Week 15: God, Our Great Reward

Monday: Genesis 15

Tuesday: Matthew 15

Wednesday: Nehemiah 5

Thursday: Acts 15

Friday: Genesis 15, Matthew 15, Nehemiah 5, Acts 15

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 15: 

Once we begin to see this chapter in light of what it is, it becomes one of the most beautiful foreshadowings of the coming of Christ in all of Scripture. This “cutting of the covenant” was common in Abram’s time. Both parties involved in the covenant had to walk down the middle of the offerings to seal the promise. Then, if one party broke the promise, he would willingly be put to death. 

But look again. God is both the flaming torch and the smoking pot. Only God cuts the covenant, and only God will pay the price. It is we who will break it, our sin ultimately causing Him death. He will fulfill His promises to us, and when we break our end of the bargain, when we cannot keep the law, He will take the punishment.

Take some time now to be utterly astonished by His mercy, God who takes our punishment for us, God who fulfills His promises in Jesus!

The grace of God in Jesus is so utterly unlike anything that this world would call “fair.” Next time you think that life feels “unfair,” I challenge you to reread this passage and remember that instead of death, a death we fully deserved, we have eternal life because of Jesus who took our punishment for us!

Tuesday, Matthew 15: 

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” – the words of Luke 6:45 and a cute little Seeds Family Worship song that my kids used to sing. It is playing in my head now. I don’t know about you, but words can be a real struggle for me. I love words, and yet, they’ve been the greatest source of pain I’ve caused others. James says the tongue is a fire, “a world of evil,” and it certainly can be. Jesus confirms this with His statement to His disciples – “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.”

Have you ever been like the pharisees, honoring God with your mouth while your heart is far from Him? How can we keep this from being the case?

Is there a certain area of your speech that you need to work on, that you need the Spirit’s help with? Maybe you need to do a better job not participating in gossip, maybe you need to use a softer voice with a child instead of raising it, maybe you need to begin to speak words of praise instead of criticism (these all come to mind because they are things that I have had to spend seasons of my own life practicing).

Set a goal for your “tongue” in the coming season, and spend some time in prayer asking the Spirit to help you.

Wednesday, Nehemiah 5: 

Nehemiah uses his powerful voice of influence to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves. This is something that we as believers are called to as well – to speak up for those whose voices are not being heard and to cry out for justice for the oppressed and abused. Clearly, Nehemiah is a man of righteousness and justice. We, too, are called to follow his example.

Are there people in your life or in your area who are being oppressed, abused, or somehow stripped of their God-given humanity? What would it look like to speak up for these people?

Has God given you a position, a platform, a unique voice where you, too, can cry out for justice on behalf of someone else?

Thursday, Acts 15: 

Sometimes we add our own rules to “believe with your heart and confess with your mouth.” But just as Peter reminds us here, God sees the heart. It isn’t just about what we do or don’t do, but Who we put our trust and hope in. We should never “make it difficult” for someone to come to Jesus because we have put our own stipulations on the Gospel. Any fruit in our lives, any following of the law, flows simply out of our love for Christ and desire to please Him.

The church in Antioch rejoiced because of the encouragement of Paul and Barnabus. Who can you encourage in the Lord today?

Who needs to hear the message that we do not need to look a certain way to be loved by Jesus?

Friday Reflections

Do not be afraid. 

It is the most often repeated command in all of Scripture. God must have known how easily, how quickly, fear and anxiety slip into our hearts, how readily our minds begin to spiral into worry, and before we know it, we are in a deep abyss of “what ifs” and “what abouts.” I am often surprised in my own life just how frequently I have to learn, again, to not be afraid, and just how quickly, just when I think I’ve got it mastered now, I forget.

This promise in Genesis 15 comes to Abram right after he has given up his right to the riches he plundered from the four Eastern kings while saving Lot. In a very briefly recorded encounter, Abram rejects the use of power and wealth to achieve God’s purpose. When Abram one day receives an inheritance, promised to him by God, he wants God alone to receive all the glory. Abram will rely solely on God to give him the land that He has promised and to make him into a great nation. 

I have a lot to learn here. So often, when I don’t understand what God is doing, or when I feel like He is taking too long to come through on His promises, my temptation is to take things into my own hands. To look for sufficiency and a solution elsewhere. But not Abram. He’s far from home, he’s getting old, he still has no children, but He trusts fully in the promise of God.

And in reply to this faith, this clear show of trust, God says to Abram, “do not be afraid. I am your reward.”

Not your land.

Not your financial security.

Not your job, not your wife, not your family.

I am your shield. I will protect you.

I am your great reward. I will be all you need.

No amount of riches, no amount of land, even no number of descendants could be a better reward than God Himself. In your own life, in mine, no amount of success, no amount of financial security, no amount of happiness can rival the reward that is found in relationship with and dependence on our Almighty Father. God Himself is what we are seeking. God Himself is what we are longing for. God Himself is what we need above all else.

He may still give the other things, sure. I look around my own life and it is abundantly clear – God has given me good things. He still eventually gives Abraham a son in his old age and the land of Canaan to his descendants. He rescues Abraham’s people out of slavery in Egypt and, so much later, out of slavery from sin when He sends His Son to die for our ransom. But among all these blessings, all that God gives, the very greatest reward He gives to Abraham, and to you and to me, is Himself. God gives us more of Himself. 

It has been many years here since God asked Abram to leave his home in Ur, where He first promised Abram that He would make him a great nation. Abram is still waiting on God to fulfil this promise that he will one day have a child. And in so many ways, we are in the same boat. It has been a great many years since God promised, through Jesus, that He was preparing a place for us to live eternally in Heaven. Oh, how I long for the fulfillment of that promise. The world is broken and seems to get darker by the day. Hatred, disease, and destruction often seem to lurk around every corner and fill so many headlines. I long for the promised day when Jesus will restore us to Himself and wipe away every tear from every eye.

And yet, in Abram’s waiting and in our own, this is God’s promise: He will be our shield. Our exceedingly great reward. No matter how long we wait. No matter what comes. No matter what sorrow or loss or heartache this world throws at us. God will still be God and He will still be good, and He is enough for us. Life with Him now, here, and life with Him eternal is our greatest hope, our greatest reward.

What are you looking to for comfort and protection?

What would it look like to long for God’s presence and nearness above all other tangible rewards that the world offers?

How can we practice appreciating His presence as our great reward in our everyday lives?

Week 14: God in the Middle

Monday: Genesis 14

Tuesday: Matthew 14

Wednesday: Nehemiah 4

Thursday: Acts 14

Friday: Genesis 14, Matthew 14, Nehemiah 4, Acts 14

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 14: 

            War breaks out and Lot is kidnapped along with his family and all of his possessions, but Abram is quick to come to his rescue. Melchizedek’s blessing attributes Abram’s success and victory not to Abram himself but to the power of God. When the king of Sodom offers Abram great wealth (“Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”), Abram’s answer makes it clear that he is relying completely on God to gain possession of Canaan and to provide for his every need.

            Because Abram completely trusts God who has promised to make him a great nation and give him a great name, he has no need for the riches or bribes of the king of Sodom. 

Though we know and believe in the promises of God, sometimes we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. Is there an area of life where you need your trust in the Lord to be restored?

How can you take a step of faith, like Abram, forsaking the “blessing” of the world and trusting instead in the blessing of God?

Melchizedek can clearly see that Abram’s success is a result of God’s blessing. Is this true in our own lives? How are we giving the glory for our own victories to the Father?

Tuesday, Matthew 14: 

            I have been staring at the screen for a long time now – this chapter has too much goodness to even pick a few small points to write about! But one of my favorite attributes of Jesus, so evident here, is how He takes our meager offerings and makes them into something. He takes a few loaves and fish and creates an abundance, He takes Peters fickle, faltering faith and causes the disciples to worship. And He takes our weak and timid “yes” to Him and creates a life of beauty.

            Another thing that always strikes me about these verses is that Jesus must have known there wouldn’t be much food when He kept the crowd out all day. And surely, He knew that it was going to storm when He sent His disciples on ahead of Him in the boat. I have to believe that He already had in mind what He was going to do. What looks like disaster to the disciples is really just another opportunity for Jesus to show them His faithfulness and power. And what looks most disastrous to us is often another opportunity to trust Him more, to wait and watch for His glory, to reach again for His hand.

Are you in need of God’s provision today? 

Are you facing a “storm” of your own?

Rest in knowing that Jesus already has in mind what He is going to do.

Is there a step of faith that you need to take? Something He’s been nudging you toward but fear has you paralyzed?

God creates beauty out of lives offered fully to Him. Hear the words of Jesus, dear one: “Do not be afraid.”

Wednesday, Nehemiah 4:

            The Israelites are mocked, jeered, ridiculed, persecuted. And yet they don’t pout, they pray. They pray and they continue the work that God has given them to do. “Remember the Lord,” Nehemiah instructs the people, “who is great and awesome.” This is no easy thing. Criticism and ridicule turns us inward and can discourage us from continuing in what the Lord has instructed us. But here, and other places in Scripture we are assured that God will fight for us.

Are you facing opposition in the work God has called you too?

If so, I am so sorry. I have been there.

Let’s spend some time today crying out to the Lord, laying our burdens before Him. It is truly only His approval that matters. Carry on. Do the work that He has called you to. He will strengthen and equip you, and He is well-pleased!

Thursday, Acts 14: 

            Just like others we’ve read about this week, Paul and Barnabas face unthinkable persecution and troubles. And yet, Loving God gives them what they need to persevere. Being misunderstood can feel like one of the greatest “persecutions.” When we are trying to love, trying to bring good, and yet it is misunderstood or misinterpreted, this can be lonely and painful. Let’s take courage from the example of Paul and Barnabas today:

  • They continued sharing the Gospel.
  • They testify of the kindness and goodness of God.
  • They sought out other disciples for mutual encouragement.

Friday Reflections

That season of doubt and darkness I told you about a few weeks ago? Yea, it was a long one.

I wrote, “Lord you are trustworthy” in big sharpie letters on a sticky-note that I stuck on my mirror. In a time when my heart wasn’t really believing it, I needed to read it, to say it aloud to myself in the morning, to let it roll around in my brain while I brushed my teeth at night. I would say it, to myself, and to Him throughout the day, knowing that it was true but willing myself to believe it.

Sometimes, it is hard to see the faithfulness of the Lord in the middle. 

I so often see His sovereignty when I look back – there is no denying all that He has done in and for me, for my family. I so often can fully hope in the trustworthiness of the Lord as I look ahead – so much that He could do, might do, might allow us to participate in. But there in the middle of the hard seasons, the dark seasons, it is easy to forget what He has done before, and it is hard to imagine what He might one day do.

This is why we have His Word. 

It is no exaggeration to say my heart needs His Word just as my body needs bread and water. He uses His Word to remind us of who He has been and who He will be, so that we can know who He is now, even when we can’t quite see what He is up to.

He is our trustworthy God right here in the messy middle. He is trustworthy as Abram waits on Him to fulfill the promise that he will one day inherit the land where he stands (this takes 450 years, by the way). He is trustworthy as Nehemiah and his community members face opposition in the task He has called them to. He is trustworthy in the midst of the devastation of John the Baptist’s death, He is trustworthy when all we have is five loaves and two fish – to take our meager offering and make it enough.

He is trustworthy in the middle of the storm, in the middle of our fears, to reach out and grab our hands.

He was trustworthy when anxiety that kept me up all night through that terrible season threatened to choke the life out of me, when doctors couldn’t give us the answers we needed, when I thought for a moment that maybe we had lost her. He was trustworthy even as we cried out to Him and our prayers seemed to go unanswered, at least for a season. He is trustworthy now, as you face whatever challenges this day holds, as the world seems to spin out of control, a little more uncertain each day.

And if for one moment you think that He isn’t, let these Scriptures speak to your heart again.

Eventually another sticky-note made it up on the mirror (I have a thing for sticky-notes) quoting Lamentations 3:21-24:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love for us, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! Therefore I will say to myself, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for Him.”

In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah calls to mind his hope in the Lord in the middle of His lament. His circumstances have not changed. Jerusalem lies in ruins, God’s people have still turned from Him and Jeremiah is still suffering immensely. Nothing at all has changed in Jeremiah’s situation except the posture of his heart. Just earlier in the same passage, he writes, “I am a man who has seen affliction… (God) has made me walk in darkness… and left me without help. I remember my affliction, wandering and bitterness… YET.”

Yet. He remembers who God is. Like Peter, he reaches out to the Lord.

YET. This is our word for the middle season. This is our word for the season when we are waiting on His promises, when we face opposition, when we don’t have enough, when we are afraid. This is our word for the middle of the trials, the middle of our ministry, the middle of our family crisis, the middle of our mundane day-to-day routine, the middle of a global pandemic – Yet, we remember our trustworthy God and we can hope. Yet, we turn to His Word and we see His faithfulness. And always, He is not done, not yet.

It has been said that God is too good to be unkind and too wise to be mistaken. And when you cannot trace His hand, you can trust His heart.

Friends, this might all look like a bit of a mess, yet we can trust His heart.

Are you in a “middle” season?

What parts of life aren’t going as planned?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself like Peter, reaching out for His hand. He is near. He is faithful. We have hope.

Jeremiah changes his heart posture to worship God long before his circumstances change. Can you worship God today even in the middle?

Week 13: God Who Calls Us to His Work

Monday: Genesis 13

Tuesday: Matthew 13

Wednesday: Nehemiah 3

Thursday: Acts 13

Friday: Genesis 13, Matthew 13, Nehemiah 3, Acts 13

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 13:  

After his time in Egypt, Abram comes back to the place the Lord brought him at first, and receives again the promise God had given him at first. Again, God confirms His plan to make Abram a great nation and give him a great land. It will be many years before Abram sees even hints of the fulfillment of God’s promises, but God is gracious to continue to remind him. The faithfulness of God never fails.

Are there promises of God that you struggle to believe or that seem “slow”? Maybe joy seems elusive or things don’t actually seem to be “working for good.” Maybe the struggles of the day-to-day have caused you to lose sight of the promise of eternity?

Take some time to meditate on this promise today from 2 Peter 3: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness, but He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.”

Tuesday, Matthew 13:

To you it has been given to know the secrets of Heaven…” 

How gracious of Jesus to reveal the Kingdom to us! He offers so many parables, stories of things that would have been so relatable to the crowd He was speaking to: regular, everyday examples to illustrate His Kingdom. It is clear that His heart is for us to understand. And yet, so often we are slow to comprehend, or slow to really put into practice the things The Lord has revealed to us.

I ask myself as I read, have I let the seed of His Word in my life grow deep roots or am I letting the trials of life sweep me into despair, letting the cares and struggles of the world choke out my joy? Do I treasure God’s promise of Heaven enough to give it my all, just as the man who buys the field or the merchant who discovers the pearl?

Which of these parables carries the most meaning for you today? Is there one in particular that is speaking to your heart?

How can you live, today, as if you truly believe these words of Jesus?

Is Heaven your greatest treasure? Are you willing to give anything for the Savior who has promised you eternity with Him?

If you have not yet put your full hope in Jesus, if you have not yet believed that the promise of the Kingdom is for you, what is stopping you? I so wish I could sit you down over a cup of coffee, reach out and grab your hand and assure you: this promise is true. Can you reach out to someone today who can answer your questions and share more about our Savior, Jesus?

Wednesday, Nehemiah 3:

            And next to him.

What simple, powerful words, repeated over and over in this chapter as God’s people rebuild the wall. Side by side, they work. Side by side, they build, side by side, they will see God’s purpose accomplished.

This chapter might be one of my favorite pictures of teamwork and community in the whole Bible. Each person faithfully doing the work assigned to him, their small contribution becoming part of the larger whole. We were never meant to do this alone.

Is there something you are trying to tackle alone right now?

How could you reach out and ask a trusted friend or neighbor for help?

Who is working “next” to you? How could you encourage them today?

Thursday, Acts 13: 

Here we see in all its fulfillment the promise God made to Abram in our reading on Monday. His faithfulness to always do what He says He will do is overwhelming. The language in this chapter is full of God’s trustworthiness: “they asked for a king, and God gave them [a king]” (v. 21), “God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised.” (v.23), “to us has been sent the message of salvation!” (v. 26).

We bring to you the good news that what God has promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled…”

And as the promises of God are shared and go forth, many rejoice and believe! There is nothing better than the sweet, sweet promise of salvation in Jesus!

Is there someone in your life who does not know these promises of God, or who may need reminding of them?

Reread this passage and be inspired by Paul’s courage and beautiful words to share the Gospel with someone who needs it today.

Friday Reflections:

  It is pretty hard for me to finish a book (though I start many) and it is rare that I remember much of what I read a few weeks or months later. Years ago, though, while caring for a terminally ill friend in our guest room and lamenting that ministry felt “small” inside the four walls of my home, I read this quote in the book Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine:

“God has given you a handful of people to love. To enter this way of love for a neighbor is to do a great thing that glorifies God.

God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. This means that to dwell knowledgeably and hospitably toward the place God gives you, is to glorify Him. 

God will give you a few things that He intends for you to do in your inhabited place and with those people. To do what God gives you to do is to strengthen the common good and to glorify Him.”

  It isn’t Scripture. But it is the only thing other than Scripture that I have ever accidentally memorized, and it is written all over the third chapter of Nehemiah and the missionary journeys of Paul and his companions.

  My study Bible interrupts Nehemiah 3 with a diagram of the wall in Jerusalem some time in the 400s BC. Included is a detailed drawing of the wall that Nehemiah and his community set out to build. This was certainly an extensive project, and yet we see how the people conquered it: one brick at a time. In some places, the wall needed only to be repaired, and in some places it needed to be rebuilt all together. Some places needed a solid wall and others needed a gate, still others a tower. Groups of workers were identified by their families and sometimes by where they lived.

  They built near their homes, across from their homes, next to each other. And as they each focused on their own small piece, something extraordinary began to happen – the small bricks became this massive wall.

  As we read, we watch each believer or group of believers build their section and dedicate it to the Lord. It reminds me of the body of Christ, the co-laborers He has given me in my own life: co-workers, neighbors, children, friends. We don’t have to do this thing alone, we don’t have to build the wall ourselves. We faithfully do our little bit, we put our hands to the specific work He has given us, and we dedicate it to Him.

And together, we build His Kingdom.

I can picture them all, working next to each other, side by side, covered in the sweat and the dust of the day. Sons and daughters, carpenters and farmers, rulers and priests, none unimportant in the work, and none overlooked by God. Not looking to the right or the left, not jealous of some else’s portion or task, cheering each other on, building it together. This work is not easy, but it is important. This is the work that God has given them to do.

  Imagine for a moment if we lived like this: each putting our hands to the specific work God has given us to do, not envious of our neighbor’s portion or assignment, not longing for something more glamorous, but intent on making our specific work for the Gospel strong and beautiful. Imagine Nehemiah and the rest of the community stepping back together at the end, looking at the finished wall, knowing that their hard work on something small was in fact part of something big. Now imagine us, standing with Jesus, looking at the finished work, His Kingdom, and knowing that He allowed us to play a small part in making it happen. What a glorious day it will be!

Do parts of your “work” or life feel small today? The small things that God has given you to do and the few people He has given you to love are building something much bigger – His Kingdom!

Sometimes the very best way to love our neighbor is to be “next to” them. To simply let them know that they are not in it alone. Who in your life needs to hear this today?

Week 12: God Who Gives Faith in Place of Fear

Monday: Genesis 12

Tuesday: Matthew 12

Wednesday: Nehemiah 2

Thursday: Acts 12

Friday: Genesis 12, Matthew 12, Nehemiah 2, Acts 12

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 12: 

            It can be so hard when God asks us to go. Maybe it is to physically go somewhere, but often it is just to go in obedience, into the world with His love and His word. It’s likely that Abram lived in the same place for his first 75 years of life. He was comfortable, familiar, and prosperous – and then God asks him to go from his people and his household to the unknown. Abram’s obedience here, and in several future instances, never fails to amaze me. And with God’s instruction to go comes a blessing. Always, his intention is to bless His people.

Do you feel God’s nudge to “go” or take a next step in this season or in a certain area? It could be an actual decision or move you need to make, but it could be a gentle nudging to get involved in something outside your comfort zone or befriend an unlikely neighbor.

Even when we cannot see it right away, there is always blessing in obedience (Abraham’s blessings come many years later!) You can trust Him as He nudges you away from comfortable and familiar into something new.

Tuesday, Matthew 12:

            There is a profound truth here, revealed by Jesus, that God’s law is compassionate, intended to serve God’s people, rather than God’s people being servants of the law. Even His command to keep the Sabbath is relational; He does not simply call us to forego entertainment or duty, but to experience a nearness with Him that comes from time in His presence, a deep rest in Him in the midst of our duties. I see myself in the pharisees sometimes, snapping at a child to be quiet in church (as if silence is the goal instead of their connection with God’s word), frustrated when I don’t get to “rest” as I please because my two-year-old would rather play legos, correcting behavior in those around me instead of compassionately modeling the way for change.

            Jesus shows us the better way. The way of compassion, the way of love. He is our Sabbath rest, our full contentment. 

Are there areas of your life where you are holding the law up higher than the compassion of Christ (a million of my own parenting examples come to mind)?

Ask God for discernment in how to let His laws and commandments be a vessel of His compassion in your life.

Wednesday, Nehemiah 2:

  Though Nehemiah is afraid to share his grief with the king, God not only helps him overcome his fear, but uses the king to provide for his needs. Nehemiah’s requests are bold – letters for recommendation and provision, army, and calvary for safety. Nehemiah credits the hand of God for the provision he receives from the king.

Is there a fear you need help overcoming? Spend some time in prayer about it today.

Is there an area of your life where you have received lavish provision? Spend some time praising God for His gracious hand!

Thursday, Acts 12:

            I cannot imagine being Peter here – his friends have been persecuted and even killed, and now he, too, sits in prison. But as the believers pray earnestly for him, an angel appears and miraculously releases him from prison! Can you imagine Rhoda’s joy when she heard his voice – so excited that she did not even open the door? When we mourn, weep and pray for others in trial and distress, we also get to rejoice with them in hope!

Is someone you know suffering right now? Spend some time earnestly praying for them! Not only will your own faith grow, but you will get to rejoice with them when your prayers are answered!

Reach out to the person you prayed for to let them know you are with them in their trials and suffering.

Friday Reflections:

  About a year ago, I thought God might be prompting us to move to the United States. After much prayer, advice from trusted friends and mentors, and some pretty clear direction from God, we felt peace in our decision to stay here in Uganda, and I cannot even describe to you the relief that washed over me.

            While I had truly desired to obey if God was, in fact, moving us toward life and ministry in a different country, I was nothing less than terrified at the idea. Some days, I would sit and let my thoughts spiral with all the unknowns – home, jobs, schools, churches, community. Before I knew it, I would be crying about our move, grieving the friends I was leaving behind, all before we had even made any type of decision yet! I’d be sitting there on my bedroom floor arguing with God about why I couldn’t do it, and then it would occur to me that we weren’t even really sure yet if He was asking us to.

            I’d talk myself down (usually with significant help from my husband), but it was a really clear picture in my own life of how quickly our fears and our thought life can get the best of us. 

            Fear is sneaky. 

            There are all these logical reasons that I shouldn’t be worried, even if we were planning to move to another country, namely – I’ve done this before. God has sustained me in this before. I know who God is, and I know how He has provided for us in every possible scenario, some much more challenging than an international move. But getting this knowledge from my head to my heart was still such a challenge as I woke up in the middle of the night frantically scrolling through Zillow and googling “most diverse schools in ____”.

            Abram seems fearless when God asks this exact thing of him – leave your people, your community, your home and go somewhere new. But as Abram makes his way down to Egypt, the thoughts start to spiral: They’ll see my wife. They’ll want her. They’ll kill me. Long before there is any real, physical threat, Abram has made up his mind what he has to do about it – lie.

            And in my own thought life, sometimes long before there is any real, physical threat (and is any physical threat really a threat when my eternity is secure in Christ?), I have made up my mind what I have to do about it – panic. Abram’s lies, and my own worries, imply one thing: that we believe God might not be able to protect us. God might not be able to help us. God might not be in control, not this time. The same man who just received a specific promise from God to make him into a great nation is suddenly afraid for his life. And I myself, all the promises of God before and behind me, proven true again and again let that anxiety sneak in: what if He doesn’t take care of us this time?

            The good news for me, for you, is that God keeps His promises to Abram, even in the midst of Abram’s less than exemplary choices. God doesn’t let Abram’s fear thwart His ultimate plan, and He won’t let our fear hinder His good plans for us, either. God didn’t let Nehemiah’s fear stand in the way of His provision to build the wall. God didn’t let Peter’s doubt or worry keep Him in the prison. God didn’t let Israel’s unrepentance keep them from witnessing the resurrection of the Messiah.

            His promises are good and true, even when we are having a hard time getting them from our heads to our hearts.

            Abraham will become a great nation.

            Nehemiah will build the wall.

            Peter’s chains will be broken.

And you will make the right choice. You will do the right thing. You will be ok.

Because God’s promises to us will remain true and He will replace all our fears with more faith if we ask Him to.

Are you struggling in fear with anything specific right now?

Think of times in the past when God has protected you or provided for you. How can this give you confidence that this too will be ok?

Spend some time in prayer today, reminding yourself of God’s promises and laying your fears down before Him.

Week 11: Merciful God

Monday: Genesis 11

Tuesday: Matthew 11

Wednesday: Nehemiah 1

Thursday: Acts 11

Friday: Genesis 11, Matthew 11, Nehemiah 1, Acts 11

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 11: 

            Self-reliance can be utterly dangerous. We see the pride of the people of the earth in Genesis with their common language, and their tall tower, seeking to make a name for themselves above all else. And how often do I feel that I can “do it myself” instead of relying on God and His strength?

            As I read this, I see that God scatters the people and confuses their language, not out of malice, but mercy. Because often it is only when we are at the end of ourselves and our self-sufficiency, when we are confused and “scattered” and downright weary, that we draw near to God and fully rely on Him.

Is there an area of your life where you are relying fully on yourself and your own strength? Sometimes our strength is just pride in disguise. 

How can you invite the Lord into this part of your life and rely more fully on Him?

Is there an area of your life that feels particularly confused or “scattered”? How might this trial be inviting you to press in and rely more fully on the Lord?

Tuesday, Matthew 11:

            Even John – John the Baptist! –  can begin to doubt, can let confusion creep in. Certainly, imprisonment and persecution might not have aligned with the blessing he may have believed the Messiah would bring for those who repented and turned to Him. And yet, even after his questions and doubt, Jesus affirms John’s place as a prophet, the foretold Elijah who would prepare the way. Our doubts and struggles do not scare God away. Even when we stumble, nothing can thwart God’s good plans and purposes to use our lives for His glory. God reveals Himself to those who come to Him as children – dependent, reliant, trusting, seeking, asking. Even in our doubts and our questions, we can find rest in our loving Father.

Do you have doubts or lingering questions about who God is or how He loves you? You can be honest about those things before Him – He doesn’t love you any less.

Find a friend or mentor who you can confide in, sharing your doubts and questions. Doubt often loses its power when we speak it out loud to a reassuring friend.

What is a way that you can rest in Him today?

Wednesday, Nehemiah 1:

            God kept a remnant of His people in Ezra, but they are still “without a wall,” without protection from their enemies and a shelter of peace. Like Ezra, Nehemiah turns to the Lord in His grief, turns to the Lord with his questions. He remembers who God is – great and awesome God, God who keeps His promises, God who loves His people. Yes, we sin, but we return. We return to the goodness of God who loves us, and He gathers us into His loving arms.

            I love the model of Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1. Let’s take some time to pray like this today:

  • Glorify God for who you know Him to be – the great and awesome God! God who keeps His promises of love!
  • Confess your sins
  • Pray for loved ones who have sinned or may be walking in sin
  • Remind God (which is often just reminding ourselves!) of His promises and ask for His favor

Thursday, Acts 11: 

            Peter is criticized for sharing the Gospel with those others deem “unworthy.” But Peter remains sure of his story – of what God showed him and instructed him to do. So often in my own life, I let other people’s opinions and criticism get to me. I second-guess myself and sometimes even what God is doing in my life when the voices of disapproval get loud. As Peter stands firm and tells the story of what He saw the Lord do, those criticizing Him are persuaded of the grace and goodness of the Lord. 

Are there areas of your life where you have let the criticism of others overshadow your desire to do what God has put on your heart, or to diminish His work in your life?

How can you look to Him for approval, instead of relying on the praise or endorsement of others?

*This is different than asking a few trusted friends or mentors to look into your life and decisions and give advice – definitely do this! But don’t let broad criticism (or even just the fear of it) from people who don’t know you well cause you to question yourself or God’s plans for your life.

Are there people you have unknowingly or unintentionally deemed “unworthy” of the Gospel message simply because you have never thought to share it with them?

Friday reflections:

“Remember, Katie, that nothing can actually alter the plans that God has for your life. This isn’t coming as a surprise to Him.”

            I let these words from a dear friend sink in slowly. A family emergency had left me reeling, uncertain, heartbroken. Far worse than suffering of our own is the suffering of those dearest to us. Especially when there is no possible way to help or fix it. It is often the suffering of loved ones that leads me to throwing my biggest questions at God, and, honestly, feeling most abandoned by Him.

            “How could you let this happen?” was my late-night cry. I had wrestled the whole year to surrender my plans to the Lord, and now I felt duped, forsaken. But you didn’t protect us, I couldn’t choke out the audible words, but the thought swirled. Maybe I know somewhere deep in my heart that this isn’t true, or maybe I just know that you aren’t supposed to say things like this to God. Regardless, the words ran through my head even if they weren’t coming out of my mouth.

            As dear friends showed up with cinnamon rolls and supper and prayers, I wept. And while many friends just listened, nodded along and cried with me, one spoke this gentle but profound truth, one that I would cling to for months and keep coming back to over and over again; that while this suffering may alter my own imagined plans for our lives, no emergency, no surprise, can ultimately alter the plans of God who holds our world in His hands. We were surprised by this turn of events, yes, but He was not. For our Sovereign Father, this wasn’t altering the plan, this was part of the plan.

            And that is a big, hard concept to wrap your head around when the plan looks like a giant ugly mess, something that you never would have chosen in a million years. And yet, at the same time that I kind of hated this truth, I found great comfort in it.

            As I sat late into the night reliving our catastrophe over and over again, I began to see how God’s fingerprints were all over it. No, He didn’t stop it from happening and, no, He didn’t provide the instant, miraculous answers we were begging for. But there was also no way to deny that He was there, constant, working out little details on our behalf, putting the right people in the right places at the right times, gently guiding us not out of, but through, our darkest times. I saw that while our plans had changed, His plan to be with us was still completely intact, even in the unexpected.

            Our valley was not a surprise to our gracious Father. This situation would not “alter” our lives because it was in fact the very life He had laid out for us all along. He knew these days would come, and He purposed to walk them with me, with all of us, and to use them. And we know that He doesn’t waste our pain.

            It was His mercy, His plan, to scatter His people in Genesis. John’s time in prison would help him know and love Jesus all the more. Nehemiah’s grief for the people of Israel would lead him to build the wall with all the more determination. And the criticism of Peter would lead to the spread of the Gospel. I wonder if they saw His mercy at the time, or if it is only this evident looking back at the story as an outsider.

            Years later, slowly, we have overcome this trial and many more. Each of us has emerged different from our grief, not unscarred, but stronger somehow. To be really honest, I am not yet in a place where I could say, “I would do that all again, because of what God taught me, because of His nearness.” It’s still a bit too painful, and I think that is ok. I do believe that in eternity one day, we will understand the things that just didn’t make sense this side of Heaven. Today, His mercies are new, and that is enough.

            When we are looking at our own plans that have turned into a bit of a mess, when our worlds are rocked with tragedy or suffering, we can rest in knowing that our Loving Father’s plans haven’t changed. In fact, His plan all along is to shepherd us through our hurt and our sorrows, to be near to us, and to grow us in dependence on Him. It is mercy, not cruelty, that has allowed it to unfold like this. It is intention, not happenstance, that has brought us here. He is here with us, and He is not surprised.

What things in your life right now are altering your plans? Can you believe that they might in fact be part of God’s plan for you?

Even in the midst of the unexpected, can you name places that you see God at work, or where you recognize his nearness?

In what ways has God used other unexpected suffering or changed plans to bring about your good or His glory? Take comfort in knowing that He intends to do it again!

Week 10: God Who Gives Us Each Other

Monday: Genesis 10

Tuesday: Matthew 10

Wednesday: Ezra 10

Thursday: Acts 10

Friday: Genesis 10, Matthew 10, Ezra 10, Acts 10

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 10: 

In my NIV bible, the title of this chapter of Genesis is “The table of Nations.” I realize after reading that the author probably is using “table” to mean a graph or a chart, but before even reading the passage a beautiful image filled my mind: A table of the Nations, a table filled with many people of many ethnicities and backgrounds and languages, feasting, laughing, and enjoying the blessing of God and each other. 

In this chapter, the writer of Genesis gives an account of how Noah’s descendants spread out, multiply, and fill the earth. Though they all originate from one family, these individuals have different skill sets – they are warriors, they are farmers, they are hunters and gatherers, they are builders. They each have their own territories and languages. They will become friends, and they will become enemies. And yet, all who put their trust in the Lord will one day gather again around a table, regardless of differences or family lines, regardless of occupations or alliances. Once again, they, we, will be one family.

God created us to exist in community, even with people who are much different from ourselves. It’s incredible to think that we came from one family, and in Jesus, we are one family again.

How can you set a wider table this week? Who can you include that you normally might not? Who is in need of community that you can reach out to?

Tuesday, Matthew 10: 

Jesus’s instruction to His disciples here is clear: Go out with my good news. Heal the sick and raise the dead. Give freely. Take nothing with you. Rely fully on me. The instructions are simple, but the task itself is extraordinary. I wonder if I would have gone.

Jesus doesn’t make it sound easy either; He warns the disciples of immense suffering and persecution ahead, and yet instructs them not to worry. He will provide for their every physical need through the people they encounter, and He will provide even the words that they need to speak through the power of His Spirit.

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.

  Sometimes, obedience is simple, but it isn’t easy. Jesus doesn’t promise us easy, but He does promise to provide for our every need and bring us into His kingdom.

Is there something you feel the Spirit asking or prompting you to do today, or in the upcoming season? It could be a really big decision where you feel Him nudging you in the direction that is less safe, less appealing, less enjoyable? Or it could be obedience that is a lot more simple, but not easy – loving someone who is hard to love, proclaiming His Good News to an unbelieving friend or neighbor, or being diligent in something you have already committed to Him.

Spend some time thinking about obedience to God in your own life. In areas where it feels difficult ask God to give you the trust and faith to believe that He will supply your every need.

When push comes to shove, will we choose Jesus above all? Will we prioritize Him over all relationships, all situations, all ease, comfort, and safety?

Wednesday, Ezra 10: 

            What a glorious picture of a community that not only builds together, but now weeps and repents of their sin together! It is appropriate to be this broken over our sin, but usually when I am, the next thing I want to do is run and hide.

 “If other people knew just how bad it was,” I tell myself, “they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” 

We see the opposite here in the people of Israel, who weep over their sin and openly confess their unfaithfulness to one another. Together, they promise to turn from their sin and walk in a new way, with their community to hold them accountable. All sin, big or small, is unfaithfulness to our faithful Father. I am asking myself today if I feel this kind of brokenness – “they wept bitterly” – over my own sin?

Often, we think of sin as private. But we read many times throughout Scripture that we are to confess our sins to one another. Who are a few people in your life that you can confess your sins to, knowing that they will still love you and hold you accountable?

Rejoice, beloved! You are forgiven in Jesus and have the opportunity to turn from sin, separating yourself from the world, and walking in a new way with the Holy Spirit!

Thursday, Acts 10:

            As we have been going through this study together, it stands out to me how many times God sends one specific person with a specific message to another individual. He is such a personal God! God sees Cornelius and loves him enough to put it on Peter’s heart to go and explain the Gospel of salvation.  Sometimes, God answers our questions and counsels us through His Holy Spirit inside us. But often, He uses other believers to answer us, instruct us, advise us, and encourage us.

Do you have a message for someone today? Who can you encourage in Gospel truth?

Do you need advice, instruction, or encouragement? Reach out to another believer whom you trust and seek wisdom.

Friday Reflections:

I love that Jesus chose just a handful of men to be his Apostles. To really do all of life with Him and know Him intimately. He had many other followers, yes, even many other friends. But these twelve were His up-close-and-personal people, the ones who would know Him best so that they could take His story to the rest of the world.

They were a pretty unlikely crew, when you think about it. They came from vastly different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. They ranged from dirt poor fishermen to a tax collector who was likely wealthy, and hated for it. You had Peter, the boisterous and outspoken fighter, ready for Jesus to begin His revolt against the Romans. You had intellectual Matthew, gentle John, and skeptical Thomas who would later be dubbed “doubting.”

These men didn’t just get to listen to Jesus’s teachings – they were in the thick of it with Him. There is no doubt they would have been highly criticized for leaving their lives and professions to go after Him, and even more so to continue following Him after He was accused of heresy by the religious leaders.

They rejoiced together at miracles, they wept together at the death of their friend Lazarus. They repented together and they prayed together. Together, they weathered the storm. And then, they went out. With nothing, and with almost nothing in common, except the most important thing – they had been with Jesus.

Throughout all of Scripture, and even in my own life, this is what God does – He makes the unlikely His disciples, He makes strangers into friends and friends into family. He gives us each other. To repent together, to weep together, to rejoice together, to weather the storm together, to pray together.

But, also, so that we can be sent out, so that we can share our stories and His story and call others into this community we have found with each other and with Him. We may be unlikely, but we have the best thing in common – we have known Jesus.


My fondest memories center around community – extended family packed into my aunt and uncle’s small Chicago kitchen with music, dancing and laughter filling the room. Teenagers gathered around my parent’s kitchen island eating junk food and laughing far into the night. People from all over the globe, some permanently here and some just passing through, piled on my couch to study the Word after we have put our kids to bed, exhausted from long days, but more in need of each other than sleep. All of our big kids home from college (you read that right!) playing cards and eating popcorn until I basically fall asleep at the dining room table. 

We are designed for this.

And I cannot read these Scriptures or recall these memories without imagining that Heaven must be a little like this – people from all different backgrounds and life experiences and statuses and cultures; Jew and Gentile, male and female, all ages, all skin colors, all languages gathered around the throne to worship the one who sustained us all the way – Jesus. Can you see it?

Once we have known a glimpse of community on earth, and once we have imagined the glorious community of Heaven, how can we not call others to come in?

Spend some time thinking of your current community and thanking God for your people today.

Now, imagine Heaven. The Wedding Supper, all of us gathered around Jesus in worship. Who do you want there with you?

Is there an unlikely friend or community member that you can draw into your circle this week?

Is there a person you’d like to share the Gospel with that is outside your comfort zone?
With your picture of Heaven in mind, with the love of Jesus equipping you, reach out. Do not be afraid.

Week 9: God Who Forgives Our Sins

Monday: Genesis 9

Tuesday: Matthew 9

Wednesday: Ezra 9

Thursday: Acts 9

Friday: Genesis 9, Matthew 9, Ezra 9, Acts 9

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 9: 

This story, a new beginning for mankind, is strikingly similar to the story of Adam and Even in creation. Loving God looks on Noah with favor and makes a covenant with him, a covenant to never destroy His people this way again, and for a few moments or maybe a few days or months, all is beautiful. The rainbow fills the sky and Noah plants a vineyard, a sign of new life and a fresh start after the flood. But sin and temptation still remain, the intent of man’s heart still evil. Again, sin leads to shame in the family of Noah. And yet, God still walks faithfully with Noah for several 350 more years, steadfast even when we are not, faithful even when we are not.

Take a few minutes to repent of any recent sin in your life. God does forgive you, in His Son Jesus.

Ask for His help to turn from sin and walk more faithfully with Him.

Tuesday, Matthew 9: 

Almost the exact opposite of Noah who found favor with God, today we meet Matthew, the worst of the worst. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been hated by his own people, considered a traitor for working for the Roman occupiers of Palestine. If you are trying to hang with the popular crowd, Matthew is not a guy you pick to be on your team. And yet, he responds immediately to Jesus’s call, ready and willing to give up his lucrative position and follow.

And that’s the thing about Jesus’s team – a gaggle of tax collectors and sinners, unlikely outcasts and poor fishermen. They aren’t good enough; they are willing to follow.

Time and time again, Jesus stops for the outcast. He calls the unworthy. He wants the sinner to come to Him. It isn’t our perfection that He is after, it’s our obedience.

I fall into the trap of trying to be “good enough.” I strive to do better, be more, and am bitterly disappointed in myself when I fail. Have you felt this? Is there something you are striving after today?

Yes, we are called to grow in Christ-likeness. But we will not be perfect. Praise Jesus that He has come, not for the perfect or healthy, but for the sick!

So much more than your perfection, Jesus wants your obedience and willingness to come to Him, to seek Him and to follow Him. Rest in this truth today.

Wednesday, Ezra 9: 

Ezra is burdened by the sin of his people, whom he loves dearly and has fought and prayed for. His response to sin is appropriate – he is broken and sorrowful, appalled at the disobedience of his people to God’s commands.

Even as His people turn away, bringing upon themselves great consequence, God has extended His steadfast love and mercy. Even after they forsake His commandments time and again, God punishes them “less than they deserved.”

As I think of the people of Israel returning to the sin that had brough them into captivity in the first place, Paul’s words in Romans come to mind. “What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I think we can all relate to this. And yet, we see my Ezra’s example that repetitive and habitual sin is meant to be devastating to us when we witness it in our own lives and in the lives of others.

Are you stuck in a pattern of sin? Is there a habitual sin in your life that you need deliverance from? By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are not stuck. Our God does not give us what we deserve (certain death!) 

Repent of these sins and ask the Holy Spirit to help you turn and walk in a new way.

I am moved by Ezra’s sadness over the sin of the remnant of Israel even though he has not committed these sins himself. Spend some time in prayer today for people you know who are not walking with Jesus or who are stuck in a habitual sin pattern. Could you reach out to them and share with them about Our God who is just, but also kind and merciful?

Thursday, Acts 9:

Sometimes I look at the life of Paul and wonder how guilt doesn’t just eat him alive. In his own words he is the “worst of sinners.” Sometimes I feel that I am, too. I am tempted to think that Saul should have been embarrassed to stand and teach about Jesus, given his reputation. And yet, his encounter with Jesus overshadows all feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

It can be tempting to think that because of our past, we cannot be an example for Christ. But in fact, the opposite is true! Our past sin can be a testimony of His goodness and forgiveness in our lives. We are not disqualified, not even me, the worst of sinners!

Saul’s life is a great reminder to us that we are never “too far gone” for Jesus – and neither is anyone else. Saul is on his way to murder Christians when Jesus meets him! Jesus knows Saul’s name and sees his sinful heart and chooses him anyway to testify of His great love.

Speak of the Lord boldly today! Remember His redemption in your own life and praise Him that He keeps no record of wrongs.

Is there anyone in your life who you have categorized as “too far gone” for redemption? Spend some time in prayer for them today.

Friday Reflections:

I’ve always loved the story of the paralyzed man that we read about this week. We read the same story in Luke 5:17-26 in much greater detail, and it isn’t the man who grabs my attention, but his friends. I am amazed as I picture the story of the lengths they are willing to go to in order to get their friend in front of Jesus. They are desperate. The house Jesus is teaching in is so packed that the crowd spills out the door. Luke says, “when they couldn’t find a way because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him through the tiles… right in front of Jesus.”

Right in front of Jesus. They just know that when Jesus sees their friend He will heal him. I think of how cumbersome it must have been, carrying a man with no control of his own limbs on a mat, hoisting him up on the roof, pulling away the tiles to get him to the Savior. They must have been certain that Jesus would perform a miracle. And He does… but not at first.

First, He looks the paralyzed man in the eye. He sees this man in his weakness and sickness and He looks on him lovingly and says words that only Jesus can ever say to us. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus calls this man friend. And Jesus forgives all his sin.

And even if that was the end of the story, the plight of this man’s friends would have been worth it. They may not have realized it right away, but what their friend received in that moment was far better than working limbs. He received eternity.

It might be easy to read this section of Matthew and stand in awe of the miraculous physical healing that fills this chapter – the paralyzed man, the bleeding woman, the dead little girl, the blind, the mute, and the demon possessed. Witnessing even just one of these events would blow me away. Or it might be easy to read this section of Scripture and silently wonder why Jesus seemingly provided so much immediate healing during His time here on earth when our prayers don’t always seem to be answered so quickly. But there is another miracle in this story, one that is far greater than physical healing or the end of suffering here on earth. And I don’t want to forget to be utterly amazed by it every day: Jesus calls us friend. Jesus forgives all our sin.

Because of Jesus, we are friends of God and we are fully and forever forgiven for all our ugly past and all of the mistakes we will make in the future and all the ways we will flail and fail and falter.

Yes, it is amazing that He calls the man to get up and walk. It is amazing that He stops the bleeding of the woman sick for over a decade and that He raises up the dead little girl and gives sight to the blind men and words to the mute. But these signs, while remarkable, would be temporary. All of these people would one day get sick again, one day die. The most lasting, eternal miracle of all was that Jesus forgave their sins.

I’ve prayed for miracles. Sometimes, I have been given miracles. And sometimes, I haven’t; my friends and family members have still died, they have remained sick, they have continued to struggle with pain and heartache. But I know this astounding truth – that no matter what we face here on earth, be it the shame of Noah or the confusion of the Israelites, the sorrow of Ezra or the illness of the people we encounter in Matthew, even if our past is as scarlet as Saul’s – our friend Jesus has the power to forgive all our sins and to bring us into eternity with Him.

What are you asking of the Lord today, in this season? Maybe you feel as desperate as the friends carrying the man on the mat, pulling tiles off the roof in the beating sun, just to get your request to Jesus’s feet. Take some time to write your desperate prayers out to Jesus.

He may answer your prayers in the way that you are asking. And He might have something different in store. Can you rejoice today in knowing that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, calls you friend?

Can you rejoice in knowing and believing that your sins are forgiven, and thus, your eternity is secure no matter what hardship this life brings?

Week 8: God Who Remembers Me

Monday: Genesis 8

Tuesday: Matthew 8

Wednesday: Ezra 8

Thursday: Acts 8

Friday: Genesis 8, Matthew 8, Ezra 8, Acts 8

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 8: That first line – “God remembered Noah.” He remembers us! He sees us, He knows us. No storm, no flood will last forever, but even in the midst of the struggle we are not forgotten by God. I think of how patiently Noah waited – years of building the ark, months of rain, months of waiting on the earth to dry up. Did he ever wonder if the rain might never stop? Did he ever question if God would truly bring him safely to the end of the flood? God does! He dries up the earth and He calls them out! Noah praises the Lord for His faithfulness and God’s love and mercy is clear.

Think of a “storm” you have endured in your life and praise God for the ways He remembered you and brought you through it.

Now look at a storm you are currently facing or may face in the near future. You are never forgotten by God! Can you praise Him, even now, knowing that He will bring you safely through?

Tuesday, Matthew 8: Jesus is willing to heal us. Willing to heal the leper, willing to go with the centurion, willing to restore the demon possessed man, willing to heal Peter’s mother and all who are brought to Him, willing to save the disciples from the storm.

I can fall into the trap of feeling like Jesus is unwilling to give me what I want, even unwilling to answer me, but this passage clearly shows us that this is not true of His character. In areas of our lives where the Lord seems unwilling, I believe instead He is giving us something better, teaching us something, and drawing us to Himself. When He withholds the things we want, it is not due to an unwillingness, but rather for a better purpose!

Is there anything you are asking God for that He seems “unwilling” to give? Knowing that is not true, what could He instead be trying to teach you?

Wednesday, Ezra 8: I love reading through these lists of names and being reminded that God sees, knows, remembers and protects each of these people individually. I love the example here as the people humble themselves before the Lord, not looking to soldiers or the king to protect them, but asking that the hand of God Himself would be their protection. Good, faithful and merciful God guides and guards them on their journey and delivers them to safety. The people of Israel are remembered by Almighty God!

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Is this something you are currently feeling? Take a moment to meditate on these truths:

  • Deuteronomy 31:6 – Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who does with you. He will never leave or forsake you.
  • Psalm 55:22 – Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.
  • Romans 8:28 – And We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
  • Psalm 73:23 & 26 – Yet, I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand… My flesh and my heart may fail bit God is the strength of my heart and my protion forever.

Thursday, Acts 8: I love the way Phillip hears from the Lord, and I love that God is so intentional to give Phillip instructions regarding just one man. It is so important to God that this Ethiopian man hears the true Gospel that He gives Phillip very specific instructions to get them together. I think there are two very important truths in this passage that we can apply to ourselves. 

First of all, we can hear from God, through the Holy Spirit living inside us, when we take the time to listen. He gave Phillip very specific instructions to lead him to the Ethiopian man, and Phillip was quick to obey.

I also think of the lengths God went to in order to get to this one man. Our loving Fathers cares so intentionally and so personally for each of His children. You are included in that. I pray that causes you to feel seen, known and cherished today.

Take some time to just be quiet today. Stop scrolling, set down your phone, quiet your heart. Listen for the still small voice of God telling you that He loves you.

Is there a decision that you need to make, or something that you need to do? You can hear from God. Ask God how you can love Him today, how you can love your children or your neighbor or your co-worker today, how you can share His Gospel today. Allow the Spirit to speak from within you, and don’t discredit what comes to mind. He will lead you to the next right thing.

Friday Reflections: 

When we are very familiar with the stories in the Bible, it is easy to skim over them without fully imagining the details. But as I take time to read this week and try to see these stories with fresh eyes, I am astounded by just how difficult the situations we are reading about must have been. Let’s take a minute and imagine ourselves in each of the passages we are reading.

It is almost laughable to imagine being Noah or a member of his family in the ark packed with all those animals. But there are realities in this story that the children’s editions skip over. Besides the few family members that you are with, everyone else is gone. Any other relatives or friends these people had have died in the flood. They have watched the earth be utterly destroyed, or, worse, if they couldn’t see out, they have only heard the rain beating against the ark, the waves slamming against it’s sides. 150 days is a long time to be alone with your thoughts, in the dark, in the rain. I can hardly conceive the relief they all must have felt when Noah removed the covering of the ark and laid eyes on dry ground. They have a long way to go, a whole life to rebuild on this destroyed and desolate earth, but for the moment, one feeling prevails: He remembered us.

And they offer their praise and worship to the Lord.

Now imagine being a first century Christian in Acts, in the months and years after Jesus died. First, they killed our Lord and Savior. Now, they have violently killed our bold and gentle friend Steven. If we keep sharing the Gospel, keep living as Christians, it is likely that they will kill us, too. Our friends are scattered and it is nearly impossible to know if they are safe from the persecution or not. Saul is brutally destroying the church, everything we have worked for. This Gospel, this love, it is costly, it is uncomfortable, and it requires tremendous amounts of courage. And yet, God remembers us. Miracles are still happening and the Gospel is spreading. The things the enemy intends to use to destroy – even death! – God is using to spread the Gospel to the nations. 

Picture being the Ethiopian eunuch alone on the desert road, desiring to understand the Scripture but still utterly confused. And God sends Phillip to him to tell him the good news about Jesus. After Phillip disappears, the desert road is still long and life as a eunuch would have still been immeasurably challenging, but as he goes on his way he rejoices at this one thought: God remembers me.

As you read through the Scriptures today, I invite you to imagine yourself as a Levite in the book of Ezra, making the long, dangerous journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Imagine yourself as the leper, cast our from society and scorned by all, as the centurion desperate to help his suffering servant, as the disciples terrified to be drowned in the storm. Imagine their thrill, their surprise, their delight that God sees and remembers them, delivers them to safety and heals them or their loved ones.

It is hard for me to imagine living in any one of these scenarios, as I feel like the weight of it all – the fear, the uncertainly, the worry, the devastation – would take me under. But if I could see the bigger picture, the way I see it now, thousands of years later reading about the events, I would clearly see that God is using all of these difficult situations to write His story of redemption. When He feels far away, when we feel long forgotten or overlooked, we serve a God who will never leave or forsake us, and we rejoice in this promise: God remembers me.

The difficulties you are passing through today may never be recorded on pages for people to read about in thousands of years, but that doesn’t change the fact that God is using them to write a bigger story, a story of redemption and love, a story in which He remembers you, His beloved child.

Week 7: God Who Keeps Us Safe in the Storm

Monday: Genesis 7

Tuesday: Matthew 7

Wednesday: Ezra 7

Thursday: Acts 7

Friday: Genesis 7, Matthew 7, Ezra 7, Acts 7

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 7: I think they skip that part in the children’s story – that Noah was inside the ark for seven days before even a drop of rain started to fall. People must have thought he was crazy, maybe he even wondered if he was crazy, to trust these seemingly strange words of God in a land that had never even seen rain before. I’ve been here before, too, blindly trusting God long before seeing the “rain.” But God answers! The earth and sky burst open with flood waters and God keeps Noah safe in the ark. He will answer us, and ultimately, we will be safe from any storm in Jesus.

Are you waiting on Him for something right now? 

Is there something you thought He has calling you to, but you are still waiting to see the fruit of your labor and wondering if you even heard Him correctly?

Beloved, we are safe in Jesus just as Noah was safe in the ark. We can trust in God to fulfill all His promises, even when we can’t see the end result.

Tuesday, Matthew 7: We ask, we seek and we knock, and then we must wait with patience on the Lord to give us what we need. He does always give us what we need, even when He doesn’t give us what we want. God always gives good, even when it doesn’t look like what we expected. The road may seem narrow and long and harrowing, and yet, when we are seeking Him the road will lead us to Him, and to eternal life. Jesus is indeed our firm foundation. Though the storms rage and the winds blow, we will not be shaken when our faith is in Him.

Is there an area in your life where you can see that He gave you what you needed, even if it wasn’t exactly what you wanted?

Is there something specific you are asking Him for in this season? Do you believe that He will give you good, even if He doesn’t answer that specific request in the way you are imagining?

Wednesday, Ezra 7: After 70 years of exile, God’s people are badly in need of instruction, but of course, their faithful God does not leave them in their desperate condition. God raises us Ezra to begin the four month journey to His people, placing His hand upon him all the way. Our God, who can use anything or anyone, even moves the heart of the king to keep Ezra safe and provide for him on his journey. I love the way Ezra blesses the Lord for His rich provision at the end of this chapter. God works out every detail, extends to us His steadfast love, and because of this we take courage! Take courage, dear one, He is with you on this journey and giving you all you need!

Are there people in your own life God uses to share His instruction when you are downtrodden, or to provide for you on your journey? Take a moment to pray for those people, or reach out and thank them for the gift they are to you.

Thursday, Acts 7: As I have been pondering this week the God who keeps us safe in all of life’s storms, I am all too aware that my definition of safe isn’t always the same as His. I like when safe lines up with Ezra’s experience – lavishly provided for with silver and gold at the hand of the king. But what about Steven? It would be easy to shake our heads and say that God didn’t rescue him. But as I read it again, I see that God gave him the courage for the task at hand, the most important work of his life, to share the Gospel, and even as Steven is stoned and meets his death, he calls out for the Lord to receive his Spirit, and the Lord brings him safely, securely into eternity.

When our hope is in an eternal God, there is no danger that can truly harm us, because our eternal future is ever secure. Take some time today to name the things in your life that feel unsafe or uncertain. Allow some quiet space to let those things feel small in comparison to the knowledge that your eternal future with Jesus is secure no matter what.

Friday Reflections: 

This is our God – the God of Noah, of Ezra, of Abraham and Joseph and Moses. This is the God who keeps us safe on all life’s journeys and through every raging storm. It is not lost on me that in the very same week that we read about the flood waters overtaking the earth and destroying all of  God’s creation as Noah and his family rest securely in the ark, Jesus warns His followers of other storms that will come and wash away houses – anything – not built on the firm foundation of His Word.

The rain fell.

The floods came.

The wind blew and beat against the house.

But the house did not fall, because it was built securely on the rock. And we will not fall when we have put our trust fully in Him.

As I read again the words of Steven, I see this truth written all over Scripture. God gives His promises to Abraham, and even as God takes him out of his homeland and all that is familiar, even as Abraham has no children in his old age, He trusts in the firm foundation of the promises of God. There was no inheritance that Abraham could see, just like there was no rain when Noah shut himself in the ark. God promises Abraham that his offspring will indeed suffer, but ultimately that they will be safe in Him.

Then God’s hand is on Joseph, keeping his safe through the devastating hatred of his brothers, through false accusations and persecution, through famine and hardship. God uses even the bad in Joseph’s life for good as Joseph will later testify to the very brothers who sold him into slavery.

Again, God’s people are oppressed and again, God sends rescue, this time through Moses. When Moses should be killed by Pharaoh’s decree, God protects him through adoption by Pharaoh’s own daughter, later raising him up to lead His people out of captivity.

Though His people mess up, hurt each other, turn from Him, God still faithfully shepherds His people, leading and guiding them into His promises. And those who are faithful wait on Him.

Did you see how many years of waiting there are interspersed throughout these stories? After Noah waits seven days for the rain to start and through 40 days of flooding, the water prevailed on the earth for another 150 days. That’s a long time to be in a confined space with a lot of animals. Abraham’s wait is much longer! Isaac is born at least 15 years (maybe many more) after God first promises Abraham that he will have many descendants, numbering more than even the stars in the sky. The second part of this promise, that Abraham will become a great nation, is fulfilled several hundred years after Abrahams death. Joseph waits for years in slavery and then years in prison, all the while believing that God will give him good in the midst of the trials and redeem his situation. The Israelites spend decades in slaverly, Moses waits for 40 years in Midian before returning to his people, and then they spend 40 years in the wilderness before entering the promised land. For centuries, God’s people wait and wait on His promised Messiah. And yet, God never removes His hand from His servants.

Sometimes the storms feel long, dear one. Sometimes, we can’t imagine the promises of God could be true for us, in the midst of days or years or decades of waiting. And yet, here we are, safe in His loving hands. The Lord gives us courage to endure the journey, to face the storm. He is our unshakable foundation.

  • What are you waiting on in this season?
  • How can the stories we read this week encourage you to wait in great hope, your future secure in Him.

Week 6: God Who Sees in Secret

Monday: Genesis 6

Tuesday: Matthew 6

Wednesday: Ezra 6

Thursday: Acts 6

Friday: Genesis 6, Matthew 6, Ezra 6, Acts 6

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 6: Man is utterly wicked – every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil. I am so quickly reminded of my own sin and depravity. And yet here God speaks to the one who walks with Him. Noah was righteous and blameless, and so God spoke to him, revealed His plans to him, established a covenant with him, and promises to save Noah and his family. Because Noah trusts in God, He does everything God commands.

Let’s recenter our hearts today – trusting Him even in the midst of uncertainty. The God of Noah is the same God today, desiring to speak to and make a covenant with His people.

Tuesday, Matthew 6: So much rich instruction from Jesus today! I am convicted that often my sinful nature desires to be seen by others and loves the accolades of men, but Jesus gives us a better way. When we give, when we serve, when we fast, when we pray, we do it all out of love for the Father, out of a desire to know Him more deeply – oh, how I long for this to be true in my own life. I know from experience that my most intimate times with Jesus have often been in the “secret” places of my life, the places where I feel most unseen by others. I know that as I come to Him in the quiet places, and as I obey Him quickly even without the fanfare or applause of others, I am storing up treasure in Heaven.

I love Jesus’s example of prayer in Matthew 6. Pray this prayer (v 9-15) aloud today. Then spend some time writing out your own prayer, based on His example:

Praise His Name!

Ask for His Kingdom and His will in your life and the world.

Ask Him to provide all that you need, believing that He always does.

Seek forgiveness, and freely offer it to any who come to mind who have wronged you.

Ask Him to guard you from temptation.

He is our treasure!

Wednesday, Ezra 6: What astounding provision! Not only does Darius allow the work to continue, but he decrees that the treasury be emptied to provide whatever is needed for the work of rebuilding God’s house. God again uses an unbelieving King to provide for the needs of His people and make a way for them to finish the work He has assigned to them. We read yesterday in Matthew that our Heavenly Father sees and knows what we need – and it is confirmed here too. I can imagine the great joy as the Jews finally finish and dedicate the temple! They praise and celebrate and sacrifice, for He has given them all that they need to finish their work! And He does this for us, too – He gives us joyful work to do and we can trust that when we are doing the work of the Lord, no matter how big or small, He will provide what we need – the grace, the patience, the sustenance, the courage – to complete the task at hand.

What work has He given you to do in this season? It might be to faithfully raise your children, to diligently provide for your family, to love a specific neighbor or community or neighbors, to live the Gospel more intentionally. He will provide all that you need to finish the work He has given you!

Thursday, Acts 6: So often I get this backward, putting the active ministry of charity and service before my devotion to prayer and His Word. But the disciples seem keenly aware that without devoting ourselves to time with Him, our public ministry will only be a distraction. We desperately need this wisdom that Steven has, and we can possess it if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us.

Are you, like me, a “doer” before you are a listener?

How can you prioritize time to be with God, to listen to Him and receive His love for you?

None of us can pour from an empty cup. We must first fill up on His Word before we can serve those around us. How can we shift our focus from doing things for God to simply being with God?

Friday Reflections:

“Yea, he’s the real deal. What you see – that’s who he is in real life, too.” A friend of mine is talking about a famous pastor he happens to know well. We have been discussing the very strange space of Christian celebrity, putting ourselves out there for the world to see while trying to keep our intimacy with Jesus alive in the hidden and quiet places, desiring people to glorify God for our life’s work, but not allowing the praise and accolades of others to cause us to swell with pride.

“He’s the real deal.” This sticks with me. This is what I want the people who really know me to say about me behind my back one day. In a public sphere, on social media, I am often known or recognized for my ministry, for the “unusual” choices I have made in life at a young age, for living in a foreign country. On some level, the world teaches us that we will be known for what we do.

But a handful of people in my life know me for who I truly am, and see the parts of my life that others don’t – the laundry piled on the couch for days waiting to be folded, the way I always burn the rice, the times I get impatient with my children when they interrupt me. These people – my kids, my co-workers, my neighbors – they get to know my heart.

And it is my deep desire that if one day they would be asked what I was really like, they would be able to say about me, “She’s the real deal.” Because in so many ways, it is the ordinary moments of our days and our lives that count so much more than the extraordinary choices that we make. Yes, it was important that Noah obeyed God and did the extraordinary, built the ark, but long before that were all the little decisions, ordinary moments of faithfulness, and quiet obedience that allowed Noah to hear from God in the first place.

While the world sees us for what we do (Isn’t the ark the first thing you think of when you think of Noah?), God knows our hearts. He knows who we are. He sees all that others don’t – the thousandth read-aloud or dirty dish or diaper, the longing for restoration of a broken relationship or the patient conversation with the difficult person. He sees us faithfully doing the hard things when no one is looking, faithfully looking to Him and seeking after Him desiring to please Him in the small. He sees us faithfully doing the hard things when no one is looking. When ministry isn’t growing or when family is struggling. He sees the small. He sees in secret. He sees our hearts.

And hopefully, a handful of people close to you get to see and know your heart, too – and this, far more than any public ministry or internet presence, will be the ministry that matters – that the few people close to you, in your home and your life, saw you keep doing the little things, the hard things, long after the public eye was looking. That you sought after God, that you opened your eyes to Him, that you turned to Him for sustenance when things were tough. I doubt that anyone in my close circle would describe me as righteous or blameless, and I think that’s ok. But I hope with all my heart that they would be able to say that I kept going, that I kept seeking Him, that it was my true desire to love as He loves and to know Him more.

Beloved, by His grace alone, we have found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Let’s be the real deal.

Here is a prayer for today:

Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that it is our hidden reach for you that matters so much more that any public ministry. Place a longing in our hearts for time with you, to hear from you and feel your loving gaze upon us. Give us the wisdom of Steven, the faithfulness and trust of Noah, the perseverance of the Jews in Ezra. Give us this day, our daily bread, Oh Lord, everything we need found only in You.

Amen.