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Faith, Life, Scripture

Your Past Does not Define You

In the days of the Old Testament, Numbers 3 to be exact, as the Israelites wandered around, God established a group of people whose only responsibility was related to the care of the tabernacle. They did not serve as priests, as that was a job given exclusively to the sons of Aaron, brother of Moses. But the care of the tabernacle was given to the sons of Levi, namely Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. They were essentially the “three guys and a camel” of their day, the movers of the tabernacle, and trust me, they moved a lot. (That’s why it’s called “wandering.”)

The sons of Gershon were responsible for the coverings of the tabernacle and everything related to the coverings (think curtains, ropes, etc.) The sons of Merari were responsible for the frames of the tabernacle and everything related to that. These guys were lucky, as anytime the Israelites decided to pack up and go, they got to pack up their items and move them on carts and camels. But the sons of Kohath, they didn’t have it quite as easy. As the caretakers of the sanctuary, including the table, the lamp stand, the altars and the sacramental tools, and most importantly the ark of the covenant, they had to carry their items on their shoulders, on specially ordained poles. Not only was their job difficult, it was deadly. They could not touch the items in any way as these were the holiest of items, from the holy of holies, a place only priests were allowed to go. If they touched the items, they would die. So before each move, the priests wrapped the sanctuary items in sacred cloth, and then and only then could the Kohathites put their grubby hands on anything. (I inserted the part about the grubby hands. That’s not actually from the Bible).

“Where am I going with this history lesson?” I am sure you are asking by now. Hang with me. We’ll get there.

The sons of Kohath had hard jobs. Deadly jobs. They didn’t have the benefit of carts and camels to do their work. They had to rely upon their own brute strength, and one slip up meant instant death. In the midst of all that wandering and pressure, I imagine they felt a little put out with the sons of Aaron who got to walk around being all holy, wrapping up those sacred items and then saying, “Okay mover dudes. Now you can come do the dirty work.” So as you might imagine, the Kohathites got a little full of themselves and decided they’d had enough.

Korah, the grandson of Kohath, fell in with a bad crowd (ain’t it the way it always is) and he and his fellow gangstas decided they would challenge Moses and Aaron for the rights of the priesthood. (It’s all in Numbers 16). As you can imagine, this didn’t really go over well with anyone, including God. So God told Moses to gather Korah and all the other rebels and their households and stand before the assembly. And then, what I  imagine had to be one of the most horrific events of the Old Testament to witness, happened.

“Moses said, ‘This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.’ As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’ And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (Numbers 16:28–35).

Not the End

Korah, the son of Kohath, was so filled with envy over the purpose God had given to others that he was blinded to the significance of the purpose God had given him. He became jealous and discontent to his own detriment. And in the midst of that, he missed the fact that God had trusted him with something precious.

I wonder how often we do that, look so longingly at what we see others accomplishing that we cannot see the beauty of our own calling?

But this was not the end of the line of Korah, and this is my favorite part of this story. All of the sons of Korah did not die that day. But those who survived became the custodians and doorkeepers of the tabernacle, the lowest of lowly jobs among the Levites. We are talking Mike Rowe, Dirty Jobs, level low. And in the midst of that lowly job, they penned some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.

They wrote Psalm 42:1 which reads, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.”

And Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (And if anyone knew about the earth giving way it was them.)

But my favorite of all is Psalm 84:1 where they sing, “How lovely is your dwelling place, oh Lord almighty.” They go on to say, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” And here’s why I love this Psalm so much.

I “get” Korah, and coveting what others are called to do, thinking the role I have been given is not as grand or as important or as easy (I could go on). I think many of us can relate to Korah. But the people I am most impressed with are the sons of Korah, the survivors of the great uprising. It would have been easy to live in shame of their past, but they didn’t. They didn’t let their past define them. Even when given the lowest of jobs, they sang from a heart of gratitude and humility and said, “God, there are a lot of places we could be, but better is one day here, cleaning your courts, than any other place we could imagine.”

All that to say, I am challenged by their story. I am challenged to be grateful, to be humble, and to live out the calling God has placed on my life with a sense of joy and purpose, even when it is difficult and life feels overwhelming. I am also challenged to remember that my past, including my own failures, don’t define me. I am defined by the way I love God and the way He loves me, and ultimately by the way I show that love to others.

 

Faith, Life, Parenting, Scripture

How Do We Teach Our Children to Love?

Some weeks ago, near the end of the school year, a little boy in my daughters’ class told them they were in his “enemy book” and he could not play with them. When one of them asked him why, he said, “Because you’re black.” You should also know that just a few days before that, he pointed at a child on the playground and laughed and said in a sing-song voice, “You’re fat. You’re fat.” He followed those words with a pronouncement that the child he was making fun of was in his enemy book for being fat. To this day Nikki has nightmares about being fat, though she has no idea what fat even means.

I spoke with the principal about the boy’s words and my concern that a five-year-old  would be acting in such a way. I wondered aloud with her as to what that child might be like if left unchecked throughout his lifetime (or even throughout his elementary years). She shook her head and said simply, “Hate is taught.” To which I replied, “Yes, and so is love. And the only way I know to combat such ignorance and hate is with love.”

So how does one teach someone else to love?

I believe first and foremost it is to model love.

We have the most beautiful description of love in the Bible. I have read it more times than I can count. I have memorized it, prayed it, and taught the words to my children. But none of those things matter if I do not live them out; and I will confess to you, at times, I am terrible at living these out.

 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It keeps no record of wrong doing.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth.

It always protects,

Always trusts,

Always hopes,

Always perseveres.

Love never fails.

I think at times we confuse our godly intent, our gifts, and our great actions with love. But “if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3  

I believe love takes place in our hearts and minds and overflows into our actions. It is best measured by our response to our daily encounters

  • when we get cut off in traffic
  • when our family members frustrate us
  • when people in our life are unkind or hurtful
  • when good things happen to others
  • when we feel slighted
  • when we didn’t get enough sleep, or we feel bad, or we just want to be left alone for one freaking minute of the day
  • when people live lives that are counter to what we think is right, or dare I say it, what we believe is godly

All that to say, if we are to combat the hate and ignorance that exists in this world, we must learn to genuinely love. And we must teach our children to do the same.

Faith, Life, Scripture

Out of Control

Psalm 46: 1-5 says,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in times of trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear
though the earth should change
And though the mountains fall
into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam
Though the mountains quake
at its swelling pride.

There is a river  whose streams make glad the City of God
the holy dwelling places of the most high.
God is in the midst of her,
she will not be moved;
God will help her when the morning dawns.

I love this Psalm. It paints in my mind’s eye a very vivid picture of God’s strength in the midst of chaos.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.

His presence is familiar. It’s always there. It’s very present. When I feel like the world is spinning out of control (my control, if I’m honest), I look for Him, and He’s always there.

Therefore, we will not fear though the earth should change and though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

Think about this picture. A mountain slipping down into the sea. I can picture the turmoil, the swell, the white foamy water. I imagine the sound of it is deafening and demands to be heard. It is not a peaceful picture at all. It feels frightening and overwhelming.

Therefore, we will not fear . . .

no matter what things look like around us. Regardless of what is being destroyed or falling apart or changing. We will not fear . . . I will not fear.

And then there is the next beautiful line of this Psalm. And every time I read this line . . .

every.
single.
time.

I catch my breath in awe.

There is a River whose streams make glad the City of God.

I’m not a theologian, and I can’t tell you with certainty what this means, but I can tell you what it speaks to my heart.

In the midst of destruction and chaos and uncertainty, there is a river, the depth of which cannot be imagined. It is unfathomable. It provides life. It provides protection. It has a determined course. It is a force to be reckoned with. It is the Lord God Almighty.

And I’m pretty sure THAT is why the thought of it takes my breath away.

When I read this one line, “There is a River whose streams make glad the City of God,”  I feel instantly at peace. I can still sense the chaos, see the destruction, and hear the deafening sound around me, but my spirit feels peace. I am covered by the warmth of grace. And simultaneously, I feel bolstered. I want to raise my fist and shout, “YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! THERE’S A RIVER!”

The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

All that to say, I don’t know what feels out of control in your world today. I have no idea what sense of despair or fear of great change you may be experiencing. But I do know this; there is a river, and in the raging, scary depths of it there is the Lord. He is in the midst of it now, and will be there when morning dawns. Therefore, we will not fear . . .