Leave Your Shittim Behind

“Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.”‭‭Joshua‬ ‭3:1‬ ‭

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A couple years ago, my kids were taking a flight to see my dad in Florida.  Papa Chuck had made all the arrangements.  I planned ahead, gave us plenty of time to check the one bag for three kids for a week, and stroll to the terminal.  Just as we get to the TSA line the overhead comes on.  Final boarding for Flight blah, blah, blah to Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

They had just announced the final boarding of my kids flight. I checked the time, check the tickets, checked the time, checked the tickets. Only to uncover we still had an hour til take off.

Shoes off, wallet,keys, phone in hand the overhead comes on again.  Same announcement.  Same routine…time, tickets, time tickets.  Still have 55 minutes.

We bustle through the TSA line.  Scanned, patted down, frowned at. Grab shoes and belt with one hand.  Hold my pants up with the other and start sprinting down to the gate.  Get all three kids boarded on the plane and sit for take off. And sit. And sit.

Finally, after 40 minutes of sitting and three more final boarding calls I ask the attendant at the desk.  “What time is this flight taking off?”  Her response “as soon as everyone is boarded.”

Welcome to Shittim.

After 40 years of the same shoes and same clothes.  40 years of wandering and waiting.  40 years of deaths in order to move to a new place in life.  At the end of 40 years, Israel finds themselves in Shittim. Shittim was a valley plain in the land of Moab.

It becomes tough to tell how long the people of God camped there. It is clear that the wait was long enough for the men of Israel  find trouble.  They began to “indulge” themselves with the women of Moab and take on their gods as their own.  Moab was the place of Moses death. It was also the place from where Joshua repeated the process of Moses sending spies to Jericho to get a report.

Shittim would be the last place the children of God would camp before reaching the Jordan River. If we were to poll the people, I wonder if would have been the place they would have stayed.

To get perspective Shittim only sat a short distance from the river Jordan.  Maybe just a few miles.  So why pick up camp, move a million people just 3 miles to set up camp again?  This would seem to be a logistical nightmare.

Yet, it seems Joshua knew the people had to leave their Shittim behind.  Simply because Shittim was short of the promise of God. They people had began to settle short of the promise.

The Jordan crossing seems to gets all the fanfare with the parted waters and people crossing.  No doubt God does a miracle to get his people into the promise land.  The dry ground, the priests in the middle standing holding the Ark of the Covenant.  It is the stuff of Pure Flix movies. But it was what happened after the crossing that was so critical to the people.

Joshua does two things post Jordan crossing: he first builds a memorial to remember what God did at the Jordan.  Second Josh renews the covenant between God and God’s people through circumcision.  The second even more significant than the first, because it is at that moment the Lord “rolled away the shame of Egypt.”

Even in Shittim, they were still slaves.

Not something I am proud of, but reality of my life. I spent a lot of my life living out of moving boxes. From my earliest memories up to middle school, we were constantly moving. We were not a military family, sort of a ministry family, but most of the moves in the mind of child made little sense.  With each move came the opportunity to re-invent myself, but what I found out is that I was same me, not matter where the moving truck stopped.

Each new town came the opportunity to create a new me.  Yet, what I found is not matter the location, I was still the same.  I fought the internal struggle of identity and acceptance.  With every move to the next Shittim of my life, I remained a slave.  My identity never changed.

It is funny to me, we can walk out of places of bondage, live in a complete different space, but still see ourselves as the same person.  Location does not necessary change perspective on how you see yourself. You can leave Egypt, camp in Shittim and still be see yourself as a slave.

Shame is a powerful emotion.  While guilt tells you that you did wrong, shame tells you that who you are is wrong or not enough.  Shame researcher Brene Brown defines it this way:  shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

A million people camped in Shittim still caught in Egypt’s shame.  Shittim is short of the promise.

The promise was more than a piece of land, though significant.  The promise was that God would be there God and they would be his people.  At a place called Gilgal, the identity of Israel was no longer that of a slave, but that of his people.

The prophet Micah gave this reminder: Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

Your situation may currently be Shittim, but God wants to get you to Gilgal. God has a place of promise for you where your identity is no longer that of a slave of shame but a son.

At the place of promise God rolls away our shame. God renews us in right relationship and places the identity of son and daughter on us.  You don’t have to stay in Shittim. Leave your Shittim behind.

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The Gap


I wish I had answers.  I don’t.

I wish I had solutions.  I got none of those either.

But I have questions.  Lots of them.  I have surface level non-essential questions like “why do we still have pews?” And then I have deeper questions like “if we truly believe scripture is true, then why do we not live the truth of scripture?”

Unfortunately, even the simple questions will come with struggle and conflict.  Maybe because we have all settled into our own comfort levels of faith and church.  Maybe because our belief in our brand of belief is held tightly as the right one.  I won’t pretend I’m not guilty of it.  I won’t put myself on a pedestal to pretend like I don’t have preferences on how church and faith are lived out. I do.

For the past few months I have sat with 20-something millenails , just trying to hear the voice they feel has been silenced.  Here is what I have heard:

“We don’t have a seat at the table of decision making.”

“I bought the lie of the church, that who I was was not enough.”

“It’s as if the church speaks a different languages.”

As I sat on the other side of the table with a leader at a local Christian university, his statement was that the students never find a home.  That in their 4 years they may visit 10 churches and never settle into the community of one. He told me he urges them, “find a home church and serve there.”

My knee jerk response is the fault lies on both sides.  As mama would say, “I don’t care where you go but you need to go.”  So Millenails, listen to mama.  Find a place of worship, find community, find a place to serve. It’s okay to check a place out, kick the tires.  But here is my limited wisdom: the church in all her beauty is an imperfect bride.  We have flaws, bruises and scars.  Yet it is still the vehicle Christ established to reach the lost.  We are that imperfect bride, but we are the church. So bring your imperfections to be joined with ours.  

Church, we need to be pliable on the methods but firm on the mission and message.  Changing the approach to church doesn’t have to change message of the gospel.  The incorporation of technology, art, and media are not death traps to the gospel.  If leveraged they can take the message of hope and love and a Savior to the ends of the earth.  Stop fearing your generation will be forgotten while in the process overlooking those that are ready and available to step into places and spaces of leadership.  

What the next generation needs can be taught to them. And at the very same instant we may learn something from them too.

I reflect on the words of Joshua at the end of the book.  He recounts the miracles of the past, everything from the plagues to Jericho.  His look back is not a remember how good things were, but a recall to call a people to a faith for today.  Joshua challenges the assembly not to hold onto the Jordan Crossing, but today to choose whom they would serve.  The people echo Joshua that as for them and their households they would serve the Lord.

Except…Joshua dies.  A generation passes.  And the next did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. Somewhere between the last sermon of Joshua and the following generation a gap was created.  I ( these are my feelings not but there is evidence to back it up) feel there is a gap that is ever widening between the church if today and the present generation. While our past is important, it should only be as a marker for what God wants to do in the present.  

My fear is that we hold tight to our preferences and in the process lose a generation.  This is not just a caution to previous generations, but to mine.  Preference is just that, preference.  Andy Stanley, pastor, writer and leadership thought guru, has been quoted of his church as saying “we stay married to the message but just date the methods.”

The goal is not to create division but to open a discussion.  It never a difference on who or what, Jesus is still the answer.  He is and will forever be Savior of the world. But I believe we can visit the “how” and find ways to connect and communicate and demonstrate this amazing loving Savior to assure that we don’t encounter a generation that leaves the church and never comes back.

The Break Up

“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭2:10‬ 
     I love Chex Mix.  Like deep down passionately have an obsessive affection for Chex Mix.

The truth, Chex Mix has never loved me back.

I mean sure it sits there in the bowl with enticing whispers of tasty savor.  But love me? Chex Mix has never loved me.

Yet, over and over I drift toward the ways of the salty and savory Bold Party Blend black bag.  My hands converge on Chex and rye chips with a delicate care to not break or damage the perfectly blended balance of flavor as it hits my tongue.

And despite my passion for the snack it has never once thanked me or showed any care for me.  In fact, it’s been more obstacle than help in my journey toward living a healthier lifestyle.  Chex Mix has been the stumbling block to my choices of greens and grapes.

So dearly loved Chex Mix, we are breaking up.

Absurd, right?

But we all have a Chex Mix. We all have things, people, or habits that we believe we love but never love us back.  In fact this is not the first time Chex Mix and I have had this conversation.  It has been an on again, off again infatuation.  One where I have sworn I was done, only to find myself lured into its web of tasty goodness.

And I bet if you searched your life, you have a Chex Mix too. If you looked deep down you have an affinity, affection or obsession with something or someone who will never love you back no matter how much attention you give it.

Maybe your Chex Mix is the Instagram or Snapchat.  Maybe your Chex Mix is a someone.  Maybe your Chex Mix is a dream that was never your dream to begin with.  But we all have a Chex Mix in our life.

Here is what the writer of Proverbs says: “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”

The first step to a break up is knowledge.  More importantly wisdom and truth.  It’s the point of realization that what it is you love and are lost in will never reciprocate your affections.  It’s sounds silly, but it’s true.  No matter your love for Dr. Dreamy on whatever hospital based show you watch, he will never love you back.  Often our investments in our infatuation steal time and energy away from the authentic in our lives.

There is a freedom in truth. And when the truth is that you are enough without the Chex Mix of life, you find freedom.  When the truth sets in that you are enough without the detractors and distractions, you find freedom.

So Chex Mix, we are through.  I am breaking up with you.  And no I won’t be coming back this time.

So what’s your Chex Mix?

Timing is Everything

 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  Exodus 2:23

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I was 13 years old. If my memory serves it was early in the morning. The phone rang.  Mama cried out “No.” Then said she would be on the next plane.  Grandpa Jacobs had passed. It was the first real taste of loss in my life.  And loss has a way of creating a shift.

I am not sure how the news reached Moses, but I imagine somehow it did. Moses was on the run from Egypt for killing a man.  He found himself far off in a desert tending sheep for the man who became his father-in-law.

The king was dead.  More precisely, the man who he knew as grandfather was gone.

I always find intricacy in the bible narrative.  Maybe Moses as he penned the retelling of this story in Exodus was fast forwarding the story to the good parts like the plagues and the Red Sea.  So in effort to get to the movie making moments he clumps details together.  But in my opinion each word of scripture has significance.

So Moses telling his own story in third person noted that the king is dead had to bear out some meaning to the story as a whole.

I don’t see editorial errors in the details of Moses.  Much like a puzzle, I begin to put the pieces together.

Unpack the patttern:

The king is dead.

Israel cries out.

Moses is missing…or at least no longer in Egypt.

What I see is in the details. Opportunity has a timeline.

Much as Esther came to prominence “for such a time as this” and Christ came in the “fullness of time”, Moses has a moment in time.  It is the divine timing of opportunity. It is the ideal fragment in the course of time for Moses to step up and step into his calling.

Our situation and station may not be as big as leading a nation out of slavery, but our opportunities have timelines. God designs our life with comings and goings that position us perfectly in the moments that only he could orchestrate.

You exist and live in the ideal opportunity for the calling God has placed on your life. You are here now because the God of the universe placed you here and now. You have a call for this time. So when the kings in your life die, God can find you ready, prepared and positioned to say yes to what he has called you to.

It is a Moses Moment.

Pet Rock

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’
Joshua 4:6


In our HGTV dominated vernacular, the home we currently live in has been affectionately deemed “the river house.”  You guessed it, because it is on the river.  We moved our blended family of 7 into the property, choosing it over “green house” and “blue house”.  Yes, we are that creative in our naming of properties.

But if you walk up the winding sidewalk to the front entrance of the River House what you will see doesn’t seem so out of place. Just to the right of the door in the bed of plants is one single 30 pound decorative river rock. Fitting since we live on the river.

But that stone is so much more than just a yard decoration.  When and if we ever pack up the river house, that rock, affectionately called Rocky (yes, the creativity of our children overwhelms even me) will go with us.

For more than a year, my wife, Rachael and I walked a road of challenges that may never be fully told. The road to the River House was one that was filled with God’s provision and nearly impossible rivers to cross.

The book of Joshua tells a similar story.  The children of Israel had spent 40 years in the desert wandering. One generation was waiting on another to pass so that they may walk into the promises of God. In the middle of the wander, God still showed up faithfully providing food and miraculous keeping their 5th century B.C. Chuck Taylor’s from never wearing out.

Now, documented in Joshua 4, the children of Israel have just seen God do it again. Much like his predecessor, Moses, Joshua stood at the edge of an impossible situation.  Moses’ Red Sea was Joshua’s Jordan River.

The bible tells us the Jordan was at flood stage and God to told to the tell the people get ready.

How do a million plus people cross a flooded river? As my son Isaac would say, “simple.”  The less than complicated plan took more faith.  Joshua sent the priest out ahead of the people carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was the symbolic representation of the presence of God in the Old Testament.  So in short, the priests were carrying God to the Jordan River.  Scripture documents that as the first step of the first priest gets wet, the river goes dry.  And millions of people pass into their promise.

In the middle of this process, the Lord commands Joshua to do something to mark the moment.  He sends 12 men, one from each tribe of Israel to walk back into the now dry Jordan River and pick up a stone.  These 12 stones were stacked as a memorial to the moment. And Joshua stated this to the people:

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

Now back to our pet rock. There were days, weeks and even months in the process of dating and dreaming that Rachael and I felt we were standing at an impassable Jordan River.  Often our obstacles seemed and felt insurmountable.  But through faith and facing fear, we stepped foot into our Jordan River.  And amazingly saw and continue to see God do amazing things. And we did not want our tribe of kids to miss it.

So we did what any good parent would do, we bought a rock. Rocky, as more creativity spilled out from our kids in naming this new family member, Rocky sits in the front yard.  While neatly part of the natural ascetics of the River House, Rocky will go where we go. Nashville Condo, Beach House, House down the street…no matter what creative name we give the next place we call home, Rocky will move as well for this one simple purpose: we never want our kids to forget all God has done to get us here. And we firmly believe that God is not done.

In fact our hope is that our children’s children will ask why there is a rock so out of place.  And they will look at their kids and say “let me tell you a story of what God did for our family…”

 

God’s Not Done

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

Gods Not Done

In truth, I often have lacked confidence. I have tried over the years to change this. It is a dangerous thing to admit when one of the primary ways I am gifted is communication. When words are the weapons of choice you choose being confident of what will come off your lips is a strong quality to have.

I have often said words are like toothpaste: you can squeeze them out, but never put them back in.

So when the Apostle Paul writes these words: “being confident of this” there is a instant struggle to find connection.  The distinction is that Paul was placing his confidence not in his own capacities, but in the abilities of the one who had made the promises.  The very trust of Paul had nothing to do with Paul.  And maybe that is where I (and maybe you) struggle.  We put ourselves in the place of the promise maker.  We place the weight on ourselves to fulfill the promises that God promised to do.

I would bet if you are a Bible believing, praying, devoted follower of Jesus, God has promised you some things.  I have my list. In fact many of them are scribbled in pages of journals stained with tears where I was overwhelmed that he would make such a promise to me.  But he has and he still does.

And as I reflect, there are promises that have yet to come to pass. There are works that have not yet been completed. Things left undone, so it seems. And I wonder when? When will you complete that work?  When will that promise come to pass?

Then I have to remind myself that God began the work. Often when outcomes are not what we want or seem slow in arriving, we begin to question if God was ever involved in the equation to begin with.  We (by we, I mean me) start to wonder if what I heard, what was so clear in my heart in that moment, if it was even God.  Which can lead to even more dangerous trains of thought of my own unworthiness that he would promise me anything at all.

This is where the reminder is crucial: HE began the work.  It is his work that is being demonstrated in and through my life.  My requirement is obedience not to make the his promises come to pass.

One of the songwriters of the Psalms said it simply: God always, always fulfills his promises.

While seemingly a passive put off in the moments of life’s greatest trials it is still truth. God’s not done even when promises seem undone.  He is still at work.  He is still in the business of fulfilling his promises. While the process may put us to the test, he made the promise.  And his promises always come to pass.  The challenge for us is to be persistent in our obedience in the process of seeing him fulfill the promise.

There are things inked on those journal pages that I ask “why not today God?”  Why is this promise still not fulfilled? And there are other pages where pen bled on page with the word of the Lord with promises he completed in what seems like the most improbable, incredible, even supernatural ways.  And that reminds me that very simply, God’s not done.

And with incomplete promises in hand, I put all my confidence and trust in this:
that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

Work Your Wall

Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 
Nehemiah 3:10

WORK YOUR WALL

As I sat in church recently, the pastor read a passage of Nehemiah.  While he continued on in his delivery, my feet got stuck in the list of workers of the wall.

The quick backstory of Nehemiah is that he had left Jerusalem and was in the service of another king.  God birthed a vision in the man for from home that sparked a desire to return to his people and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  After some surveying of the situation the work begins.

As with much of the scripture familiarity can be a death sentence to the story.  We get so accustomed to the overarching narrative that we miss the nuggets tucked neatly in the details.  On that particular Sunday, I got lost in the mining of truth I had not noticed before.

I knew the story.  I knew Nehemiah the visionary.  I knew the ending, the wall gets built in spite of opposition.  But what I may have seen for the first time or the hundredth time and just never noticed was this passage:

Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him.  Nehemiah 3:10

I know little about Jedaiah son of Harumaph.  In fact I am unsure if he is found anywhere else in scripture.  I’ll confess, I have not done an in depth search for him or his lineage.  Yet I was stuck in a simple truth from his life. Jedaiah looked out his front door, saw a situation and did something about it. Jedaiah saw the wall in front of him needing repaired and worked the wall.

Now not to miss, others were working on the wall.  But Jedaiah, son of Harumaph, took responsibility for the wall right in front of him.

I think as people of faith there is a lot to learn from this Jerusalem craftsman.  We often miss what is right in front of us.  We have grown so accustom to the broken places in our sight line that we fail to see them as places that need repaired.  Or we continue to brush it off that one day I will tend to that.  One day that will get fixed.

And one day passes into the next and it stays unrepaired.

The broken marriage stays broken.
The shattered relationship with your kids stays shattered.
The mess that may not even be of your own making stays a mess.

And day after day it stares back at us begging to be fixed.  The wall stays broken, busted and unfixed.

Jedaiah on that day decided to do something about it.  He worked his wall.  He took responsibility for lied right in front of him.

It is my job to raise my kids…and work my wall.
It is my job to invest in my marriage…and work my wall.
It is my responsibility to love and demonstrate Jesus to those I work with.
I have to work my wall.
You have to work your wall.

It is time we quit looking past the broken places in the wall right in front of us. It is time we work our walls.

#justbeingjeff