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rising smoke.

Let's go there. It's a brand new year after all.

A time when, even if for just a moment, we have expectations we wouldn't normally have. Hope seems to be at an all time high. There is an excitement bubbling inside at new possibilities resting on the horizon. And that is exactly what God has been speaking to me...go into this new year, EXPECTING. But the thing He's asked me to expect, might not be what you think. Maybe it'll even make a few of you squirm. But it makes me really excited!

Signs, wonders and miracles.

It was a normal kind of work day for me. Laptop on, sitting at the kitchen table, papers spread all around, photoshop open, in the middle of a big graphics project...and a completely blank screen staring at me. I was totally stuck and needed some big-time creative inspiration. So I sat back in my chair for a moment to begin praying for that inspiration. But everything that happened from that moment on was as far from normal as you can get.

As I sat back, I glanced down and what I saw was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. There was smoke rising up off of my chest. Yep, you read that right. Actual smoke. I'm not even kidding. Or being dramatic in a story telling kind of way. There was legitimate, actual smoke rising up off of my chest. It lasted less than a minute, and then it was gone, as quickly as it came. What on Earth just happened? I went back to over 10 years ago when I had my first vision and had some of the same thoughts and doubts. Was I seeing things? Was my imagination in overdrive? I was praying for creativity after all...I blinked over and over, making sure my eyes were clear...nope, no hazy film happening. I rubbed them with my fists, just to make sure. Totally clear vision. I looked around the room to see if there was any smoke filling the house - maybe something had caught on fire and I was totally unaware? I breathed in deep, trying to smell fire as I checked for any fire hazards in the house. Nothing. All was clear. The air was clear, my eyes were clear, nothing was on fire. But I knew without a doubt that something had just happened. And now I was left sitting in my chair wondering what it was that had just happened. There may not have been a physical fire in the house, but there certainly was now a fire lit inside my body and I had a lot of questions for God.

Physically, the short event took a toll on my body. I was hot, shaky and suddenly in what felt like a slight haze. Overwhelming is the best word I can think of to describe the experience, but it still really doesn't do it justice. I don't know about you, but I never once gave thought to the fact that one day a smoke like substance might rise up off my chest. It quite possibly was the furthest thing from my mind. Or that God might have given me some kind of sign in the middle of my house in the middle of a regular work day.

Totally unexpected. And I think that's exactly why God did it. To get my attention, because it was totally unexpected. And it certainly worked.

I began digging through scripture and researching, looking for any and all references to signs, smoke or something similar to the appearance of smoke. And suddenly, I knew I was directly in the middle of the message God had for me as I began reading Acts 2:19 - "I will show wonders in the Heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and vapor of smoke." It definitely was feeling to me like "vapor of smoke" fit what had just happened, but it wasn't until I glanced up a few verses that I began to realize what God was really showing me. Acts 2:17-18, one of my favorite passages, sits directly above that scripture, and I can say I never really paid attention to that fact until now. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy."

The Lord has allowed me to experience living out Acts 2:17-18 and suddenly I realized that He was now asking me to experience, see and expect signs and wonders, something I wasn't as familiar with. (Sign: defined as a mark by which persons or things are distinguished and made known. In scripture, a sign attested to the existence of super sensible and therefore divine power, such as the plagues of Egypt in the book of Exodus that God inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. Or the burning bush that Moses encountered.) As I dug further into scriptures, I began to see and understand why God was showing me all this. Exodus 13:21 says "The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left it's place in front of the people." The Lord knew the long trek through the desert wilderness would be exhausting for the Hebrews. He knew there would be fear and doubt. And so He gave them the pillar of cloud and of fire to assure them He was always with them. Some scholars suggest that the cloud shaded them from the intense sun and provided them with droplets of refreshing moisture. And when they were waiting to cross the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud moved behind the Israelites, blocking the Egyptian army from attacking, giving light to the Hebrews and setting the Egyptians in the middle of darkness. Whoa. So it wasn't smoke I saw. It was a cloud rising off of my chest. A pillar of cloud. The Lord going before me, guiding, comforting, protecting and providing...

I haven't always asked the Lord for a word for the New Year, and to be honest, I'm not so sure I really even asked this year. But He gave me one anyway, a few to be accurate. It's funny, it was actually a word He gave me for a friend, so I guess you could say it's a borrowed word. But it was important enough for me, that the Lord kept highlighting it over and over. And over. Does that ever happen to you? When you know the Lord is speaking to you and He shows you by constantly putting that word or thought in your head? Mine had to do with mountains. Everywhere I looked, I saw a mountain (in pictures, visions or survival movies...I live in Georgia after all!) Every scripture the Lord pointed me to - mountains.

Arise, your mountain is waiting.

Those were my words from the Lord. Simple, yet scary all at once. From Micah 4, the Mountain of the Lord - "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills;and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say:'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob,that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths'...Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion,”

And then it all came full circle and I realized what God was showing me, beginning that day with the pillar of cloud rising from my chest. The Lord is calling me to arise and go to my mountain. Where I sit now is not where the Lord is asking me to sit. And it's just a guess, but I feel pretty confident in saying that it's probably not going to be easy. Likely not as difficult as the journey the Israelites made through the wilderness. But for me, for this season, for this day and time, I know without a doubt that it might just be my wilderness journey. And I'm certainly going to need His guidance and protection. Allowing me to see the pillar of cloud that day, I believe, was the Lord's way of showing me that He promises to go before me - guiding, comforting, protecting and providing. A sign to me that He is with me, always. Even if the journey seems scary or uncomfortable, He will lead the charge. He is preparing me to thresh the mountain that stands before me. "Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff;" (Isaiah 41:15). When I don't feel equipped, or maybe don't want to move, He promises that He will "make of me a threshing sledge" and give me the tools I need to conquer my mountain.

In the story of Elijah and the drought, when the brook dried up, a similar word came to Elijah from the Lord...“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:9) Arise. There's that little word. And when Elijah listen and obeyed, not only did the provision come, but he ultimately ended up on a mountain right in the middle of a spectacular sign from the Lord..."Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:38-39)

The Lord invited Moses to the mountain. And he went. He invited Elijah. And he went. And they both experienced the glory of the Lord. I believe the Lord is inviting us in this new year, this new season, to go to our mountain. To spend time in the presence of the Lord, on the mountain to which He has invited us. It's waiting after all. Bill Johnson once said, "The church has camped around a sermon, Israel camped around the presence of God...the presence of God is the greatest gift we have." When the pillar of cloud covered the tent of the meeting, the Israelites encamped, when the cloud lifted, they moved, following the presence of the Lord. That's what I want - to camp around the presence of the Lord, to move when He says move and to trust Him in the journey.

It's time to arise...our mountain is waiting.“The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites..." (Deuteronomy 1:6-7) It's time to set out on the journey the Lord has called us to. And go in expectation to the place where I believe signs and wonders will be. A witness to God's word and power. And I'm believing, throughout the whole journey, that the Lord will be guiding the way. I'm going to follow my pillar of cloud. You in?

By the way, if you need a word for this year, you can borrow mine. It's been borrowed before and seems to be working out pretty well.

"What is needed is some mighty demonstration of the power of God, some enactment of the Almighty, that will compel people to pay attention, and to look, and to listen. . . . When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in fifty years." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)


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