Idols in the Wilderness
 
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I can’t stop thinking about the Israelites these days. The running from the Egyptians and the making of golden idols. Moses and Aaron and Joshua. The complaining and the manna and the Ark of the Covenant. The walking through the wilderness. The promise of a new land. 

We like to highlight the big moments—the burning bush and baby Moses in a basket. The plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. The water coming from the rock and the Ten Commandments. Moses and God talking to each other on a mountain. 

But I can’t get over how long they spent in the wilderness. How many days the Israelites spent set up at camp, waiting on God’s promises to be fulfilled. How many moments they must have thought, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” 

No matter how many times we’ve seen the miracles, the walking through the wilderness can leave us questioning everything, can’t it? There is a little seed of doubt that says, “Maybe God won’t show up this time,” so we quickly turn to anything and everything to fill our needs. In the toughest moments—when we should be falling on faith, we often end up acting out of fear.

 We take matters into our own hands, making ourselves into our own kind of savior. We keep ourselves busy, thinking we can distract ourselves long enough to ignore the tough terrain. We buy useless things. We comfort ourselves with food. We push ourselves with workouts and push away the people who care for us most. 

All we are really doing is building a golden calf and calling it god. 

 We can easily laugh at the building of a golden idol, but it quickly becomes convicting when the idols show up as family members or technology, meals or money, careers or clothes. None of these are inherently bad; they just make crappy gods. They aren’t worth our worship. They can never bring the satisfaction or joy or peace that our Savior provides. 

In both the good and bad seasons: if we aren’t turning to Jesus, we are turning to something else. And gosh, we don’t have to fight to turn toward worldly things; that current will sweep us up naturally if we aren’t constantly humbling ourselves at the feet of the King and saying, “God, I need you. Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling.” 

I don’t know where you are right now, whether you are walking through the wilderness or soaking up the sun in a land flowing with milk and honey. But here’s what I do know: none of us completely escape the hard stuff. All of us will walk through the wilderness at some point. We might even set up camp there for a while. 

So, if and when you find yourself feeling broken and full of despair, lean in close to Jesus. When everything in you wants to run away screaming about the unfairness of it all, open up His Word and start reading. Pray when you don’t feel like it. Press into community when you’d rather walk alone. This is the way we will make it through the wilderness. Maybe you don’t need these reminders, but I definitely do.

And when we look up from our own stumbling feet and notice that God is walking with us through the hard places, we can rejoice because God is doing a work in us; He is sanctifying our souls for our good and for His glory. 

This does not mean it will be easy, but the time spent in the wilderness will be worth it

 

A Note for the Runaways

When the woods grew darker

And the shame settled in

You looked down 

And started running

From grace, from God,

From hope

 

It seemed easier in the shadows at first

But then you looked up

You got a glimpse of the light

 

Because the really good news goes like this

 

No matter how far you travel

Or how much the darkness 

takes over the night

You are never alone

His grace is waiting right there

Ready to greet you 

Ready to welcome you home 

 

You might even learn 

It’s okay to run

As long as you’re heading in the right direction

And what you want

May not be what you need

 

I suppose that sometimes

You need to sit in the darkness

So you can be blinded the light.


 
Alex Fly
Oz & The Old Testament
 
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I am reading through the Old Testament right now. It’s a little like showing up in Oz, walking down the Yellow Brick Road and trying to find your way in a strange land. You see a lot of things that don’t make sense. You notice some odd characters. The lion and tin man and scarecrow show up as food falling from the sky and a talking donkey and a bunch of complaining people marching through a sea. But you keep walking along... because surely this all leads somewhere good? 

 …

The crossing of the Red Sea is a story we’ve probably all heard a time or two. The Israelites, led by Moses, have left Egypt and they’re headed toward the Promised Land. But then Pharaoh ups and takes his army after them, thinking the Israelites will be trapped in the wilderness and he will defeat them in no time.  

The Israelites panic, questioning God and Moses and their willingness to leave Egypt in the first place. (If you’ve read Exodus before, you know this happens a ridiculous number of times and grow frustrated with the Israelites before realizing you are just like them.)

And then something really crazy happens. God uses Moses to divide the water, and they walk THROUGH THE ACTUAL SEA on dry ground, chariots and all. When the Egyptians try to follow, it doesn’t work out so well for them. 

Here’s the thing: since we know the story pretty well, it often seems harder to meditate on the important events that are happening. But when we take the time to look closely and soak in the verses? Gosh, we might just see the Creator behind all of the curtains.

If you have a moment, take some time to read through Exodus 14 (I’ve also included it at the bottom of this post for you).

I know that was lengthy, but hang with me for a second for a few reflections from this passage:

1.    God is after His own glory. And His glory is what’s best. (v. 4, 18, 31)

At the end of the day, God is going to be glorified. There’s no doubt about it. And if we are wise, we will live out a constant desire to display the Lord’s magnificence. We will want His glory above our own, because His glory is what’s best for every single person on the planet. 

2.    No matter how many times we doubt, God remains faithful. (v. 10-12)

The Israelites feared for their lives, but God came through. How many other times do we see His faithfulness despite His people’s failures play out? Scripture is filled with this story. My life is filled with this story. Praise the Lord that His power is made perfect in our weaknesses.   

3.     It’s important to proclaim truth in tough situations. (v. 13-14) 

Even if it’s preaching to yourself. Even if you don’t feel like it. Show up for your people through prayer and encouraging verses. Show up for yourself by going back to the Truth in God’s Word, over and over again. 

4.     God will lead the way, but He also works behind the scenes. (v. 19)

I love that God led the way in a pillar of cloud, but the scary part is when He goes behind the Israelites, coming between them and the Egyptians. God often does His best work behind the scenes, which is honestly pretty frustrating. We want to see the whole plan, but a lot of life requires heaps of trust. A lot of life looks like wandering through the wilderness. We have to believe the Lord keeps His promises, even when we can’t see the Promised Land.

5.     The Lord shows mercy to His people(v. 26-31)

Let’s not miss this: God saves His people AGAIN despite their grumbling hearts and bad attitudes. And anytime we see redemption in the Bible? We know that we are being pointed toward the ultimate redemption: Jesus. The Lord continuously shows extravagant mercy to His people, y’all. What a beautiful and holy Gospel this is. 

 …

There’s one more verse I want to highlight here. Exodus 14:14 reads:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. 

Now, I don’t think this means to be passive or still in the literal sense (although sometimes we do need to slow down). But in this passage, the Israelites are about to march through the Red Sea and Moses needs them to get their butts in gear. When I read this verse a few weeks ago, I completely lost my cool. Because I read it as a command to surrender, to have faith in the God who is on our side, who is after our best and His glory. 

How many times do I try to do all the things? How many times do I try to take control of the situation or plan out every detail? How many times do I turn to anxiousness or fear when I should be turning to God? How many times do I respond to tough situations just like the Israelites?

The answer to all of the above: Too. many. times.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord of the Universe is fighting for us! Let’s loosen our grips on our own plans and the ways we think they should play out.

Let’s lay down all of the things we were never meant to carry and follow Him into the better Promised Land.



 

EXODUS 14 (NIV)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen[a] and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[b] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 
 
Alex Fly
A Teacher of Kindness
 
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She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. - Proverbs 31:26


Kaki was not one for dramatic gestures or spotlights, but her beautiful life was made up of a million tiny moments where she faithfully showed up to love others in humility and patience, teaching and listening with kindness and truth. 

She taught us how to garden and spell and speak Spanish. She passed on a love for literature and learning and telling stories. She and Bigdaddy took us on trips to Disney World, Mentone and Europe, and a thousand other places where our imaginations could go even when our feet couldn’t. But most of all, our Kaki showed us the love of Jesus through the way she lived her entire life.

She was never too busy or hurried for us-- but would sit for hours and listen to a little girl’s ramblings and jokes and songs. She listened when that same little girl felt too small and afraid to go to Sunday School by herself, so Kaki went to class with her that first Sunday and then every Sunday after that, never leaving her side to make her feel a little braver and a little less alone. 

All along, Kaki was giving us beautiful glimpses of our God, who never leaves us in our fear or doubting or rambling prayers, but remains the steadfast Immanuel, God with us. 

Because of this Christ-like love she gave us, we never had to doubt, not even for a moment, that we were so wonderfully cherished. We never had to doubt that we mattered to God and we mattered to her. 

Even in her last days, I am confident that she was still listening to us as we told stories and sang songs, as we tried to give back a small portion of all the things she gave to us simply by showing up, hoping to make her feel a little braver and a little less alone until she was safely in the arms of Jesus. 

We are going to miss our Kaki deeply, but we are also rejoicing in the God who fully heals and restores. What an honor it is to be her granddaughter and what a hope we have in Jesus that we will see her again.


In loving memory of Carolyn Reeser

 
Alex Fly
Our Questions & His Character
 
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I’ve been arguing with God lately. My prayers sound a little bit like some of David’s in the Psalms; I’m asking for answers and help and mercy. 

 

“What are you doing, God?"

"How are you going to use this mess? What do you want me to do here? When will this season of trials be over?”

 

I don’t have all of the answers yet. I’m still walking around in the piles of dirt, waiting for the harvest. 

My emotions are all over the place, y’all. I feel like a walking Taylor Swift album. 

And since I can be a little too introspective, I recently tried articulating all these feelings to my patient husband. To which he gave me some perspective and brought me down a notch, like husbands and good friends often do. He pointed me to Scripture and to God, toward light and hope and grace. These are the things that are worth our undivided attention. 

Here’s what I’m learning: How I feel about God right now doesn’t matter as much as the truth of who God is.  

Don’t get me wrong, I think feelings are important. The Lord has given some of us the tendencies of introspection and empathy (bless our hearts), and these are gifts that can be used for His glory. But sometimes I feel ALL THE THINGS and get caught up in the madness. 

I know this is entirely off-brand for this postmodern, everyone-gets-a-trophy world—but making decisions and shaping opinions supremely on how we feel is a destructive way to live.  We cannot rely on our emotions over the Word of God. So, while I’ll still be asking honest questions with a side of Davidic lamenting—these days, I am holding onto my Bible like a lifeline, like a healing balm for my heavy heart. These days, I am trying to focus on what I know to be true about God. 

...

Because the one true God is perfect and blameless and pure. He is the beginning and the end. He is a respite for the weary and healer for the hurting. He is the creator, author, redeemer, father, and friend. He hands out mercy and grace to a bunch of undeserving sinners like me. He is just and compassionate and forgiving and miraculous and worthy of all praise. 

He is faithful to the faithless and hope for the hopeless. He knows and sees everything. He is light and peace and righteousness, the unblemished lamb who paves the way and pays the price. He weeps for us and intercedes for us and fights for us. He is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The great high priest, the ruler, the king, the shepherd and servant and savior. He cares for every single one of us. He loves every single one of us. (This brings me to tears; I can't even deal.) He is everything that is good. He does not leave us in our doubting. And He does not alter His character, ever. He is who He is. 

This amazing God sent His one and only Son to take our rightful place on that awful, wonderful cross because of His overwhelming, can’t-measure-it-or-comprehend-it kind of love. Because of Jesus, we have a chance to be free from the chains that all of our mistakes placed on us. Because of Jesus, we can live in eternal and perfect bliss with our God. Because of Jesus, there is a bigger and better and holier picture. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound indeed.

Gosh, every time I lift up my eyes from my own self-centered world, I notice this hard-to-live-out truth: it is a far better thing to focus on Him. I don't know about you, but I need this reminder taped to my phone and dashboard and coffee maker: God has been faithful before; He will be faithful again. No matter the hurts we are experiencing. No matter the valleys we are walking through. No matter the demons we are facing. 

Praise the Lord that real faith is not circumstantial! Praise the Lord that His grace does not waiver and His character is not contingent on our behavior. 

...

If we do one single thing right today, may we allow this Gospel to shift our gaze heavenward.

Glory awaits.  

 


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NYC in Photos

On NYC: Uber drivers with colorful dreads and determined driving. Traffic in the misty rain with commuters blaring rap music. Swapping photos with kindred tourists. Coffee for warmth and energy while shouting, “No sleep. Till Brooklyn.” Hidden skyscrapers in the fog. Subway passengers dressed for Friday night in the city. More walking, always looking up.

On 9/11 Museum & Memorial: Waterfalls surrounded by the names of victims. Visitors’ notes scribbled on the wet plaques, like love notes left on shower glass or fogged up mirrors. Watching 9/11 unfold before us with a few thousand people in complete silence. News clips & paper headlines & timelines of events. Mementos found in rubble & never-heard cell phone messages. Burnt flags & dust-covered clothes. All of the photos—the passengers, the employees, the onlookers, the rescuers & the rescued; the hijackers, George Bush, Bin Laden. 
And all of us—walking through the exhibit, the remnants of tragedy, the graveyard of faces—lost in thoughts and prayers and questions and disgust. 
But still, I think it is good and important to remember.


Explored: Brooklyn Bridge & Park, Times Square, 9/11 Museum & Memorial, Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock, Broadway- Gershwin Theatre (Wicked), St. Patrick's Cathedral, City Sightseeing Tour- Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park

Ate: Hourglass Tavern (need reservations), Shake Shack, Cascabel Tacqueria, Melt Shop, 5 Napkin Burger, Schmackary's (cookies)


The Time I Almost Shoplifted
 
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Let's start with my excuses: It was a crazy day. We lived in Atlanta at the time and I was sleep-deprived and under-caffeinated, wearing yoga pants and a messy bun. I was carrying my black purse on my shoulder, tugging it constantly as it slid down my arm. I walked into the grocery store, grabbed a basket, and started gathering the items from my list.

I made the trip through the store pretty quickly, and all I had left to grab was a new toothbrush. I held my cell phone in one hand and grabbed the toothbrush with the other hand. Without thinking, I slipped the toothbrush into my purse instead of my basket.*

(*Yes, I realize this sounds like the guys discovered with drugs in their pockets, arguing to the police, “These ain’t my pants!”)

I made it down the rest of the aisle before I realized my mistake. I started sweating immediately, like I had already committed the crime, and yanked the toothbrush out of my purse and placed it firmly in my basket. I waved around my phone and placed it back in my purse, like I had meant to do originally. I shook my head enthusiastically and started laughing at myself, like some sort of loon—hoping that anyone who might have been watching on camera would realize that I am just an idiot and not a thief.

I was still shaking when I headed to check out, waiting for the manager to jump out at me and confront my negligence, but that never happened. No one even noticed. And that’s when I realized how easy it is to steal.

Thus began my life as a thief on the run.

 

Okay, that isn’t true. I would never have the nerve to take something without paying (example: nervous sweats when I almost accidentally stole), even if my beliefs lined up with the lifestyle.

While I watched the ignorant checkout lady ring up my $2 toothbrush, I sighed relief, like I had narrowly escaped a firing squad. On the drive home, I kept looking in my rearview mirror, still half-expecting to see those dreaded red and blue lights.

I thought about this experience the rest of the day. I thought about shoplifting and jail and toothbrushes, thieves and desperation and law-breaking. It would be a terrible way to live, constantly looking over your shoulder and buying time, worried you would be caught at any moment and the charade would be over.

...

Isn’t this how we sometimes act about God, too? We try to pretend we have it all together, but we know deep-down that we are a nothing short of a giant mess. The guilt starts to settle in and we wait for God to strike us down or punish us for our endless list of imperfections. We constantly look over our shoulders, wondering if we barely missed the lightning strike. We live timidly and afraid of this God we serve. We check the rearview mirror for those dreaded red and blue lights. 

But the beautiful truth is that we do not have to live this way. His mercy and grace on the cross changed everything for us. And if we believe this wonderful gospel story—I mean, really believe it and surrender to Him—then the grace of God follows us; His blood saves us from ourselves. We do not have to wait for the firing squad. Instead, we eagerly await the glory of heaven. This does not mean we succumb to our sins, but we seek for our lives to align with His holiness all the more. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:1-4

I cannot get over these truths. I keep trying to understand grace— like there’s a dictionary definition that will encompass its grandiosity. Like it’s a math equation we can solve or a puzzle piece that fits perfectly into place. But grace cannot be summed up so easily. I cannot muster up enough metaphors to describe its beauty. I am starting to think that grace can’t really be understood, only felt.

I feel grace at the oddest of moments, when I’m cooking dinner or driving down the interstate. I feel grace when I’m running errands or while I’m dog-earing pages of a good book. It seeps into my senses, smelling like lavender and glory all at once—bringing tears and smiles and gratitude.

I don’t know; maybe these moments aren’t odd places to feel grace. Maybe the routineness of it all is actually what makes grace stand out. Grace is the stream in the desert, the song with only the good notes. Grace is a sunset; we can see it a thousand times and still stop to admire its beauty. We did nothing to deserve it or earn it, nothing to be worthy of its experience. But there it is, day after day, in the tiniest and holiest of glimpses.

And I don’t have to understand it completely to stop and say to myself, “Wow. There it is: grace.”

So I may not fully comprehend this way of grace, but I am fully embracing it. The atonement and the blood and the cross, the breaking of chains and turning ashes into beauty and the freedom from the law—I am living in it, running to it, falling on my knees in gratitude for it. 

Because His grace is enough, every single time. 

 
 
 
Alex Fly