All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Authentic :: Miriam

It’s not easy being a big sister. When I was a kid, I felt personally responsible for my little brother. Like the one time that he was being a jerk (at least from my perspective) and I felt personally responsible to teach him a lesson, so I locked him outside in his underwear (not advisable btw). Or maybe the many times I took it upon myself to lecture him in ways I really had no right to. Regardless, I felt responsible for my brother because I had been given a calling—my birthright, I truly believed, was to teach, scold, and protect this little sibling of mine, no matter the cost.

I imagine that’s just a smidgen of what Miriam felt for her two little brothers, Aaron and Moses. At a young age (maybe even as young as six), she took on an enormous responsibility—it was her job to save her brother’s life. Or rather to be God’s hands and feet as He protected this future leader and liberator of His people. This early life event shaped her into the bold and clever leader she was to become for the Israelite people, and ultimately all of humanity. But it was also the source of her greatest flaws: pride and jealousy.

Boy can I relate.

We are first introduced to Miriam in Exodus 1:21-2:8. She was just a child when she was tasked to protect her brother from annihilation ordered by the Pharaoh of Egypt. Some accounts claim that she is as old as 12, but many others consider her as young as 6. Regardless, she felt the weight of the responsibility given to her, and we can draw a lot of conclusions about her character if we examine her actions carefully.

Miriam was bold

We aren’t told her thoughts, but I can’t help but wonder what might have gone through her mind as she watched her baby brother float down the river. So close, and yet so far from her reach what could she do but cry out to the Lord for protection from whatever might have been waiting for him in the river. A special bond exists between siblings and a little bit of Miriam’s own heart floated down the river with her brother in that basket. It would have been easy for this young girl to give into the emotions that surely followed her. Fear, especially. Not only for her little brother but for herself. I seriously doubt she had a lot of free time given that she and her family were enslaved to the Egyptians. Yet here she was a young girl who should have been somewhere else following a basked down the river heading straight to the palace…and guards…and men…and dangers all too real for a young slave girl all by herself. But she didn’t let the fear control her, instead, she stepped into the risk.

Miriam was clever

As Moses neared the palace, Miriam had to think quickly and creatively to save her brother’s life. After the decree to drown all Hebrew males had come straight from the Pharoh himself, so it was unlikely he’d be a lot of help. Seeing the kindness in the princess, Miriam speaks up–coming out of the shadows and offering a plan to the empathetic royal. I can just imagine how this scene played out…

Miriam hid among the reeds where she had been watching her brother’s basket drift closer and closer to shore, giving it a push here and there to keep it moving. Then she sees her, the princess. Had she ever seen anyone so beautiful? Decked out in gold and painted face, she surrounded herself with servants, yet her heart still ached for something more. Could this princess who had everything be lonely? Even barren? Miriam didn’t know about that, but she knew a miracle when she saw it–her abba had told her all about the Hebrew Joseph who had worked is way up in the palace as second in command. Why couldn’t her brother do the same if he was raised by this princess?

Yes, I see Miriam’s creative mind just playing out the future as she steps forward and offers a solution to the princess and brings her brother back to her mother safe and sound.

Miriam was a leader

The next time we see Miriam show up in the narrative is after the parting of the Red Sea. But a lot happened in between that time. Moses murdered an Egyptian, fled the country, married a Midianite, talked to a burning bush, returned to Egypt with Aaron as his mouthpiece, commanded the Israelites freedom, called out plagues from God, and led the people out. We aren’t told that Miriam is involved, but I think it’s safe to infer that while not involved in the “male only club” of the palace, she had her own role to play. I like to think that while plague after plague came down from the palace she rallied the women and encouraged them in ways her brothers could not. 

Miriam’s leadership is highlighted for the first time when we read Exodus 15:20-21. Although Miriam’s song follows Moses’ and is much shorter than her brother’s, the significance of these verses is profound.  Miriam is called a prophetess, a title given to only a handful of women in ancient times, which meant they had charismatic gifts similar to that of men. And then she danced! Not only that, but the women followed her lead. This kind of singing is known as antiphonal. Two groups perform, one sings, the other responds. To me, this shows Miriam’s place in this exodus was not relegated to the kitchen or nursery, but front and center with her brothers.

Miriam’s struggles are much like our own

The narrative takes a drastic turn the next time Miriam is mentioned. In Numbers 12:1-16  we see her major flaws: pride and jealousy. Miriam and Aaron approach Moses and criticize his choices, but more importantly, they are criticizing God’s choices. Given that Miriam’s name is mentioned first, I hazard to guess that she’s somewhat of the ringleader in this situation; maybe said a little something to Aaron in private and then confronted Moses with a “and Aaron agrees with me” kind of thing, which may explain the harshness of her punishment on some level (when it seems Aaron is kind of off the hook). Mind you, that’s my interpretation given just how much I identify with this Miriam, regardless of how it went down, it clearly was not ordained by God. This is jealousy (which I’ll get to in a moment) for sure, but I think it also shows just how insecure she is as a female leader in the patriarchal community.

Registering concern or even criticism with your leaders is not a bad thing, but the way in which you go about it can be. Miriam made some classic mistakes we’ve all fallen into.

  1. She chose to confront Moses publicly in an attempt to undermine his authority.
  2. Her reasons were self-serving, not God-serving.
  3. Her motivation was rooted in jealousy, not in following God’s will. I take note that the narrative never mentions Miriam’s marriage, children or lineage. Maybe she had them and the text didn’t mention it, but as a 33-year-old single woman myself, I think this digs into the heart of her jealousy too. 

It’s important for us to understand how and why authority has been given to our leaders and to speak up when it seems those in authority have strayed from God’s purpose. However, it’s equally important for us to remember who placed our leaders in authority and to examine our motives very carefully before proceeding. Ultimately all authority on Earth is granted by God and it’s important for us to respect the authority He has enabled, but to keep in mind that we are not ruled by the authority on Earth alone, but by God’s law and if something contradicts that authority then we speak out. How we speak out, however, is important and it is on our motives and actions that God holds us personally responsible.

It’s equally important for us to remember who placed our leaders in authority and to examine our motives very carefully before proceeding.

Miriam adds value just in being herself

Some commentators see a connection between the three leaders of Israel and the supernatural provisions of God. We could take time to examine and debate the symbolism related to Moses as the provision of Manna (daily bread), Aaron to the cloud (God’s presence) and Miriam to the provision of water.  But that’s not really the point of this post. Even so, as an English teacher, I can’t ignore the fact that Miriam’s introduction begins with water (the Nile and her brother) and ends with water (she dies and water becomes scarce again) in Numbers 20: 1-2. What does this reveal to us about Miriam’s character? I don’t know. No, really, I don’t but given that nothing happens by accident, God speaks through this. To me, it speaks of Miriam’s redemption story, because we all have one and to be authentic, we should probably learn to recognize it in ourselves as well as others.

Micah 6:4 is probably my favorite verse about Miriam. God claims her as a great leader, equal to that of Moses and Aaron. Not because of the babies she bore, but because of her boldness and commitment to Him and His people. Yes, she had flaws, but she was also chosen by God for a greater purpose. As we all are if only we’d listen!

Miriam teaches us to be more authentic

Despite the odds against her as a woman in an ancient, patriarchal society, God chose Miriam to be a protector and leader in her community. He used her strengths to save an entire people group from genocide. Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Miriam was fierce and bold. She seized opportunities as they arose. Miriam is proof that women can be powerful leaders when following God’s will and purpose. BUT, it is important that women and men check their motivations, know their strengths and work to overcome their weaknesses when stepping up and calling out.

Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile.

God uses our strengths to influence our communities and families. One of my greatest strengths is my organization and planning. I have an uncanny ability to see multiple possible outcomes and plan to achieve what I think would be the best one in the most effective ways. God uses this in tandem with my heart for teenagers and while I am not always able to connect emotionally I can ensure a safe and productive environment for them to learn and grow. It has also helped keep my family in communication sometimes. Granted it doesn’t always work and my own schedule can sometimes get in the way, but that is just an example of how God uses my strengths…and forgives my weakness, because while I am great at being organized I am not exactly the most flexible person in the world and the anxiety that accompanies this can be offputting at best and a great hinderance at worst.

Which brings me back to my siblings and while it’s true that I believed, my job was to teach, scold, and protect this little brother of mine, no matter the cost, over the years I found the cost to be too great. It is hard to build a true relationship with someone when you constantly believe you are right and they are wrong. Or worse, that they should change to please you. Miriam struggled with pride and jealousy, and if I’m honest that’s where a lot of my problems in life sit as well. In the end, when we allow jealousy and pride to color the way we treat others we are getting in the way of God’s plans for our authenticity. Trying to be like someone else is not living as an image of God and this should help us improve, well, pretty much everything.

All photos are stock images from www.pexels.com and used with licensing permissions. 

Authentic

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts based on the Bible studies I’ve been writing for the young women at our church. This series is called authentic. Did you know authentic by definition means real, genuine, not copied or false–but my favorite part of the definition is the last made to be or look just like an original

Genesis 1:26-28 says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own  image, in the mage of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

(ESV, emphasis mine)

That means God literally created us to be authentic–just like the original (himself)–with power, authority and ownership over the things of this earth. 

Stock photo from www.pexels.com

His word is filled with examples of God drawing his people back into their true authentic purpose. It is not a collection of fairy tales or outdated history. It is alive and can teach us about our lives and our own God-given purpose. These stories teach us to be authentic and remind us who the real protagonist of the Bible is. Not us, but God.

Stay tuned for the first installment (published 8/12/18)

From Beginning to End

From Beginning to End (MJT Psalm 145-150)

We have a lot of reasons to praise our God, our father, and the last 5 psalms are perfect reminders that we should. We are created to begin and end our lives with praise to the one who loved us enough to create and redeem us.  The one who created us to engage the world as though we matter, because to Him, we do. SO for this FINAL journey through Psalm post, I will be the journalist and list who should praise, how we should praise, where/when we should praise and finally WHY we should praise Him.

Who should Praise God
  1. Angels (148: 2)
  2. Heavenly Hosts (148:2)
  3. Sun/Moon/Stars (148:3)
  4. Skies and Weather (148: 4 & 8)
  5. Sea creatures (148: 7)
  6. Ocean Depths (148: 7)
  7. Vegetation and Land (148: 9)
  8. Land and Sky Creatures (148: 10)
  9. Rulers of Men (148:11)
  10. Young men and women (148:12)
  11. Old men and women (148: 12)
  12. Children (148: 12

So….everyone and everything God created should praise him. I also find it interesting that these are listed basically in the order that God created them (a throwback to Genesis 1).

How God Should be Praised
  1. Through song (149: 1)
  2. Through rejoicing and gladness (149: 2)
  3. Through dancing (149:3)
  4. With musical instruments (149:3 & 150:3-5)
  5. By jumping on/out of bed (149: 5)
  6. Through our words/conversation (149:6)
  7. In battles, losses, and victories (149:6)
  8. Through executing justice (149:9)

So, basically, though, with and by everything we do and all that we feel.

When and Where We should Praise the Lord
  1. In His Sanctuary (150:1)
  2. In the heavens (150:2)
  3. Everyday (145:2)
  4. Everywhere (145:2)
  5. Forever (145:2 & 146: 2)
Why We Should Praise the Lord
  1. He is great beyond measure and comprehension (145: 3 & 150: 2)
  2. He performs mighty acts and wonderful/awesome works (145:5, 11-12 & 150:2)
  3. He is good and righteous (145:7, 9 & 17)
  4. He is gracious and compassionate (145: 8-9)
  5. He is slow to anger (145: 8)
  6. He is rich in love (145: 8, 13, & 17)
  7. His kingdom is everlasting (145: 13, 146:10)
  8. He is faithful to his promises (145: 13, 19 & 146:6)
  9. He is open and satisfies our needs (145:16 & 146:7)
  10. He is near to those who cry out  (145:18-19)
  11. He destroys the wicked (145:20, 146:9 & 147:6)
  12. He watches over and protects those who love him (145:20 & 147:12-14)
  13. He is the creator of everything (146:6, 147: 4, 8-10, 16-18 & 148:5)
  14. He upholds the cause of the oppressed, aliens, fatherless, and widows (146:7 & 9)
  15. He sets prisoners free (146:7)
  16. He gives sight to the blind (146:8)
  17. He is exalting (146:8 & 147:2)
  18. He heals the brokenhearted (147:3)
  19. He is understanding (147: 5)
  20. He sustains the humble (147: 6)
  21. He delights in strength and honor (147:10-11)
  22. He keeps order for his people (147:19-20)

And this is just from 5 psalms…go back through the rest and I guarantee you’ll find more to add to the list, but this is a great place to start.

And so let everyone, everywhere praise the Lord!

You’re Never Really Alone

You’re Never Really Alone (MJT Psalm 142-145)

A major theme I have noticed on this journey through Psalms is that you are never really alone, no matter how alone you feel.

Loneliness can be a debilitating feeling when it seems like everyone has forgotten you are alive and you are just floating in a vast sea of isolation; it is easy to drown in those motions. It’s true that no man (or woman) is an island. No, in this sea, you are more like a little boy trapped on a boat with a tiger (thanks Life Of Pi for that simile).

Fortunately, even in those moments when we feel we are about to be devoured by the ravenous tiger, we are not as alone as we may feel. This is the moment when calling out to God feels so pointless, but it is when we need to the most because he knows the way back to shore even when it seems impossible (and he can protect us while we journey there). 

If you have known me for any length of time you would know that I’m a slow processor of information. This is off-putting to a lot of people because I don’t always respond right away in conversation–or worse, I do and whatever I say makes sense in my head, but requires my conversation partner to clarify what they meant. My delayed processing sometimes makes conversations with me kind of difficult and people will often misjudge my silence for arrogance, shyness or stupidity…when often I wish people would just give me a moment. But we live in a fast-paced world and so I live a lot of my life in my own head. Because of this, I have a hard time letting people in when they do stick it out to be my friend. This leads to a lot of self-propagated isolation on a fairly regular basis. That tiger and I have been stranded on that boat more than once and finding my way back to shore can be exhausting.

But there’s something really cool about what happens when I let God roam in my head space with me. I have to make a concentrated effort to do this; it doesn’t come naturally to me. When I actually let down my guard and let Him tame the tiger instead of always trying to do it myself, He gives me a much-needed perspective shift that changes everything! Suddenly the water surrounding me is beautiful and life-giving and not a treacherous trap. It becomes a place to explore and the adventure becomes a learning opportunity. The tiger even turns into a companion–sometimes a kitten–to offer comfort and not a threat to my existence.  I’m no longer a trapped little child, but a grown person ready for battle–whatever that battle might be.

After David was anointed as future king, he went from fighting animals twice his size to battling men who towered over him (quite literally). He was just a boy when he defeated a giant and was then placed in command of an army of 1000 men, most of whom were likely older than he. Somehow he was to lead them into battle with bigger, more experienced Philistines, and what’s worse, his own King sent him out hoping he would die in battle. David had no experience and no support from those who were supposed to be his allies. But he didn’t need it! God had prepared him for the battles ahead because David let God be in control and at the center of everything he did.

And we can be the same. Because no matter what life throws at us, God is in control and He sets us free from whatever imprisons us, whether it is bitterness, shame, insecurity, hatred, lies…anything. Like David, I can Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm `143:8)

And so can you.

Listen, Learn, and Let Go

Listen, Learn, and Let Go (MJT Psalms 140-141)

I used to think the world was against me any time someone criticized a choice I made. Even if I asked for advice or wisdom on an issue, internally I would think what do they know anyway? They’re not living my life. They have no idea how to deal with my problems. 

I made enemies of a lot of people who were just looking out for me, or who were trying to help me grow and see things from a different perspective. I saw criticism as attacks, differing opinions as judgment, and advice as antagonism. I spent a lot of time and energy at war with people in my mind.

And then I became a teacher.

Quickly I realized other people have answers I scoured my world for because they had experience and knowledge. Life is lived in patterns, finding those patterns and learning from people who come before is the trick to good teaching–and good living.

Psalm 140 is a call from the poet to God for protection and rescue from the evil one(s). There are real enemies in our lives, and I suspect the poet actually experienced true persecution, but really when you look at life objectively there is just one enemy causing conflict with lies and deceit every day. As I read from 140 to 141 I realized for me it is less about an external enemy, but the enemies I create in my mind. The ones who preach pride, stubbornness, and grudge-holding that keep me isolated and angry. These lessons in 141 reflect the answers to defeating the enemies of 140 in three simple steps: Listen, Learn, and Let go.

LISTEN (Psalm 141:1-2)

When you call for God to hear you, you can’t forget to listen to his response. And not only hear it but really listen. There is a difference. God doesn’t ignore our cries for help, but sometimes we don’t like the answer and that pride keeps us from moving forward in all our relationships. More importantly, it keeps us from the growth and plans God desires for us. Plans to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11) because he knows us, and knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139:13).

LEARN (Psalm 141:3-5)

Learning from our own past mistakes is easy. Learning from the wise people in our lives is the hard part of growing and leaning into the plans God has for us. God has no desire to see us in pain, and if we are honest, most often we create our own sticky situations by not listening and learning from those who have already been there, done that. In Ecclesiastes 1:9,  Solomon aptly observes there is nothing new under the sun. Boy was he right. The more time I spend watching teenagers ignore my (and other’s) advice, the more I see the truth in this statement. And I get it. I once ignored a lot of advice, but imagine what rich lives we could live from the get-go if only we lived Psalm 141:5! Life is lived in patterns; it’s seen in literature over and over again and if we pay attention we can see it in our own lives. A lesson I wished I’d learned earlier.

LET GO (Psalm 141:8-10)

The most important lesson we can listen and learn from is ultimately to let go of what is not in our control–which really is everything. The famous missionary and Bible teacher Oswald Chambers put it this way in My Utmost for His Highest:

To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his [or her] whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the Spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else.

Essentially, let go and let God! It’s funny how often we will cry out to God for something and then step in God’s way to try to grasp it for ourselves. Like Sarah (Genesis), to whom God promised a son, determined to fulfill the prophecy handed her maidservant to her husband. Sure, she got a son…sort of…but it created a whole mess of problems we still encounter in today’s world. *By the way, this is a pretty prominent theme in literature as well. See, patterns!*

Here’s my own example.

I have been asking God to meet my future husband for a long time. More than once I have asked God for direction and then decided, like Sarah, to take matters into my own hands. Why? Because I’m impatient. As a result, I have endured quite a few BAD internet dates. And I mean wishing you could crawl out the bathroom window bad. I have nothing against internet dating. In fact, I know quite a few people who have had success in meeting and marrying people they have met through one dating website or another. This knowledge has brought untold frustration and insecurities when nothing seemed to produce a similar success story in my own life.

And then I got so frustrated and exhausted, I was so broken I actually waited to hear from God (I know, I’m 32 years old, and I KNOW what I should do, but I don’t always do it. I’m human. Sorry to disappoint). Lo and behold, when I stopped to listen, I heard. One morning when I was cranky, sleep deprived, and annoyed by an internet match I really wanted to make work (the snarky comments about teachers in high school always being on their cell phones was really the straw that broke the camels back), I heard God speak.

Online dating is not the answer.

Aw man! Really, God? Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?! Do you know how much time, energy and money I have wasted?

Um, yeah. I did. You just weren’t listening. When are you going to learn to let go and let ME be God?

Ouch. Great question. I didn’t really like this answer, and complained about it more than once (okay…so what IS THE ANSWER? Crickets. Sigh. Okay). But soon I got confirmation from two separate sources that these were, in fact, God’s words for me.

So I put on my big girl panties and did my best to listen, learn, and let go. But I am a work in progress (as are we all), which is why the big BUT in Psalm 141:8 holds so much promise for me. I keep doing these things Lord: doubting, fighting, crying out…

But my eyes are fixed on you, o Sovereign Lord…

And when this is true for me, when we truly fix our eyes on HIM and not on ourselves. When we listen, learn, let go, and let God work “we pass by in safety” all the days of our lives, no matter what our future might be.