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The Great I Am

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:14

This week I’ve been reading a lot about going ahead of God.  Thinking I know the right way, the right answer, and moving forward on that path without first seeking God.  I was reminded of when I was asked to be our elementary school’s PTA president.  At the time, the elementary school was the largest in the district with over 1,000 students.  And it was about to undergo a major construction program to build more classrooms.  That meant a lot of turmoil with the way kids were dropped off at school, where classes would be held and how many of our PTA programs would take place.  I told the committee I could do the job but I didn’t think they would want my style of leadership.  I wasn’t an “insider” and didn’t have any qualms about squashing old ways of doing things.  Yet they returned to me multiple times asking me to take the job.  And I did.  

You’ll notice in this story, like we do in so many Biblical stories of failed leaders, that I haven’t mentioned consulting God.  Because I didn’t.  That is, until after I said, “yes.”  I believe it was the next day after I agreed to the job that I had my first of many conversations with the Almighty about this decision.  It went like this, “Lord, I’ve done this thing.  Please help it not be the wrong decision.”  In other words, I went ahead of Him and now wanted Him to fix my mess.

And God was with me throughout the two years of my term.  He was there when I cried myself to sleep.  He was there when I had parents screaming at me over the phone.  And He was there when people who I thought were friends turned their backs on me.  But He didn’t take away the consequences of my decision.  

Thank God that most of the time when I’ve failed to let God lead my life it hasn’t resulted in some horrible final outcome.  He has picked me up and dusted me off.  And after too many times of being on that same wheel I’ve decided to take a different path.  To trust that God is the Great I Am.  The One who has the best laid plans.  Who can make my path much more smooth if I just consult Him first.  If I release my need to be the most knowledgeable, not just about my life but other’s.   

I praise God today, on this final 30th day, for being I Am.  For being the Lord Almighty.  The God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,  and the God of Jacob.  

If you’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty you’ll see a man who takes this idea of control to the extreme.  He wants to be in charge of his life and no one knows better than him.  So God sort of turns over His powers to him.  And what a mess he makes of it.  At first he thinks answering prayers is so cool and then when he becomes inundated with millions of prayers he just gives everyone what they ask.  And as we know, God doesn’t give us all we ask.  He gives us what we need.  The movie is hilarious to be sure but it speaks to our innate need to be in control.  To take over the job of I Am.  

We can shake our heads at characters like Saul who stop seeking God’s direction and make every mistake possible.  But how many of us today will do the same?  How many of us yesterday forgot to place God at the top of our consultant list and instead called our friends or family for advice?  And then probably did what we originally wanted to do anyway?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

Friends, God is God and we are not, thankfully.  His thoughts and ways are so much better than ours.  If we truly believe this and accept Him as our creator, as an active participant in our lives, then we need to seek His plans for us.  Let’s all start right now by thanking Him for being the Great I Am.


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We Belong

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:6-7

For a long time, I just didn’t feel like I “belonged.”  As a child, I didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with.  My one friend, a neighbor around the corner, frequently left me out of activities with her other friends.  And when I got into high school I felt more like I was on the edge of my friend group.  Fast forward to adulthood and I never quite fit in with the boozy softball coach crowd, the gossipy PTA crowd, or even the Girl Scout leader gang.  

And when I married I was an outsider to a large, wonderful family.  Yes, they welcomed me but I couldn’t share in all the stories from long past because I never lived in the town they were all from.  My own family consists of myself and my parents – who I see and speak with infrequently.  

I spent a lot of time in prayer over the years asking God to work His changes in me so that I could feel like I belonged, somewhere, anywhere.  As my faith has progressed I’ve come to realize that I first need to accept being a part of the most important family of all – God’s. I praise Him today that He sees us as His sons and daughters.  We are His beautiful children whom He loves unconditionally.  We belong to Him.

That’s been a hard message for me to soak in and accept.  When I stand in the mirror I’ve asked God to help me see what He sees.  To love myself as He loves me – no matter where else I may have felt rejected. 

And it’s funny how God’s ways work.  When I focus on God’s love, gifts and promises the more I feel that sense of belonging.  He places me with new people and new situations that He has prepared for me.  I slough off the old negative feelings and instead give all glory to Him who loves me and who draws me closer to Him.

I recently heard a lesson about belonging. As Christians we are admonished to “remember our last name.” Like children of our earthly parents we are to go about our lives remembering who we belong to and who we represent. That really hit home. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I became a part of a special family. One where I’m expected to remember my last name and act like I belong to the Lord Most High.

It’s amazing how God gives us the next steps when He sees we are ready — when we start acting like He expects us to.  He brings in new people to our lives when He knows we can openly accept His new ways.  I find myself so incredibly blessed by, not only the women that have been populated in my sphere, but the men.  Strong Christians who love people.  Faithful Christians who serve others.  Young, old, every race and quirkiness. And I feel like I belong.


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Our New Identity

Do your best to present yourself to 
God as one approved, a worker who 
does not need to be ashamed and who 
correctly handles the word of truth. 
2 Timothy 2:15

When I quit working full time about 25 years ago, it was hard for me to accept that I no longer contributed financially to our little family.  My identity was wrapped up in working.  I had earned money since I was a kid collecting cans and newspapers and turning them into the recycler.  In college at one point, I had a job, a paid internship, a full load of classes, and was the president of a professional-based club.  Work was what I knew and work was what defined me.

Not long after I decided to stay home with our 2-year old daughter I found myself face-to-face with my identity problem.  My daughter and I were walking home from a neighborhood park.  We had to cross a very busy street.  When we got the “walk” sign we made our way across in the crosswalk.  In one of the cars waiting for the light to change was an obviously very angry and impatient man.  He yelled out the window to me, “Hey loser, why don’t you get a job?”

Instead of being angry I was mortified.  You see, I agreed with him.  I wasn’t seeing myself as first a mother and wife then someone who could, if I wanted to, get a job.  I saw myself first as a jobless loser.

What do you see yourself as first these days?

As my faith journey has progressed my answer to that question has evolved.  Once my second daughter came along, I threw myself into motherhood.  I even placed being a wife much farther down the list for a bit.  Being a Christian was way down on the list.  In between I was a “coach,” a “PTA president,” a “school volunteer,” a “Girl Scout leader.”  And now, looking back, had I placed “Christian” as my primary identity I would’ve made a number of different choices along the way.

Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.

Joyce Meyer

I love this quote by Joyce Meyer because it speaks to the heart of this issue of identity.  We may say what our identity is but how do we act?  What do we base our decisions on day in and day out?  Do we decide what’s best for our kids based on their happiness or based on God’s direction?  Do we treat our spouses based on where we place our marriage on our identity list or on God’s expectation of us?  Do we hold dear the income from that job more than we do our relationship with our Lord?

It’s taken me awhile to truly accept the identity hierarchy God wants for me – 1) Jesus Follower 2) Wife 3) Mother 4) Whatever else He directs me to.  And in our verse today the priority for us is to be a “God Approved Worker for Him.”  Not ashamed of following His Word as best we can in every decision we make.

I used to listen to the famed Dr. Laura quite a lot.  One day she was talking about divorce.  She said that if you go into a marriage with the option of getting divorced you will always find reasons to not work on your marriage.  But if you go into it (having made a healthy choice of spouse) with the priority of staying together no matter what, you will always find new and creative ways to work out problems.  Our faith is a lot like that.

When we place our faith as our primary identity it changes who we marry, who we spend time with, what type of job we want, how we use our money, how we treat our families and friends, and more. We are God’s co-workers.   And we are tasked with being proud of that identity.  

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 
stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always 
give yourselves fully to the work of the 
Lord, because you know that your labor in 
the Lord is not in vain.  
1 Corinthians 15:58

So again, I ask, what identity have you placed at the top of your list?

If it’s not “Christian” why not?  What’s holding you back?  God is waiting for you to put Him first.  Because when you do then, I believe, He claps His hands and says, “Great, now let’s get down to business!”

This is a great except from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity that might help spur you on to your new identity. 

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” 

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Welcome The Stranger

Lesson #1: Show hospitality to strangers, they may be God’s heaven-sent angels

Dear friend, you are faithful in 
what you are doing for the brothers 
and sisters, even though they are 
strangers to you. 
3 John 5

The saying goes, “A man’s home is his castle.”  And we might add to that, “surrounded by a deep moat, protected by a closed drawbridge.”  At least that’s how it seems so many have come to treat their abodes.  But the concept of hospitality has a long history for us Christians.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in 
the evening, and Lot was sitting in 
the gateway of the city. When he saw 
them, he got up to meet them and 
bowed down with his face to the ground. 
“My lords,” he said, “please turn 
aside to your servant’s house. You 
can wash your feet and spend the 
night and then go on your way early 
in the morning.”

"No," they answered, "we will 
spend the night in the square."

But he insisted so strongly that 
they did go with him and entered 
his house.  He prepared a meal for 
them, baking bread without yeast, 
and they ate.
Genesis 19: 1-3

In Leviticus we are admonished to treat the traveler as one of our own family.  And throughout the New Testament we see the kindness of various townsfolk welcoming Jesus and the disciples along the way.  Without these strangers’ help they would’ve found themselves hungry and without a bed on which to lie their head.

And in our smallest Bible book, 3 John, we see the work of a church elder named Gaius.  The news of his hospitality and kindness toward fellow Christians reached John who noted how it brought him “great joy.”

But why is hospitality a life lesson?  The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos from the two words philos (friend) and xenos (stranger) and it means to show proper warmth or friendliness to strangers.  It also means to have the readiness to share our home and other treasures.   So often when we think of hospitality in our home it means inviting friends and family for dinners and parties.   But strangers?  Pull up the drawbridge and release the piranhas into the moat!

So what is Christian hospitality?

  1. Answering calls from the church to hosts missionaries and guests
  2. Inviting church elders over for meals
  3. Hosting church activities such as Bible study in our homes
  4. Reaching out to our unfamiliar neighbors and inviting them over for coffee
  5. Being a welcoming face at church – not just a smile but showing a genuine interest in a new face

I wonder how many of us (I raise my hand) have read in the church bulletin about a visiting missionary needing a place to stay for a week or a car to borrow and we thought at best “Yea, I don’t feel comfortable with that” and at worst didn’t think about it at all?  

I have a friend who has always held her Catholic priests in very high honor.  It borders on being afraid of them.  And when a friend of hers invited her to have a private gathering with a local priest she was aghast that it was all so, well, normal.  It reminds me of when my kids were in elementary school and they thought the teacher didn’t have a life outside the classroom.  But church leaders are people in addition to their divinely appointed roles.  They enjoy fellowship just like you and me!

What hospitality is not.

  1. Allowing situations in our home where guests openly sin
  2. Inviting guests out of a sense of obligation, not love
  3. Feeling the need to have our homes be perfect before inviting guests

Let’s look at number 1.  Many years ago, my husband and I invited his brother and his brother’s girlfriend out for a visit.  They couldn’t afford to travel so we let them stay at our home.  Under one condition.  They’d have to sleep in separate rooms.  As a fairly new Christian, this was the first time I really stood my ground as the “new me.”  Initially, my brother-in-law took issue with this.  He commented that my husband and I had lived together before marriage so why should we now place this restriction on him – wasn’t that hypocritical?  Friends, let’s be honest.  Before we were made new in Christ, we did a lot of stupid, dangerous, sinful things.  It’s ok to now say those things were wrong.  And being that our house is our castle, you can make any rule you want.  We didn’t place judgement on what he did outside our home,  we just drew a line as to what was going to happen in our home, around our children.  Our hospitality included the use of our home but not the erasure of our morals.  The result?  They both came and had a great time plus we were able to witness to my brother in law the changes Christ had made in our lives.

Number two seems obvious but when people take action out of a sense of obligation rather than love, the road can get bumpy.  I read the story of a pastor who was invited to speak at a church.  The host family welcomed him in, showed him his room and then preceded to tell him they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to feed him.  They also worked very hard to completely ignore him over the course of five days.  They did their “Christian duty” in their eyes.  But can we really call that true Christian hospitality? I hope not.

The key to good hospitality isn’t found in the externals, like linen tablecloths and exquisitely furnished guest bedrooms, but in qualities like servanthood, a listening ear, and an encouraging word.

Max Lucado

When I was involved in PTA there was a chair position called “hospitality.”  What that entitled was setting up a beautifully appointed table of yummy food at various events.  Shouldn’t a church body’s goal be more of the philoxenos version?  How many times does your church have to beg people to be greeters or to host a home Bible study? Our church volunteer coordinators should be overwhelmed by the requests to be able to say “hello!” and shake hands with new people.  We should have too many homes (large and tiny) from which to choose for Bible study. We may not be the Hospitality Chair but we should all be committee members!

We ought therefore to show hospitality
to such people (the faithful) so that we
may work together for the truth.
3 John 8

A Christian who lives with an active approach to philoxenos brings God a lot of joy, just like Gaius did for John.  We are reminded in the Old Testament that at one point in our lives we were all strangers.  Strangers hoping for someone to reach out and say “hello.”  Strangers hoping someone would show us God’s love.  We need to assume that person is us.