All posts by ashleymcarmichael

The Paradox of God’s Character

The Paradox of God’s Character (my journey through Psalms 110-118)

True honesty is a myth among the human race. As the boy Macduff observes to his mother in Macbeth:

And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? […] Who should hang them? […] Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them. (Act 4 scene 2)

And he’s right. Honesty is out of fashion and has been since the fall of Eden. So it is no wonder that we sometimes judge God by our human standards. Even though we are made in the image of God, he is not human (he chose to become human as Jesus, but even so he retained his divinity), which means his character is not like that of the liars and swearers of Earth.

I think C. S. Lewis expresses the paradox of God’s character best in the novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when the children ask if Aslan (an allegorical representation of God) is safe, Mr. Bever responds with:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

This, paired with the psalms, leads me to draw a few conclusions about God that prove he is not hopelessly flawed like the human race.

God is unchanging

Humans have a hard time with change. Some people love it, but the vast majority of us have a hard time adjusting to any kind of change. Sure, it helps us grow and keeps us from being bored out of our minds, so change can be good, but adjusting to it is always a challenge. I wonder if this is because our hearts yearn for the one we were created in the image of an unchanging, steadfast, unsafe, King.  Psalm 110:4 says that “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind”; Psalm 117:2 reiterates this with “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”;  Psalm 118 repeats over and over again that His steadfast love endures forever. And this is just here in the psalms–the rest of his word is filled with other examples of how he is unchanging. He is alpha and omega–the same today, yesterday and forever.

God is faithful and just

When I think about the character of God, I am constantly reminded of the Israelites’ wandering through the desert. Over and over again they complained and whined and forgot about the Lord’s provisions. Over and over again Moses spoke to God, intervening for this unfaithful grumbling. Over and over again God demonstrated his faithfulness by sticking to his chosen people, but still like any loving father, teaching them that actions have consequences–proving his justice is real. As Psalm 111:7 says, “the work of His hands are faithful and just: all precepts are trustworthy. ” And God values this kind of faithfulness in his people. Psalm 112: 5-6 asserts this: “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.” Remembered by the original and most high judge.

God is giving

When I feel like I’ve been overlooked, or forgotten, because (just being vulnerable here) this is something I struggle with a lot. A sense of insignificance. I have to remember that God is the giver of all good things. He wants to bless his people. He wants us to walk with him, not just talk about him or fear him. Psalm 113:9 is evidence: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Having a barren home can be…debilitating, even in our culture. And I’m not just talking about the inability to bear children, but the isolation that comes with perpetual singleness–and the way our culture seems to ask “what’s wrong with you” if you are not in a relationship by the time you are 30…or even earlier than that if you are a woman. God doesn’t see something is wrong with a woman who is ‘barren’ in any sense of the word. No. He sees an opportunity to give, to bless, and to honor this woman for her faithfulness and that is a hope that I hang on to every single day (no pun intended). Because, as Psalm 115:12-13 says: “The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Isreal; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” If I believe that God is unchanging, faithful and just then you better believe that he is one who will bless and give the most amazing gifts. Even if it’s not in the timing we might prefer.

God is not Safe.

I have been reading an excellent book by Mark Buchannan entitled Your God is too Safe. If you haven’t read it, you should start immediately. In our culture we have created this image of God–this cuddly, hang it up in the Sunday school image of a man in a white robe cuddling a lamb and smiling down at children. Sure, that may depict a fatherly image of God, but it’s not the whole picture. It neglects to consider the power of God. The mind-blowing awesomeness that is wrapped up in an all-powerful being who has no beginning and no end. Who can destroy us with one word–or heal–or create–or bless–a multifaceted triune of holiness that can’t be put in a nice little box that we take out with our Sunday best and then put away while we live the rest of our lives. The being who frightens and commands the seas and storms. Psalm 114:3-8a sums it up with “What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan that you turn back? O mountaints that ou skp like rams? O hills, like lambs? Trembel, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob who turns the rock into a pool of water…” Our God is not safe, nor should we try to make him so. But he is good, and for that we should ever be thankful.

Working through Wounds

Working through Wounds (my journey through Psalms 109)

Most days I love being a teacher. I love spending my time guiding and counseling, rebuking and encouraging because let’s face it. My job is about 10% content and 90% building relationships and mentoring teenagers. Sure, theme, plot, and grammar are important, but they mean nothing if students can’t internalize the skills that will help them succeed on an every-day Tuesday in their future lives.

But then there are those days when I am repaid all my kindness with nastiness. Where my “heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22) because “wicked and deceitful mouths are open against me and encircle me with words of hate and attack me without cause” (Psalm 109:2-3). And it hurts, no it wounds me to my core.

Without giving specifics, because that’s unnecessary, I’ll just say that this psalm resonates with me right now because recently this happened. I spent several days after the incident–seriously disrespectful with no hint of apology or acknowledgment of wrong from the student or the parent– reconciling with myself how to forgive and move on rather than letting the soul wound fester.

And let me tell you, the psalmist’s pleas for justice and godly intervention were fresh in my mind.

But so is another voice. 

A voice that whispers into my conscience that even though this kid intentionally wounded, frustrated and quite frankly ticked me off, it doesn’t negate the good God has done within and through me as a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see this student as my enemy as David is expressing in this psalm, but I do see the enemy at work against me when I allow these incidents to infect my heart like a festering sore, which is far too easy.

No, instead I will “give great thanks to the Lord.” because he has given me much more than I deserve: a calling, a purpose, and a passion.

Adjusting our Attitudes

Adjusting our Attitudes: My Journey through Psalms (108)

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn!  Psalm 108:1-2

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Growing up, my church put on a yearly children’s musical. I’m sad that this is kind of rare in churches now, but I understand. There is so much demand out there for a family, their time, their energy. Not to mention volunteers. Finding people who are willing to volunteer their time on Sundays is hard enough; soliciting someone to spend several weeks teaching kids to sing and perform is a challenge of astronomical proportions. At any rate, it is one of the things I enjoyed…most of the time.

I was not particularly talented, but boy did I want to be! I practiced all the time. I auditioned for the lead role every year. I wanted to prove something to that church, and maybe to myself, about my talent.

Honestly, all I really proved (most of the time) is my lack of star quality. I was a good supporting role, but I was not meant to be in the spotlight.

Except for one time.

One year, the lead was not a female role. I can’t remember the storyline, but usually, it had something to do with Christmas, so I feel like it was a shepherd or something. Anyway, miracle of miracles, I got the lead role. I was to be the singing shepherd. Center stage. In the spotlight, finally.

And I put my heart and soul into that role. I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself, but that’s not what I remember about this moment. This role.

What I remember the most is the kind of dedication it took to be the starring role. I remember how I hated to miss a rehearsal; I remember how some of the other girls and I interacted in not so pleasant ways;  I remember how I felt when it was over, but mostly I remember the way it made me feel incredibly special. Important.

And that is how we are supposed to treat God every single day.

He should have the starring role. He should be incredibly special. Our dedication and devotion to Him should be so complete that we loathe to miss out on time with Him.

Most of the time, though I find that I treat God like a supporting role. Someone who is there for me when I need him, but not the star. Not the one at center stage at all times.

God is not the supporting role. He’s not our backup singer. His

star quality should dazzle us every day.

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It is so easy to wake up and ask God to support our dreams, but what we should do is wake up, thank him, praise him and ask him how we can support his purpose.

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Often, I find, when I adjust my attitude in this way, my dreams realign to his purpose for my life. And when I become the supporting role, it’s kind of an amazing production.

He has given us so much.

It’s time to make Him the star.

 

Finding your Purpose

Some people are blessed enough to discover their purpose early on. others have a little more searching to do before their purpose becomes clear. Some people think they know their purpose only to discover later they never really had a clue. And for some, their purpose changes throughout their lives. Suddenly. Without warning. Completely transforming their lives.

Some accept their purpose.

Some run from it.

Others fear it.

Regardless, we all have a purpose. 

I was a very morose teenager. You know Eeyore?  We would have been best buddies. As such, I wondered on a pretty regular basis why God spoke to others and not to me? I drew the conclusion, falsely, that he must play favorites.  After all, how did one get chosen to be a favored disciple? There must have been hundreds of Jewish boys in the area when Jesus began his ministry, so what was so special about these 12?  In my mind, they must have done something to earn the favor and pleasure of God. It was the only thing that made sense. None of them were particularly smart (Jesus literally had to pull them aside and explain the allegory in his stories). They had average jobs, at bets–some below average (I mean, come on, no little kid dreams of growing up to be a tax collector, Matthew!) They weren’t a bunch of hot studs who made up the first boy band (at least I don’t recall hordes of women and girls following them and screaming when they flashed a dimpled grin their way).

So God did play favorites.

Um. No.

The more I grow in my faith and the older I get, the clearer it becomes that God is not playing favorites. He chooses those for great purpose whom he knows will choose to listen to his voice (with the exception of maybe Jonah, who chose to go in the opposite direction when he heard the call, but that’s a story for another day).

Those who chose to accept their purpose, those called by God, those who listened and obeyed, they received great favor from God, sure. They also experienced great heartache and did not live lives of peace. They had HARD, blessed, purposeful lives.

So what does this mean for us? For you and me in this life filled with distractions that threaten to snuff out our purpose before we can even fulfill it? I think it means 3 things:

  1. We must be willing
  2. We must be ready
  3. We must be disciplined

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We must be willing

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When Jesus called the 12 disciples, he didn’t wait around for them to make pro-con lists.  He didn’t let them go home and ask for permission or discuss it with family, friends and mentors.

He called.

They went.

Mark 1: 18-20 is clear Come follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired me and followed him.”  (NIV)

Jesus knew who was willing…he singled them out. He called. They went. No questions asked.

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We must be ready

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Not everyone is ready when God calls them to a purpose. It’s a sad fact of life. I mentioned Jonah earlier.

Jonah 1:1-3a reads: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me. But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. 

God called. He fled.

In Matthew 19:16-22 a wealthy young man sees himself as a successful leader. A good man. He has kept all the commandments and set himself up as a leader in the community. Then he asks Jesus what else he must do. Jesus tells him in verse 21 If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. 

Notice this is the same command he gave to his disciples–and they weren’t all poor. Tax collectors, for example, were notoriously wealthy and corrupt. Yet this young man “went away sorrowful” in verse 22; he wasn’t ready.

Fortunately, God can redeem our purpose even when we rebel. Jonah may have spent 3 days as fish food, but his purpose was fulfilled in the end. The young man chose not to give his all for Jesus, but at any point, he could have changed his mind and Jesus would have accepted him on the spot.

We have to be ready when Jesus calls. We have to be ready to go. We have to be ready for our lives to change radically.

We have to be ready.

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We have to be disciplined

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Being willing and ready is actually the easy part, believe it or not. Being disciplined. That’s the tough part. To be disciplined you must be trained. You must be controlled.

How?

Just like a soldier must be in shape, we also must be physically trained. We must treat our bodies like the temples they are, putting as many good things in as we can and saying no to as many harmful things as possible. In today’s world with ready access to harmful images and music, and shows–a simple drive to the grocery store to fill up the cart with junk food, or a quick trip the drive thru (#guiltyascharged), is not a disciplined life choice. I’m not saying you need to be ready to run a 5k (but kudos to you if you choose that route), but I am saying that discipline is not always fun, but to fulfill our purposes we must learn what is good for us and what will end us in the belly of a fish for three days (metaphorically speaking, of course). Because once you are swallowed, you have to work your way through a lot of yuck.

BUT

You can make your way through the yuck to the other side of grace with a little bit of discipline.

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Living in your purpose is not an easy task, but it’s what we are ALL created to do–whether we know specifically what that is or not.

God doesn’t play favorites, but he does show favor to those who are willing, ready and disciplined.

Are you?

Wilderness Reminders

Wilderness reminders: My Journey through Psalms 105-107

When the Israelites wandered through the desert, they became well known for one thing: grumbling. They had no food. Grumble. They had no water. Grumble. They didn’t like the food. Grumble. They were tired. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. Despite the fact that God constantly reminded them of his provision (by miraculously providing for them multiple times–daily really), their default was clear: grumble. grumble. grumble.

Earlier in my faith, when I would read these passages I would judge them pretty harshly. How could they continue to whine and complain when bread was literally falling out of the sky and they were following a pillar of fire? God’s glory really doesn’t get any clearer than that. It’s in front of your face!

The older, and dare I say, wiser I become I realize more and more how arrogant that is. Because I do the same thing every day. Instead of remembering His grace and goodness, I tend to focus on what he hasn’t done for me, rather than what He provides for me.

As Psalm 106 states before going into the history reminders: “Honor His holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!” That last comment in verse 3 is really a command: honor him, seek him, and live happy. Remember his promises and focus on the blessings, what he has done for you. That is the secret of a happy life.

Why? “Because he’s good, because his love lasts,” Psalm 107:1 answers. And reassures in verse 3 that “You’re one happy man when you do what’s right, one happy woman when you form the habit of justice.”

I may not walk through a literal wilderness, but these wildernesses still exist in my life–in everyone’s life. Because let’s be real, life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Life is hard. Life is unfair, or at least it feels that way. And life can be lonely. Really lonely when you are isolated in the wilderness and it looks like everyone else around you is enjoying favor in the land of milk and honey.

I know I’ve written about this on the blog before, but it’s life and it’s where I am right now. I am in a wilderness of singleness. And it’s hard. And heartbreaking. And lonely.

Sometimes.

Usually, it’s all those things when I focus on what I lack. What I want. What God HASN’T given me. Like the Israelites grumbling about not having the promised land, or food right when they want it, I grumble about what I think my life should be instead of turning inward to focus on what life IS right now. What he has blessed me with. And why.

But “Oh thank God–He’s so good! His love never runs out. All of ou set free by God, tell the world! Tell how he freed you from opression…” Psalm 107 is quick to remind us just how much God HAS done for us. And, quite frankly, how beautiful his provision is.

And as I work toward transformation I see it. I see the blessings day in and day out. I focus more on them and less on my selfish desire to want what I want when I want it!

Because “if you are really wise, you’ll think this over–it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love” (Psalm 107:43). In the wilderness or in the land of milk and honey…

God. Never. Changes.