encouragement: It is okay for us to not have it all together, because we know the One who does.

-a

Plagues, Purposes, & Promises

Plagues, Purposes, & Promises

Last week we took a closer look at the fourth chapter in Exodus, which concluded with Moses arriving in Egypt and the people of Israel worshiping God for answering their cries for freedom. Today we are going to look briefly at the next six chapters in Exodus and extract a few principles and themes:

In Exodus 5 & 6 Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh and request freedom for the Israelites. Pharaoh’s response is exactly as God told Moses it would be. Pharaoh claims he does not know the Lord and refuses to let Israel go free. Pharaoh increases his oppression of Israel by making their work nearly impossible. Moses blames God for not holding onto His end of the bargain, even though events are progressing exactly as God said they would. Israel despairs and complains. Moses slips right back into his habit of elevating his weaknesses over God’s ability, power and character. All the while, God continues to remind Moses and Israel who He is and His ability to fulfill the promises He has made to them.

In Exodus 7 we begin to see that God’s purposes for bringing plagues upon the Egyptians were not just to show His power to Israel or to punish Pharaoh’s hard heart, but to show Himself to Egypt. God wanted the Egyptians to know Him as the only living God. This is so important because God’s heart was not to punish Pharaoh but for Pharaoh to know Him and turn to Him in repentance. Moses and Aaron do exactly as God commands them without question; moving from a place of insecurity to a place of complete trust and faith in God. They continue to perform miracles and signs for Pharaoh to demonstrate the authority given to them by God. For example, in Exodus 7:10-13 Aaron casts down his staff before Pharaoh as it turns into a serpent. This miracle is replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians as their own staffs turn into snakes. Yet God’s miracle swallows up counterfeit magic tricks as Aaron’s serpent swallows up all of the other snakes. (Can I just say this passage gives me the heebeegeebees?!) As much as Pharaoh and his magicians wanted to discredit these acts of God, they could not explain them away. Over the following chapters we find the magicians unable to replicate certain plagues, starting with the plague of gnats, and acknowledge to Pharaoh God’s existence and power. Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to listen to even his most trusted advisers, as he continues to lead from a place of stubbornness even at his nation’s expense.

Over and over again in these chapters we read a repeated phrase, “As the Lord had said.” It is mentioned three times in Exodus 7 alone. Anytime phrases are repeated in a passage of Scripture it is a good indication that God wants us to hear a specific message. In this case, it is that God is faithful to His word and trustworthy. His consistency in warning Moses and Aaron of Pharaoh’s future responses established a firm foundation of trust that enabled them to act with greater confidence in the Lord.

As God continues to send plagues to Egypt from Exodus 7-11, His heart is consistently for Pharaoh, Egypt, Israel, and the surrounding nations to come to know Him as God. We can observe how generational cycles of fear and paranoia in the royal family are cultivated and culminate in this one Pharaoh’s hard, fearful heart.  What we see in Pharaoh as a leader is an incredibly stubborn heart that knows nothing of humility, of repentance, or of the value in listening to wise and trusted counsel. We witness this leadership style lead to destruction, death, and plunder of his family and his people. It would be easy to look at God as a terrible god in this story for plaguing Egypt, but in reality they had a terribly selfish, fearful and stubborn leader who at any point could have let Israel go, sparing his country and arguably blessing it with a future ally, yet refused to put the good of others above his own greed and lust for power. Please do not miss the reality that Pharaoh’s narcissism led to his country’s destruction, plunder, and to the death of many (including his firstborn son).

In Exodus 7:16, God tells Moses to request the following from Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” Not only did God want to bring His people into the promised land, while making Himself known to the world, He wanted to show Israel how to serve Him in the wilderness. God understood that how Israel served Him in the wilderness would set the tone for how they would live and serve Him in the promised land. The wilderness would not be a coincidental season in Israel’s story, but an essential time of God shepherding, teaching, and building intimacy with His people.

As we close, I hope we take home two truths: 1. God’s heart is that we may know Him. His heart is for us, not against us; for us to live in relationship with Him, in freedom, and not in bondage to fear or greed. 2. How we serve God in the wilderness sets the tone for how we live and serve in the place of promise. The wilderness seasons of our life are not punitive nor pointless; they are the fertile soil in which our roots grow deeply into the heart of God, producing nourished fruit in the promised land.

Until next week,

-a  

A Fierce Boldness

A Fierce Boldness

One of the aspects of Exodus I have enjoyed the most has been the way that Moses dignifies the women of Israel throughout the text. There are times, as in the beginning of the book, where Moses names specific women as he cites their courage and faith. Then there are times, towards the end of the book, where he acknowledges the women of Israel collectively for their generosity and willingness. In each case, he holds these women as equal to men in a patriarchal culture which I find so refreshing.

We tend to highlight women such as Esther, Ruth, the Proverbs 31 woman, and the virgin Mary, to name a few, but there are so many strong women we tend to overlook in the Bible as well. I think that this is why I love the glimpses Moses gives us into the women of Exodus. Though their calling was less dramatic than that of Moses’ burning bush, God met each of these women where they were as they were and used them to change a nation.

In Exodus 1 we meet two midwives who choose faith instead of fear as they act to rescue the newest generation of Hebrew sons. In Exodus 2 we are introduced to Moses’ mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter; all of whom act contrary to Pharaoh’s fear-driven commands as they seek to preserve the life of Moses. His mother notes how special her son is, and risks a great amount to keep his life hidden for as long as possible. His sister bravely watches over her little brother as he rests on the river bank and boldly approaches a princess of Egypt with an offer to find a nurse for Moses when he is discovered. Pharaoh’s daughter displays a tender heart of compassion towards Moses and directly disobeys the royal edict to kill Israelite sons when she adopts Moses and raises him as her own.

In Exodus 4 we are given a deeper insight into Moses’ wife Zipporah. A Midianite woman raised by a God-fearing priest, Zipporah was not privy to the covenant of circumcision as her husband would have been. For some reason or another, Moses fails to follow through in participating in the covenant of circumcision when his two sons are born. After heeding the call of God on his life, we see God come to take Moses’ life as he journeys back to Egypt. Zipporah’s quick wit and action in circumcising her firstborn son and interceding for Moses’ life effectively spares her husband’s life. Where her husband failed to act as the spiritual leader in their home, Zipporah steps in momentarily to spare the life of her husband and to participate in the covenant between God and Israel. What follows is not a picture of Zipporah berating Moses or taking over as the leader of their home. Though Zipporah was not slow to act for the sake of her husband’s life, we see her continue to follow and encourage Moses’ leadership.

In each of these women we see courage, faith, boldness, compassion, and a nurturing spirit that goes beyond any fear or timidity. Not only do we see it in their lives, but we see it translate into Moses’ life through his leadership of Israel. For all of his excuses, Moses leads Israel with great courage, faith, compassion and bold intercession on their behalf. I believe, though I cannot prove it, that Moses recognized the value of the strong women God had placed in his life and therefore sought to recognize women as a whole. In Exodus 35 all of Israel is called to bring contributions for the Tabernacle, the house of God, out of a “willing” or generous heart. Three times Moses acknowledges the women of Israel using their skills to help create the Tabernacle exactly as God instructed. On an equal platform, Moses acknowledges both the men and women of Israel who were so moved by the Spirit that they freely gave of what they had, be it resources of time, skill, or wealth. God used the everyday skillset and tasks of these generous women to create a resting place for His presence. Their willingness to honor God with their gifts and precious time helped to usher in God’s presence among His people.

Women, God has given you a fierce boldness. He has set within you His feminine nature and it is far from weak and subservient. It is designed to complement the masculine and display a more holistic image of God to the world. You do not have to make yourself smaller nor do you have to overshadow the men in your life, but as you walk in the fullness of who you are in Christ I promise God will use you to establish and deliver nations in unique ways. Were it not for the women in Moses’ life, he would not have lived to deliver Israel out of Egypt, and I say this not to slight men in any way. I say this because I know how often I am tempted to believe the lie that my role as a woman, wife and mother is menial, when in fact God has empowered me to impact generations.

In whatever season of life you are in, know that God has gifted, called, and empowered you to impact generations for His glory.

-a

Burning Bush Moments

Burning Bush Moments

The second chapter of Exodus opens with the birth of Moses and his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter. He is raised in the royal house as an Egyptian in spite of his obvious Hebrew heritage and the Pharaoh’s attempts to take his life among the lives of the Hebrew baby boys. We see that Moses also knows of his heritage when he encounters an Egyptian beating another Hebrew man, “one of his people” {Exodus 2:11 ESV}. In a moment of anger, and with no apparent witnesses around, Moses takes justice into his own hands, murders the Egyptian, and hides him away. This “rescue” of a fellow Hebrew does not go over well with the nation of Israel nor with Pharaoh himself, as Moses is discovered and must flee for his life.

Moses finds himself at the well in Midian, where he comes to the aid of a group of shepherdesses in distress. We see him be quick to aid and serve them, which clearly impresses the women and their father Reuel (at times referred to as Jethro), the priest of Midian. Reuel invites Moses to dwell in Midian and gives his daughter Zipporah to Moses as a wife; think of this as an ancient “thank you” gift. All is well in Moses’ world as he welcomes two sons with his new wife and starts his career as a shepherd. However, we find life for Israel still oppressive and desperate back in Egypt.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew. {Exodus 2:23-25 ESV}

Biblical commentaries dive deeper into the term “knew” used within this passage. It goes beyond the ability to acknowledge or be aware of an issue, much like you can “know of” something or someone. It is a deeply intimate picture of God loving, approving, and taking ownership of Israel as His people. He not only recognizes but identifies with their unjust suffering and oppressive slavery.   Wherever you are today, know that God hears you, remembers you, and knows. Just as God goes beyond simply acknowledging Israel’s plight and is moved to act on their behalf, to bring them into a place of freedom, He will do for us. We need only to call on Him and cry for help. Sometimes that is the biggest kicker for me; humbling myself enough to ask for help. Yet look at how quickly God takes ownership of Israel and moves to implement His plan for their deliverance by calling Moses.

I love that God is a God who meets us where we are, as we are, and lovingly calls us up into the plans He has for us. I love that we see this clearly in His calling of Moses. While Moses is shepherding his father in laws’ flocks, God plants a burning bush near Horeb, “the mountain of God.” Moses takes note of this odd sight and goes to check it out:

When the LORD saw that he [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” {Exodus 3:4 ESV}

Here is where God begins to blow my mind. Moses was near “the mountain of God” but he was not actually experiencing the presence of God. It was not until Moses noticed the burning bush and turned to inquire that God spoke to him. You can be near God and not experience God; not because He is not available, but because we do not engage with Him in burning bush moments. Not only does God meet Moses where he is, as he is, but God calls him to deliver Israel. For every excuse Moses extends to God, and they are numerous, God answers with His provision and with His presence. God clearly explains to Moses that though this task of delivering Israel from Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land would be far from easy, He would be with Moses, equipping him for every step of the way.

When God calls us, His presence goes with us. He is the I AM for every one of our “I am nots.” It does not matter who we are or are not because He is. God does not promise easy, but He does promise provision and favor. And to be clear, provision and favor do not always equal prosperity and ease. God does not bless us because He owes us; obedience in itself is a blessing. His provision and favor is then a guarantee that God sees us and cares for all of our needs because of His sufficient grace towards us. He never fails to be faithful to His covenant with us in Christ.

Father, thank You for being the all-sufficient I AM in every circumstance and situation. Thank You for meeting us where we are, as we are, and lovingly, persistently, and patiently calling us up into the plans You have for us. Thank You for Your faithful presence that goes with us, equipping us to do all that You have called us to complete. Help us to be attentive to the burning bush moments in our lives.

-a

Multiplication in the Midst of Oppression

Multiplication in the Midst of Oppression

This week we are diving into the beginning of Exodus as we take a closer look at the first chapter. This is not meant to serve as an exhaustive or exegetical bible study, but I do hope these thoughts encourage and challenge us as we engage with God Himself and with the world around us.

As I have been thinking and working on this post throughout the week, my heart has been so heavy and saddened by the state of the world around me. Feelings of anger, helplessness, guilt, and weariness have all coursed through my veins as my eyes have been inundated by headlines and hashtags. I have caught myself squeezing my little one tighter, rocking him longer, and praying with greater fervor for the wisdom to know how to raise a Jesus-loving, people-loving, fearless world changer. As I have wrestled, I have found the context and the message of Exodus even more relevant and reassuring. I believe there is something here for us within this chapter. So with that being said, let’s dive in!

God blessed the growth of the nation of Israel tremendously during their time in Egypt. They moved to Egypt as a family of seventy, but in the introduction to Exodus we see that “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” {Exodus 1:7b ESV} We catch a glimpse of the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham back in Genesis 15:5; that he would be the father of many, that his offspring would outnumber the stars in the sky.

We also see a change in the leadership of Egypt. Joseph and all of his brothers had died, as well as the Pharaoh who had valued Joseph so highly. A new Pharaoh was in charge and he did not know Joseph (1:8). This Pharaoh began to fear Israel when he saw how quickly and strongly they were growing as a nation, and he allowed that fear to begin to drive his decision making. Rather than treating Israel well and working to maintain friendly ties with them that would continue to benefit both nations, Pharaoh began to harshly oppress Israel. He believed they would be unable to rise up against Egypt in a future time of war if he could limit and weaken them in oppression, but he was mistaken.

But the more they [Israel] were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians lived in dread of the people of Israel.” {Exodus 1:12 ESV}

The greater the oppression, the greater the multiplication. The greater the multiplication, the greater the oppression, until Pharaoh was willing to murder the newborn sons of Israel. Unfortunately for Pharaoh, the midwives he ordered to do his dirty work feared the Lord more than they feared him:

“Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiprah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live…..So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” {Exodus 1:15-17; 20-21}

What Pharaoh intended to thwart the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in hindering the growth of Israel, God used to bring His promise to pass. God raised up two women who feared the Lord and valued the lives of the next generation more highly than their own to rescue many. They understood that fearing the Lord was more life-giving than fearing a paranoid man, and God used their courage and faith to preserve His promise.

The midwives are not the only women that we see God raise up to act boldly in the story of Exodus. We will explore this further in a future post. For now, I want to highlight a few takeaways from this first chapter:

  1. A forgotten history leads to a fear-driven future.

This change in Egypt’s leadership came with a ruler who had forgotten the history of his country. He did not know Joseph, nor how God had used Joseph to spare Egypt and grow its economy tremendously during a severe famine. Rather than seeing the presence of Israel as a benefit to Egypt, he saw them through a lens of paranoia and fear. We are given no indication that Israel was unhappy in Egypt, or evidence that they would side with Egypt’s enemies in a time of war like Pharaoh had feared. Instead, they appear to be growing, fruitful, and satisfied in the land. Fear and paranoia drove Pharaoh to make some oppressive decisions, decisions that would have devastating consequences for his country and his family.

  1. God wastes nothing in bringing about the fulfillment of His promises.

I firmly believe that God is not a God of fear (1 John 4:15-18 ESV). The oppression of Israel came from a decision based in fear, not based in the heart of God, so I think it would be hard to argue that God willed Israel’s oppression. While I do not believe He willed it, I do believe He remained sovereign over it because He did not waste it. God used that which should have broken Israel to make them stronger. God used that which should have limited Israel to make them greater. God used that which should have resulted in death to give way to life. God redeemed all that was meant to crush His people by raising up women whose faith was greater than their fear.

If you spend any time observing the life of Jesus, you will quickly see that oppression is not in God’s character nor His nature. In fact, the opposite is true. God is always working to bring about genuine freedom. I look at the world around me, as it falls to pieces, and it is entirely too easy to identify the consequences of fear and oppression. Fear will always lead to oppression but oppression does not have to perpetuate fear. Perhaps this is a rare instance when Israel gets it right; they did not allow oppression to hinder their life. In the midst of great oppression, of days full of heavy burdens and exhausting slavery, they continued to grow in relationships and in family. They continued to usher in new life in the hope of a better future. They did not accept nor adopt their oppression as their identity.

I do not know a whole lot, but I do know that there is a calling, an anointing, and a destiny on your life that the Enemy of God would love to crush through means of fear and deceit. I know that you exist as a unique reflection of God’s image that no one else ever has nor ever will express; that the world desperately needs to see. I know that Satan would love to squash that expression through means of oppression. I also know that you were created by the Living God; whose plan for your life cannot be thwarted by schemes of evil nor the fear of man because He is greater, He is faithful, and He wastes nothing.

Father God, we are so thankful for the example You have given us in the lives of these women who chose to trust you as they stood against fear and oppression. We are so thankful that you are faithful to Your word and to Your promises; that You are the God of freedom. Would you continue to show us more of who You are as we continue to participate in Your story? Would you help us to walk boldly, eyes fixed on you, and empower us to make decisions from a foundation of faith rather than fear. We ask that You would have Your way in us, for the sake of Your glory and our good.

-a