Tag Archives: promises

Return to Me

I was ten or eleven years old the first time I had what I would consider a prophetic dream. Not that I am a prophet or in anyway make claims to that, but this particular dream was recurring. I lost count of the number of times I would wake up in a cold sweat and silent tears running down my face throughout my teen years. I can’t remember sharing it with anyone at the time, but I may have and just don’t recall it. What I do remember is the feeling of being trapped in this endless cycle of dreaming and feeling like I had no control over it when I closed my eyes. It was so vivid and I dreamed it so many times I still remember it 20 some odd years later.

I hear yelling. Not screaming exactly, but yelling and chaos. Suddenly I’m gripping the side of this sloping hill. My hands held tight to a clump of grass and my knuckles are turning white from exertion. The yelling hasn’t stopped, but all around me I see people tumbling down this hill into a pit below. The pit is engulfed with flames, sometimes they look like a campfire, and sometimes they glow blue. I can’t feel the heat and I’m too afraid to look down, but I know it’s yawning beneath me and waiting for me to let go. Next to me, someone else falls. It’s someone I know; I can’t see their face, but I somehow know that I know them. I reach out to try to catch them, but our fingertips barely touch and they fall away. This happens again and again, person after person falling into the pit. My fingers ache and I feel like I’m slipping. But I never fall. I always wake up, scrambling away from the pit and watching everyone I love slip away.

I type the dream now and my palms are sweating. Just reading it probably makes you wonder what about that dream was so traumatizing to me as a kid. It’s not really graphic and there are more unknowns than knowns within it, but the palpable, choking fear I couldn’t shake at the time, still feels tangible somehow.

I blame the Left Behind series. They were super popular at the time, and a kid version even released when I was about 13. Fiction? Sure, but for some reason I really internalized this fear of being one of the ones left behind. I feel pretty certain this is where the fear began, but where it ended, I didn’t quite expect.

The Prophet

Not a lot is known about Joel, but this short book (only 3 chapters) reveals a lot about the Lord and our relationship with Him. During Joel’s time, the people of Isreal experienced a literal invasion of locusts that ate up their food supply and threatened to wipe them out entirely. It was devastating for the land and the people. And it wasn’t just one instance; it was recurring. Joel lays it out for them in chapter 1 verse 4 when he addresses the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the destroying locust. Some scholars even believe it was multiple years, as it may be addressing the life cycle of the locust. Others say it’s just multiple swarms back to back to back. Either way it’s not just 1 devastation, but 4. FOUR.

Utter destruction of everything.

Loss. Heartache. Tragedy.

The people want to know why. They are begging for an explanation.

And God heard them.

God chose Joel to speak to the nation in their time of crisis and give them a deeper understanding. He didn’t explain why the locust destroyed everything and left them with a lack of food or provision. I mean, we already know why the world experiences such devastation and loss, don’t we? Natural disasters such as these are a direct result of sin and death being introduced by humanity for humanity, and because we live in this broken world we will sometimes experience tragedy and loss that are inexplicably hard.

No, asking God “Why are you doing this?” in the midst of tragedy is not our best question. That gets complicated, and messy and because we don’t know the bigger picture and we aren’t God. Even if He answered us and broke it down into cause/effect, we would likely not understand. The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

As it turns out, this book really isn’t about the tragedy at all. Joel addresses it, but it is less about that and more about the people and their heart postures toward God.

The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

You see, the people had gotten distracted. They were sinning and disobedient. They were ignoring God and doing whatever they wanted. Whatever felt good.

Then, when tragedy struck, they wondered why God wasn’t there? They kicked him out of their lives…and then wondered where He was.

God didn’t send Joel to give an explanation. He sent them to offer the people restoration.

Despite their attitude and sin, God still claimed them as his own. One of the great things about our God is that no matter what, God over and over again proves how He loves and cares for His people even when they repeatedly screw up.

Even when they don’t love Him.

Through Joel, God uses the locust tragedy as a symbol for what awaits the people if they do not turn from sin and return to Him. It encompasses the bigger picture, and as such applies beyond this one tragedy. As humans we sometimes let our pride blind us from the truth: Life is fragile and we cannot control it.

And the real message is this: Return to me.

The Promise

Joel 2: 12-13 is worth your time to memorize. I’m still working on it, but it is a direct promise from the Lord to His people:

Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

Joel used the locust tragedy for his message, but doesn’t it also apply to financial ruin? Lost jobs? Global pandemics? Chronic illness? And a myriad of other tragedies that exist in this world. The things we use as excuses to separate ourselves from God’s love and care? The things we blame on God?

This isn’t to say that their specific sin caused this to happen. Please hear me when I say I don’t believe that sinning will give you cancer etc. I’m speaking overall, sin in general, the introduction of this into our world broke it and even the best of humanity suffers as a result.

It also doesn’t promise that if they stop sinning and return to God that they will never experience tragedy again.

No, it’s not saying that at all; really returning to God isn’t about us or what we get out of it. It’s more about the character of God and acknowledging that he is worthy of our devotion.

The flip side of that rings true too. Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world. Ultimately, returning to God will redeem us and, though not always in this life, will reward us beyond our wildest dreams.

Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world.

Joel even gives us a road map, a process by which we can return to God:

  1. Acknowledge sin
  2. Be sorry about it
  3. Confess and pray/fast
  4. Bring in accountability to avoid sinning again
  5. Cry out to the Lord

By doing this we can be prepared to fight our real enemy. Spiritual warfare rages all around us all the time, and our weapons are fasting and praying — together in a holy assembly— everyone calling out to the Lord and placing God at the head of the army. We need to be prepared so the Enemy can’t turn us away from what is right and important to God. The Enemy strikes when we are the most vulnerable, when these tragedies threaten our very souls. BUT if we are prepared we can stand up and stand strong behind the Lord no matter what the Enemy throws at us. When we are operating outside of his protection, when we are caught off guard, that’s when we are rendered powerless and we fail. That’s when the real tragedy happens.

Separation from God.

Sometimes…and most tragic of all…Forever.

My dream seems pretty straight forward, right? A lot of people I know falling into a pit of fire? Come on, that’s straight out of symbolism 101.

Except, things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t remember how old I was the last time I had the dream. I’m not sure, but it ended differently. Do you want to guess?

This time…I let go.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

That’s right, I let go and fell right into the fire.

I didn’t wake up in fear, though. I wasn’t burning up or in hell as you might have suspected (as I might have suspected). Instead, I woke up feeling calm and reassured.

And that taught me something important.

That dream taught me that sometimes holding on is a mistake. We think we know what is right and true. We think we see the bigger picture. We think we have to save everyone around us, when all along we just need to let go.

Let go of our anger.

Let go of our pride.

Let go of our hurt.

Let go of our need to know why.

Let go and let God consume us. Let him refine us. Let him redeem us so no matter what we can rest assured that He is good. He is worthy. He is in control.

Let go and let God consume us.

Authentic :: Rahab

I know this may come as a shock to you, but I am not a risk taker. I don’t like roller coasters. I rode one, an upside down one, once—I gave into peer pressure. It was not fun. My bff wants so bad to go skydiving and she can usually talk me into just about anything (you really don’t want to know about the cab ride in Savannah…). I told her to go for it, I’d wait at the bottom with a couple of pom-poms, a glass of wine, and cheer her whole way down. I went into a casino on my 25th birthday—just for funsies to say I’d gambled. I put 5 dollars on slot machine card. Played once. My heart rate increased so badly it was kind of unreal. I gave the card to my bff who finished playing while I recovered. All this is to say if two spies came to my house and asked to hide, I’d have probably slammed the door in their faces and called the police.

So I guess that’s why God chose a woman like Rahab for this particular mission and a woman like me to face down teens every day in the last place 85% of them want to be—a classroom.

That’s what I love about God and His plans for us. He uses each of us in unique ways as long as we are brave enough to say yes. No, I’m not a risk taker, at least not for the sake of taking risks, but it takes courage to do a lot of what I have said yes to in my life—and a lot of what I’ve said no to as well.

Rahab was brave. She made some mistakes, sure. We all do. But God is gracious, and he is good and if you have the kind of faith Rahab did, well you just might move some mountains too.

Some Backstory

Numbers 13: 26-31 and 14: 2-4 sets the scene for what happens later once Rahab enters the scene. Moses, Aaron and Miriam had just led the people out of Egypt and across the blazing hot desert to the foot of the Promised land. So, per God’s instruction, they send out 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel. Once they return, they all report some pretty awesome thing–great land, good fruit, truly the land flowing with milk and honey. But, there’s one tiny catch…the place is swarming with GIANTS, they are powerful and their cities are fortified and there is absolutely NO WAY we can defeat them. Thanks for nothing, leaders of God. 

The usual grumbling commences until Caleb speaks up. Hey ya’ll, we’ve got this. Caleb knows that it doesn’t matter how big and strong or how fortified the cities are, the Israelites have something the Canaanites don’t: God. 

Still, the grumbling. 

10 spies say “No, don’t go!” 2 say “Come on we got this!” but the people give into their fear and rebel. God is not happy and sends them back to wander in the desert for 40 years as punishment for their disobedience. 

So, when Rahab enters the narrative, the Israelites have just finished their 40-year wandering through the desert The last time they sent spies into Canaan it didn’t’ go so well. And the spies? Well, the 10 negative Nancies were struck down with the plague. 

Enter Rahab

The 2 who trusted God, they got to enter the Promised Land, though no one else did.  We start our story really in Joshua 2:1-3. Joshua was one of the original spies, one of only 2 individuals who survived the wandering in the desert to see the Promised Land because of his faithfulness (see Numbers 13:8, 16 and 14:38). This time, however I note two things about the spies.

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

1) Joshua sent them out in secret.

2) The number is significantly reduced.

I don’t know why there are only 2 spies sent out, but I get the feeling Joshua is trying to avoid a repeat of the previous generation. God has encouraged him to be strong and courageous, so Joshua does what he thinks is best for the group moving forward, with guidance from God. The spies go to Jericho and enter the house of Rahab the prostitute. We don’t know what they did before they entered her home, but I think it’s fair to say they did their job, spying on the place, but their low profile only got them so far…after all their entire nation is camped on Jericho’s doorstep, so two strangers coming into town and asking questions is going to raise a few red flags. Why Rahab? Well, clearly the encounter is ordained by God, but it was probably one of the few homes open to them as strangers. There is a certain amount of fear–their reputation precedes them across the desert lands–and a good portion of the people of Jericho would have swept their kids inside their homes and locked their doors as the spies made their way through town. As the fear spreads, so does the panic and word gets back to the palace where the king of Jericho doesn’t sit idly by, but sends soliders after them. 

So I imagine a “psssssst,” coming from Rahab’s home where she whisks the two brave, handsome men inside and straight up to a hiding place before going down to meet her next guests, the palace guards. 

Joshua 2:4-7 gives us an account of this encounter. Somehow or other it is known that the spies have visited Rahab; I don’t know why, maybe it’s marked on the tourist map that all visitors must have this experience—like Madame Tussauds the wax museum (of course Rahab was a whole different kind of Madame, but let’s not get into that at the moment). At any rate, in they go and everybody knows it. The soldiers arrive and demand to know where the spies are–after all everyone has seen her take them inside; I guess she’s not exactly discreet as the town whore. But Rahab flips her hair and maybe uses her feminine wiles and spins a tale that sends the soldiers after the spies who are hiding on her rooftop all the while. 

I think it’s important to know that Rahab is NOT an Isrealite. She is a Canaanite—and a prostitute at that. When the police come knocking on her door, she takes a great risk and LIES to them. This kind of lying/manipulation is not unheard of (see Exodus 1:17-19 and 2 Samuel 17:19), but it is a bit unusual given the circumstances. Not to mention murky morality. Despite the lies, God sees the woman’s heart and her compassion–and even more importantly her faith. 

Joshua 2:8-24 shows us just how smart this woman is. Okay, sure she’s identified with the epithet “the prostitute” but clearly that’s not all she is. I mean come on, she owned her own house, she had fields or at least the means to dry flax (a type of grain) on her roof, she had the ear and eyes (at minimum) of the king. She’s not your average lady of the night. And she’s smart—she thinks on her feet. Best of all, she knows how to choose the winning team.

She not only confirms that Jericho’s people are melting with fear, she puts her faith in the men and in their God to save her from the destruction that is sure to follow. She could have turned them over, but God has spoken to her heart and given her a reason to side with Him. And she does. 

In the end, both sides kept their bargains. In Joshua 6 we see how it all plays out. Rahab took a great risk, but then so did the spies. And God rewarded them both for their faith.

I can’t help but wonder how she convinced her family to come over for the ultimate sleepover in her home. Was she such a good businesswoman that they didn’t disown her because of her profession? Did she have to get into the profession for reasons that were really quite noble? Whatever the reasons, her family hovers around her day after day as the Isreali army marches around the city building tension, suspense and ultimately fear in their enemy until the walls come tumbling down. All the walls, tumbling around Rahab and their family…except their own. Faith over fear–a rescue worth remembering

Tumbling Walls

This encounter reminds me of an Elevation Worship song that I love called Do It Again. Take a look at the lyrics and video. In the case of Rahab, her walls literally came tumbling down. What separated her from God wasn’t just her sin, it was a whole culture. She saw an opportunity to escape and all she did was say please, God and he provided. That kind of faith is unbelievable and hard for me to truly understand having grown up in a Western, sheltered culture. Regardless, I have my own walls. Some I’ve built myself and some others erected. God is bigger than all the walls in my life and my faith is what keeps me safe and guarded when those walls tumble (not if, because all walls fall when and where God says). 

Because I’m a nerd I love the symbolism and numerology: scarlet cord, three days, seven times, direction vs. misdirection. Our lives are lived in patterns. So Rahab made her own mistakes. She chose a life for herself that was outside the moral standards of almost all cultures, which is why even in the New Testament, long after her transformation she is still labeled as “Rahab the prostitute”(see Hebrews 11:31). The epithet is misleading; Rahab’s sins were forgiven completely and she started over as a brand new woman right smack dab in the middle of the people of God. Sound familiar? We all have sins, regrets, and walls…. essentially, we all have pasts we carry, but the truth is we don’t have to carry them around with us if we just have faith enough to lay them down at the feet of Jesus–who will crush all of them!

It would have been easy for Rahab to feel like her life wasn’t what she planned and to just give up because God had failed her. But she didn’t. She asked God to rescue her and because he is faithful and true (even when we are not), He plucked her out of where her bad choices had landed her and straight into a new redeeming life. She married into the Israelite nation, and did you know her offspring would be a part of the lineage of Christ himself. 

Faith is risky. It requires that you step out of the known and rely on the unknown. That you relinquish control in your life to the One who made your life. James 2:26 says faith without works is dead. Notice that it does not say you can earn your way into heaven, but that your faith should manifest in action. Rahab’s faith was not dead. She didn’t just say she was going to do something, she did it, transforming her life from ‘the prostitute’ to ‘the faithful one of God’. And we can transform too.