The Shadow

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
[a]shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside [b]quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the [c]paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the [d]valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no [e]evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You [f]have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
[g]Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will [h]dwell in the house of the Lord [i]forever.

I’ll be honest: I was hoping to be out of the valley by now. For heavens sake, I’m IN the land God promised me and my family! Away from the bondage of Pharoah. Out of the dry, barren land of Egypt. *We left the circus. No more Sunday morning show. No more ring leaders juggling the praises of men and people pleasing. No more clowns performing for the crowd. The lions have been released from their cages and they are ROARING!!! (*a prophetic picture of the church in Egypt) We are IN green pastures. We are being pastored by shepherds after Gods own heart. No more manna. We’re eating delicious milk and honey. We are part of a family of believers who truly desire to “give God what He wants.” Worship is focused on THE Man; Jesus. Prayer is intercession: seeking Gods will and declaring it back to Him. Teaching is the Word of God. God’s will has become our reality.

My Spirit is jumping for JOY!!!

My soul, however….is not.

The shadow of death is longer and wider than I expected. There was so much loss and letting go in the wilderness. I assumed once I got out of the desert, it would all be over. But its not. I’m still grieving the death of my mother. I’m still grieving the death of our homeschool. I’m still grieving the death of our ministry. I’m still grieving the death of our home. I’m still grieving the death of relationships with family and friends.

Death is over, but the darkness surrounding it remains.

This is the shadow….

This is the shadow of the cross.

This is the shadow of resurrection.

And,

This is the way…

This is the way of the Good Shepherd.

This is the way for His sheep.

His sheep know His voice.

His sheep walk through the valley.

His sheep are not afraid of the shadow.

His sheep follow Him unto death.

His sheep receive His rod and staff.

His sheep lie down in green pastures.

His sheep drink from quiet waters.

His sheep are restored.

His sheep just want Him.

Into the Land

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

New Living Translation

10 The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build11 The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land12 be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.

Matthew 1:18-25

New King James Version

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit19 Then Joseph her husband, being [a]a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is [b]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name [c]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and [d]did not know her till she had brought forth her[e] firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

The Lord brought our family into the land almost 5 months ago. Possessing the promise has been an exciting, exhausting process. How best can I describe the pain of the previous season?

Pregnancy.

A reallllllly loooooooong pregnancy.

Imagine carrying such a burden- a baby, of the Spirit, for YEARS (did I mention it took YEARS? Yes, my friend: YEARS!) During pregnancy- natural or spiritual- every thought, every decision, every action is made in consideration of the one that depends on you; the carrier of life. A pregnant mother is literally subject to the demands of the seed that requires body & soul  to survive and thrive to maturity. The same is true of spiritual pregnancy. A person literally surrenders to the Spirit so that the seed can survive and thrive. Spiritual pregnancy follows the same painful process of natural pregnancy:

Conception.

Growth.

Contractions.

Labor.

Transition.

Delivery.

But, OH the joy when that precious little one is finally born! In the euphoria of the moment, a momma forgets all the pain of the previous season as she holds that newborn in her arms…all too quickly, however, the moment is over. More pain is coming:

Post-partum.  

Nursing.

Colic.

Vomiting.

Diarrhea.

Screaming.

Sleeplessness.

Welcome to motherhood! Congratulations for surviving pregnancy. Now you must persevere YEAR after YEAR in the process called maturing. Some say parenting is an 18-year commitment. I believe it’s a covenant between God and man for life.

And so, here I am. A new spiritual momma to a new spiritual baby that I love, but don’t yet know. In a new spiritual land, in a new spiritual family, in a new spiritual house. The pain of pregnancy, labor and delivery is behind me. The adventure of maturity lies ahead. But just for a moment, allow me to praise Him for all that He has done in the previous season….

Lord, thank You for,

Bringing me out Egypt, in the midst of famine.

Giving me Yourself and Your Spirit.

Baptizing me with Your fire and power.

Placing me in family, to grow and produce good fruit.

Teaching me to pray.

Rescuing me from captivity.

Helping me forgive those who’ve oppressed me.

Binding up my broken heart.

Delivering me from slavery.

Sustaining me in a dry and weary land.

Making a way through the desert.

Giving me manna from heaven, and water from a rock.

Discipling me.

Disciplining me.

Giving me Your Word, causing it to take root in my heart, and grow.

Prospering me in a city I did not build.

Stocking my house with goods I did not produce.

Supplying water from cisterns I did not dig and food from vineyards and trees I did not plant.

Help me never forget, Lord….

THIS is family.

John 19:25-27

New Living Translation

25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home

As my man and I traveled back from our first HOTFM home group meeting last week, we were discussing the difference between this community of believers and those we’ve been a part of for more than 2 decades. We had a hard time articulating what we felt. We couldn’t quite put it into words… it’s just… different.

The next day, with a BOLD cup of coffee in hand while watching the sun rise over our lanai, revelation hit:

THIS is family.

This is what Jesus died for!!!

This is not a corporation.

This is not an empire.

This is not a circus.

This is not a one man show.

We’re accustomed to the local church operating as a business with a CEO, CFO, Boards of Directors, etc. etc. etc. We’re used to performing our religious duties in order to be praised and promoted by men. We know how to work the system to receive affirmation and affection from big daddy- aka the senior pastor. We know the drudgery of making bricks without straw for Pharaoh. We know the bondage of Egypt.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not under any false illusion that the people of HOTFM are practically perfect in every way. No. They are maturing in Christ, just as we are. The difference is: what we previously experienced and what we’re currently experiencing is that this group of believers was birthed by the Spirit- not a business plan. Led by the Spirit, not the flesh, a church was constructed on THE cornerstone. Governed by the headship of Jesus Christ, a family of fathers were appointed- a plurality of elders, as written right there in black and white in the OLD and NEW Testament! (Plural, as in adding an “s” on the end. Meaning, more than one.) Fathers and mothers training & equipping ALL of God’s children. And ALL of God’s children doing their part in the family (ministry) without competition or comparison!

Welcomed as new members of Heart of the Father Ministry!

THIS is family.

THIS is what Jesus died for!!!

Sons and daughters that share the same Father.

Sons and daughters that share the same older brother.

Sons and daughters that share the same Spirit.

Sons and daughters that share the same blood.

Sons and daughters that share the same name.

I gotta tell ya. Getting here came at a cost. I spent 7 years groaning, weeping, and laboring. I spent 7 years asking, seeking, knocking for the door to be opened. I spent 7 years feeling rejected, betrayed and abandoned by those I love.

THIS is what I died for.

THIS is His Kingdom come.

THIS is His will being done.

THIS is on earth as it is in heaven.

My friend,

Have you found your family? It’s time. It’s time to come home to the Father. It’s time to know the Son as Savior AND Lord. It’s time to overflow with His Spirit. It’s time to celebrate with brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time to share everything you have with a community of Spirit filled believers. THIS is family. THIS is eternal and abundant life.

Rivers in Dry Land

Isaiah 43:18-20

18 “But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
20 The wild animals in the fields will thank me,
    the jackals and owls, too,
    for giving them water in the desert.
Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland
    so my chosen people can be refreshed.

We entered into the land God promised a little over a month ago. Naïvely, I expected to immediately declare “it is well with my soul!”  

I didn’t. 

Expectations are a finicky thing, aren’t they? They’re often prone to fail us when we create them in a mind that is still in the process of being renewed….

The Lord took me back to Isaiah 43 in the secret place this morning. It’s a familiar passage for me personally, and I’ve referenced it frequently in ministry to others. Today, I continued reading through Isaiah 44. You know how when the Holy Spirit BREATHES on His Word, you get that punch in the gut, that slap in the face, that AHA moment?! Yep. That happened. There it was, written in black and white, from ages past: the blessing of the Lord over me and my family. My mother received and prophesied this Word over me, literally on her death bed 4 months ago. She had an encounter with the Lord through a dream while my husband and I were shopping for houses in FL. (You can read about it here: https://deepintothewater.com/2021/04/19/go-on-to-glory/) I’m so grateful that God sent His message through her. It encouraged my soul, and it is a moment with my mom that I will cherish until my address changes to heaven too. 

As the revelation of Isaiah 44 hit my heart, clarity of Isaiah 43 came. My perspective immediately shifted. For so long, I was focused- fixated rather- on the dry wasteland I was living in. I was constantly frustrated in Egypt (believe me, I REPEATEDLY let God know allll about it!) 

I prayed for deliverance. Instead, He gave me dreams.

I prayed for rain. Instead, He gave me a plow.

I prayed for repentance and restoration in His body. Instead, He gave me the gift of prophesy to encourage His people.

I prayed for rivers. Instead, He gave me a well of living water. 

But the past is in the past, right? I’m no longer in Egypt. I’m IN the promised land, so I shouldbe shouting from the rooftops, “IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL,” right? Why look back? Just look forward, right? Wrong. By looking back, I see how the Lord delivered me from Pharaoh’s hand. I see that I am no longer in bondage to the empire he is building. I see that I am no longer a slave to the drudgery and demanding work he requires. I see that I have been set free from the oppression of Egypt. I see that I’ve walked THROUGH the wilderness. Yes! Amen!!! Praise and honor to the Lord for all that He has done. And all that He is still doing. Allow me to explain….

As I wrestled against dark principalities and powers in Egypt, real people spoke real words of false accusation against me. I was betrayed by those closest to me. I was rejected by my own people. As a result, the dry and weary land I inhabited began to invade my heart. My soul became a lonely, barren wasteland. Unaware of the cost of following the Spirit into the wilderness, I continued to pour my life out in intercession. I wept for those living under the oppression of Pharaoh. I preached the good news to them. I encouraged them to trust in the Lord. I pleaded with them to cry out to Him for deliverance. I wanted so desperately for them to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, as I had. I longed for them to encounter the Messiah at Jacob’s well as I had. Even to this very day, my heart breaksfor them. I wish I could relieve their suffering, but… I am not their Savior. I am merely a soldier in the Lord’s army. I follow commands, I don’t give them. I know this, but sometimes I fail to do this. Occasionally, in my effort to “help” people, I inadvertently start swinging the sword of the Spirit in my own strength; tearing down instead of building up. I continually need to be reminded that the battle is the Lords- not mine. I am simply His servant, His slave, His soldier. A soldier that needs time to rest, recover, and receive. 

How beautiful that He confirmed His Word through the elders and leaders of our new spiritual family (https://hotfm.org)shortly after we arrived. They knew by the Spirit that we were planted in infertile ground in the previous season, but that the Lord transplanted us into a rich land flowing with milk and honey, where we will flourish. They knew that we had suffered from the laborious work of plowing hard soil. But now, that assignment is over. It is finished. The sowing in complete. It’s a new season. It’s time to harvest, to heal, to build up, to laugh, to dance, to gather stones, to turn away, to quit searching, to throw away, to mend, to speak, to hate, and to have peace!

I fought the good fight of faith in Egypt (because God SENT ME to Egypt, just like He SENT ME to The Promised Land). But now, He’s doing something new. Do you see it? He’s creating rivers in my soul. Hallelujah!!!

Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

Valley of the Shadow

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
[a]shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside 
[b]still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the 
[c]paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the [d]valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no 
[e]evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You 
[f]have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
[g]Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will 
[h]dwell in the house of the Lord [i]forever.

Growing up in the Presbyterian and Methodist church, I learned the 23rdPsalm by merely repeating it over and over again during Sunday Services. Everyone knows the passage – even unbelievers can recite it from memory at funerals. We did so at my mother’s Celebration of Life last month. I know the words, but His Spirit is making the Word known to me in the valley of the shadow of death. 

It seems as if everything in my life is dying. I am surrounded by:

The death of my mother.

The death of our church community.

The death of our ministry. 

The death of relationships with family and friends.

The death of our home in North Carolina.

The death of unmet expectations as offers are rejected on homes we’ve bid on in Florida.

In the valley, there are shadows of death. In the shadows, we are surrounded by darkness. In the darkness, our vision is limited. And what we cannot see, we will fear. 

I’ve discovered that when I react to fear, I will either dismiss or deny pain. If I choose to dismiss the pain of death, I will rationalize my feelings by comparing myself to others, thus determining that I shouldn’t be depressed, angry, or disappointed. In that headspace, I belittle my suffering when stacking it against those that, from my perspective, are enduring greater hardships. If I chose to deny the pain of death by pretending it’s not happening, I will suppress my feelings, or try to avoid them altogether. The strain of carrying such a heavy burden will inevitably lead to a collapse- physically or emotionally.

With each passing day, I realize more and more that I cannot go through this valley alone. God has been faithful. He has never left me. He will not forsake me. He is with me, walking me through it. Although there are times I want to, I know that If I try to run, I’ll miss the green pastures and still waters. So, He is making melie down in the grass to receive rest and rejuvenation. He is leading me to stillness; to drink, so that I may be refreshed and restored. 

My friend, I was made- YOU were made for intimacy with the Lord. But let’s be honest. In our busy, distracted, self-important lives, we rarely take the time to pursue Him. Heck, we barely devote any time to genuinely pursuing righteous relationship with others! But isn’t it interesting? When someone dies, our calendar miraculously clears. We’ll take the time to be with friends and family in their grief. We’ll spend the money on airfare. We’ll rent a car. We’ll book a hotel. We’ll take a meal. We’ll sit and talk and laugh and weep with those who weep. Death causes us to see, if only for a moment- the reality of life. It’s in the shadow of death that we ponder- and perhaps ask the hard questions. It’s in the shadow that our ego is revealed. It’s in the shadow that He uses the rod and staff to discipline us. It’s in the shadow that we feel the loving sting of His correction. It’s in the shadow that we feel His comfort and care for us. It’s in the shadow that the things of this world grow strangely dim. It’s in the shadow that we are redeemed. It’s in the shadow that we are restored. It’s in the shadow that we see the Shepherd. It’s in the shadow that we realize that we, like sheep, have all gone astray. It’s in the shadow that we are prepared to face our enemies. It’s in the shadow that we are anointed with the oil of joy. It’s in the shadow that we learn how to dwell in the Father’s house- forever, and ever. 

Amen.