Week 42: God Who Speaks to Us

After a really full week of work, I decided to use my writing time this week to snuggle my babies instead. The good news for us is I fully believe God’s Spirit-breathed Word speaks for itself. Please read along with me this week, and know that I am praying that God would illuminate His word to us and speak to our hearts!

Monday: Genesis 43

Tuesday: Mark 15

Wednesday: Psalm 10

Thursday: Romans 14

Friday: Genesis 43, Mark 15, Psalm 10, Romans 14

Please hop over to my Instagram @katieinuganda_ on Friday and leave a comment on what He is teaching you this week so that we can reflect on His word together.

Week 41: God Who Shows Us a Better Way

Monday: Genesis 42

Tuesday: Mark 14

Wednesday: Psalm 9

Thursday: Romans 13

Friday: Genesis 42, Mark 14, Psalm 9, Romans 13

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 42

Joseph’s mercy toward his brothers is just a small glimpse of God’s mercy toward us. We are like these brothers who hated, mocked, and ultimately betrayed their brother, and yet Joseph’s love for them is so evident as he repeatedly turns to weep. And as the story continues, I notice something about these brothers – they seem to be softening, changing.

Those who once sold their younger brother into slavery now promise to protect Benjamin, even pledging their own lives. They are humbled. In their humility, their hearts are softened, they are given compassion for those other than themselves.

This is what the mercy of our Father in Jesus should do to our own hearts. We who once betrayed and belittled now sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. We who once were arrogant are now humbled before the cross. We who once thought only of ourselves are not filled with compassion. Because we have received His love and mercy, we now extend love and mercy to those around us.

In what ways has the mercy of God softened you?

How can you extend His love and mercy toward someone in your life today?

Tuesday, Mark 14

I pray not one of us would be able to read this passage without complete and total awe of the Savior who gave His life for us, who took the punishment we deserved, who allowed His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled so that we could have a relationship with the Father.

Our only response to this extravagant love must be like Mary of Bethany’s, to give Him everything we have, our lives as an offering laid at His feet.

Spend some time today in awe of the Savior and His finished work on the cross. He did it for you.

No matter your circumstance or current hardship, what Jesus did for us on the cross should cause us to trust Him now. 

What can you trust Him with today?

Wednesday, Psalm 9

We rest secure in God’s righteous rule, in His kindness and mercy. Let all who love Him sing His praises!

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10

Commit this verse to memory this week. He is our stronghold and worthy of our praise!

Who can you tell today of the wonderful work of Christ?

Thursday, Romans 13

We can walk in the kind of love Paul describes because we have the kind of hope he describes in verse 11 – salvation is near. Our God is coming back to right and restore all things! This compels us to love our neighbors and even our enemies, to pray for those who hurt us, to honor our governing bodies and authorities. We put on Christ, we put off all else. It is a high calling, but we rest in the great assurance that because of His work on the cross we will one day live with Him forever!

Can you pray today for someone who is hard to love?

Can you pray today for someone in authority, even if you don’t personally agree with them?

Friday Reflections

Owe no one anything except love. Joseph’s brothers might have deserved imprisonment or death. We, in our sin, certainly deserve death. But our God gives mercy.

Once we have fully accepted this, we can live in extravagant love of our neighbor, showing the mercy of Christ to those we encounter in our days. We must love each other with a love so otherworldly that people take notice. We must forgive each other the way Joseph forgave brothers who caused him a whole lifetime of misery. We must reach out our hands and break bread even with those who are different from us.

Let us remain watchful and not asleep to what the Lord is doing around us. Let us affirm and never deny that we are people who have known the Lord, and it is our desire to share His love and mercy. Let us, like the woman who anointed Him, pour out all we have for Jesus. He alone is worthy.

            God shows us a better way.

He gives Joseph the strength to endure much hardship and never turn away from the One true God. He gives him the grace to extend forgiveness to his brothers, and we watch as their hearts begin to soften. He gives Mary the trust she needs to pour her entire life savings out before her Savior.

Paul encourages us to embrace a love that can only come from Christ – a love that honors others above self and fulfils the law.

And as the very ultimate example, Jesus, denies His own desire – that the cup would pass from Him – and submits in joyful obedience to the Father, to save us.

I pray that we might walk in this kind of love today!

Week 40: God Who Will Make Us Forget Our Troubles

Monday: Genesis 41

Tuesday: Mark 13

Wednesday: Psalm 8

Thursday: Romans 12

Friday: Genesis 41, Mark 13, Psalm 8, Romans 12

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 41

Years after being forgotten, Joseph finally has his moment. He doesn’t waste our waiting, friends. And once again, God takes hardship and uses it for good. Not just for Joseph’s good but for the good of a whole nation, and then many nations.

Joseph looks at his newly born children and names them what he knows to be true: “God made me forget my trouble” and “God made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Oh, could we believe it? That one day in Heaven we will gaze at His face and forget all our trouble, that all of our suffering is achieving some eternal glory that we cannot yet see (2 Corinthians 4:17)?

The waiting isn’t wasted. The hardship isn’t for nothing. The presence of Jesus will outweigh any trouble.

Think of a time that God has used a season of waiting to teach you something or draw you closer to Himself.

What are you waiting on today? Can you trust Him to draw you close while you wait?

Think of a time God has used your hardship or suffering to encourage, bless, or teach others. I can testify that some of my greatest ministry has come after I have suffered in a particular way in which someone else will later need encouragement. He will make us fruitful in the land of our suffering. Can we believe it?

Tuesday, Mark 13

When we are in Christ, we need not fear the future or even the destruction that will one day come on the earth. Instead we are called to look forward to our eternity with Jesus and live each day here with great purpose, readiness to serve, and immense trust in God’s power to save us and to one day make right all the evil and suffering that we witness here on earth.

Ask yourself: What is it that you want to be doing when Jesus does come back to take us to the glorious place He has prepared for us? If you aren’t already, what’s stopping you from doing that today?

Wednesday, Psalm 8

What a beautiful song of praise to our truly majestic creator! Indeed, the day is coming when the whole earth will recognize His majesty, when every knee will bow before Him. But today, we His people are called to worship Him and sing His praises.

Choose two lines of Psalm 8 to commit to memory, and use these to worship Our Creator this week!

Thursday, Romans 12

Isn’t this what we all long for? To be able to discern and know the perfect will of God? How does Paul say we can? By keeping ourselves from the ways of the world, the noise of the world, and staying in tune with our Father. By loving one another, by holding fast to what is good. By praying continually as we wait on Him patiently. We don’t do any of these things dutifully, but rather because of His great mercies and the extravagant love He has lavished on us.

How can you let love be genuine in your own life today? Is there an act of mercy to be done with cheerfulness? Is there someone in need of hospitality? Is there an enemy you could pray for, someone you could rejoice or weep with?

Friday Reflections

The last few months have held more life-altering decisions for my family and myself than I could probably count. Some days, it has felt like we are faced with one decision after another, each with huge ramifications and consequences. Several weeks ago, when I was feeling completely overwhelmed by choices and unreasonably anxious that I might, in fact, make the wrong one, I felt the Lord prompt me with the question, “What do you want to be doing if I come back tomorrow?”

It is probably a question I should have been asking myself all along, but suddenly, I began to filter every new decision we faced through that one question. “If this was my very last day on earth, what would I want to be doing? What do I want to be doing when Jesus comes back?” 

The answers were the same for me as they have been for years – I want to be loving my people well. I want to be serving the church. I want to be sharing the Gospel. I want to be a light in my community. I want to be present enough in the day I have been given that each day has, even if just for a few minutes, these things included. I want the decisions I make now to be leading myself and my family down a path of increasing service, hospitality, and love.

It didn’t make all of the decisions easier, but it gave me a lot more freedom and a lot less anxiety. As we took baby steps in one direction I would ask myself, “Is this what I want to be doing if Jesus comes back?,” and as long as the answer was still yes, we would keep moving forward. As long as this was a place where we could still love, where we could still hold fast to what is good, where we could still contribute to the needs of the church and practice hospitality, then we were still on the right path.

And as we kept making decisions and taking steps in the direction we believed God was leading us, I began to wonder – How would we live differently if we truly believed that a loving Father was overseeing every event, every hardship, every step of our lives down to the very last detail? How would we live differently if we truly believed this and we believed He was doing it with the utmost tender care and concern?

While it’s easy to type these things out, to repeat them to myself as “head knowledge,” I wonder what would look different in my life, how much less anxious I might be, how much more joy I might have if my heart truly and deeply believed these things. He is teaching me to trust these promises, and His heart, a little more each day.

Joseph acknowledges these truths through tremendous waiting and trial. Even when he is brought before Pharoah, he takes no credit for the ability to interpret dreams – “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires.” Joseph knows that God is in all the details, even the seemingly strange dreams, and God will reveal exactly what He wants Pharoah to know. God has tenderly, lovingly carried Joseph through every bit of trial and suffering to bring him to a place of favor now.

And Joseph continues to give God credit in all the details throughout the rest of the story: “God has revealed this to Pharoah,” and “Since God has shown you this…” Joseph lives the way Paul instructs us in Romans 12 – joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Could it be that the cupbearer and the baker just happened to be imprisoned with Joseph and both have dreams? Could it be Joseph just happened to be put in power over all of Egypt just before his brothers came, in need, to Egypt? No, it is far more likely that Joseph’s God, our God, was always working all the details together for Joseph’s good and for His own glory.

It’s true for you and me, too. He is in all the details, He is guiding our steps. Through the suffering and the desert places, through the places of great favor and joy and abundance. All we have to think about is living these Romans 12 lives of love and service and constant prayer.

When Jesus comes back, I want Him to find me loving my people, serving my family, my church and my community, doing acts of mercy with cheerfulness (Romans 12:8) and wholeheartedly trusting and believing that He is in every detail of my life. Whether I am in a season of suffering and waiting or in a season of immense favor, I pray my hope and trust in His promises does not waver. 

Someday, like Joseph, He will make us forget our troubles. Let’s live worthy of His name until then.

Week 39: God Who Wants All of Us

Monday: Genesis 40

Tuesday: Mark 12

Wednesday: Psalm 7

Thursday: Romans 11

Friday: Genesis 40, Mark 12, Psalm 7, Romans 11

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 40

Joseph’s total confidence in hearing from the Lord to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker can indicate one thing for sure – through years of waiting, terrible trials and hardships, persecution and false accusation, Joseph has remained in communication with His Father. He knows exactly where interpretations come from – God – and he is certain that God will give him the interpretations. 

His hardship and waiting have not diminished His trust in God, but increased it.

Do hardships, trials and waiting cause you to press further into God and seek Him more, or do they tempt you to doubt God’s goodness and love for you?

How can you remain steadfast in your trust of God even in the midst of life’s hard seasons?

(Hint: stay in His Word. Stay in communication with Him. Remember His promises. He is trustworthy! And He wants all of you, even in the difficult, in-between seasons.)

Tuesday, Mark 12

True significance doesn’t lie in what we can give to God, what we can do for Him, but in how we come to Him. He doesn’t need our pretense, our showy works or our lengthy monologues. He wants our hearts. He wants what He received from the widow, everything she had.

What would it look like to truly give Jesus everything you have this week?  

Wednesday, Psalm 7

David’s song to the Lord as he is persecuted might help us answer the question we asked ourselves on Monday. In the midst of great hurt, great confusion, and long waiting for salvation, David cries out to God, His refuge.

And after he tells God how he honestly feels, after he laments all the things that seem to be coming against him, he gives thanks. Due to his circumstances? Nope. Due to God’s righteousness. 

Couldn’t you just rest there a while?

No matter the trial, no matter the suffering, no matter the waiting, His righteousness doesn’t change. When things go as planned and when they really, really don’t, His righteousness doesn’t change.

And remembering His righteousness, David sings praise to the Lord Most High. Can we?

Commit this to memory this week:

“I will give the Lord thanks due to His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” Psalm 7:17

Rejoice in the Lord, our refuge!

Thursday, Romans 11

I was reading Revelation this week and marveling at all that I imagine Heaven will be (and of course, it will be far better than anything I can possibly imagine). Every kind of people, every color of people, every language, every culture, all mixed up together with none of the angst or awkwardness that sometimes comes from interacting cross culturally. I can’t wait.

How gracious of Jesus to graft us in, to add to His family those who were outside it. God’s word has not failed and He has not rejected His people. He is kind and merciful and working all things for good, even when this doesn’t appear to be immediately true. We can trust in His good plans and His good promises.

In celebration of being grafted into God’s family, is there someone you can invite into your home or your life this week?

Friday Reflections

“How did Joseph know what the dreams meant?” asked our youngest daughter over her plate heaped with spaghetti. “That’s so cool.” 

I waited on Benji to answer, and he wisely went back to the text. “Well, let’s look at what it says.”

“Do not interpretations belong to God?” Joseph says, “Tell me your dreams.” 

Joseph is so confident in his connection to the Father, so confident in his communication with God, that he knows God will reveal to him what the dreams mean. I long for this kind of connection with God. To most of us, the interpretation of dreams sounds so foreign, almost magical, but Joseph is so connected to His Father that it comes almost second nature. Yes, this is a gift that God has specifically given to Joseph, but it stems from Joseph’s communication and closeness with God.

I long for this, but as I examine my own life, I am convicted that even as I pray for God to speak to me, I am often not making space for Him to do so. We are so distracted. Probably the most distracted generation of all time. We wake up in the morning and reach for our phones. We pause at a stoplight and check just in case. We mindlessly scroll through other people’s lives as a way to escape from our own.

We are letting the world speak to us far more than we are letting God speak to us. 

I know I am. Holy God who created us and adores us wants to speak with us like He spoke to Joseph. He wants to reveal Himself to us the way He did to Paul. He wants to give us wisdom for these crazy days, whisper encouragement to calm our anxious hearts, rejoice over us, His beloved. He wants to give us words of love and life to share with the hurting world around us.

Are we giving Him our ears, our attention, long enough that He can?

I saw myself so clearly in the widow who offered her two small coins. These last years have been hard on my family, and the world as a hole. We have been taught by our culture to isolate, to build up walls, to become angry any time we disagree. We are tired. We are anxious. So often I come to the Lord feeling that I have nothing left to give, nothing to offer. That’s the thing though – God doesn’t need me to show up with anything to offer other than myself. He doesn’t want my performance or my stuff as much as He just wants me.

The widow put in everything she had.

I might not have much to offer Him today, but I can offer myself, I can offer my time. Instead of reaching for my phone, I can reach for His word. Instead of fixing my eyes on everything I don’t have, daily brought to me by television and my Instagram feed, I can fix my eyes on Jesus, I can steady my heart on Him. I can whisper to Him about the longings of my heart.

In a season of weariness, we have all sorts of options for reprieve – we have screens and distractions, things to do and people to call. We want God to speak to us, to reveal His plans to us, to give us words of encouragement for our hurting neighbors. But are we making space for Him to do so?

What if my offering is a mere two minutes of whispered prayer as I wait for the pasta water to boil, what if my offering is a few minutes of sitting in the quiet to listen for His voice in the carpool line, what if my offering is to reach for His Word and remind myself of His opinion instead of reaching for my phone and the opinion of a loud world.

We can hear from God like Joseph did. We can speak the things of God to others. We can be so confident in our relationship with Him, our communication with Him, that we can share truth to this often dark and hurting world. But first, we have to come like the widow. We have to bring Him our minutes. Our whispered cries for help in the pauses of our day, our laments for the things that hurt, our desires for control over the things that make us anxious, our rejoicing when we succeed.

The tiny, quiet prayer, the call for help, the scripture you repeat to yourself in the middle of the night. These may feel insignificant, as trivial as two copper coins. But these are the things that shift our hearts toward a Father who is singing over us in love. These are the things that tune our hearts to hear from Him even as the world around us seems increasingly chaotic.

I feel I can say this with certainty – it isn’t going to get any easier. The distractions are increasing, not decreasing. We have to make space for Him now. We have to make it our habit to cry out to Him, to look for Him in the pauses of the day, to hear Him in the still, quiet moments. 

We want to fill the silence throughout our days with distractions. What if instead, we make the silence our offering to Him? An offering of prayer, of worship, of listening, of seeking. 

What if we filled up all our middle minutes with seeking Him, talking to Him, listening to Him that we started to look more like Him? That we could be so confident in our ability to hear from Him that we could reach out and encourage and speak life over those around us? This is what the world needs. This is what our hearts need. Jesus came for us because He wants all of us.

My challenge to you is my challenge to myself this week – what if we practice giving God our best, not our leftovers? What if we praise Him for His righteousness (not our circumstances) in the middle minutes of our days? What if each time we reach for the phone to scroll or the remote to check on world events, we spend a few minutes talking to Him instead? It might sound negligible on paper, but I believe it has the power to change our hearts.

Week 38: God Who Doesn’t Let Go

Monday: Genesis 39

Tuesday: Mark 11

Wednesday: Psalm 6

Thursday: Romans 10

Friday: Genesis 39, Mark 11, Psalm 6, Romans 10

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 39

Even in the midst of all sorts of trials and temptations, God remains faithful to Joseph and Joseph remains devoted to God. The Lord was with Joseph. As I think of Joseph, I think that my own temptation in similar circumstances would be to complain to God, even to question Him. “Lord, how could you allow this to happen?” or even, “Ok, God. I’ve been faithful and devout. I have done my best to flee temptation, and as if being a slave wasn’t enough, now I am in prison?” I recognize the foolishness even as I type it, but I know my own heart enough to know these thoughts might sneak in. “I learned how to persevere in trial already, God. Can we be done with trial now?”

But Joseph isn’t so foolish. Joseph’s trust in the Lord and His devotion to Him doesn’t waver in slavery, doesn’t waver in temptation, and won’t waver now, even in prison. And the Lord was with Joseph as a slave in Potiphar’s house (v. 2) and everyone could see that the Lord was with him. The Lord is with Joseph in the midst of false accusations from Potiphar’s wife, for though he is thrown in prison, he could have easily been put to death. The Lord is with Joseph even in prison (v. 21). The Lord is with Joseph everywhere He goes, in every hardship, showing him mercy and granting him favor. It’s clear that the secret to Joseph’s perseverance in trial is God with him. And in Christ, the same is true for us! No matter what depth of hardship we find ourselves in, the Lord is with us and wants to show us mercy and give us favor. Can we have eyes open to see Him at work?

Are you facing a trial or temptation today that feels too big to overcome?

Make a list today of the ways that you have seen God with you, even in the midst of hardship or trouble. Rejoice that He is with us always! His constant presence is the secret to our endurance.

Take heart, the Lord is with you even in the midst of hardship! He is reaching out to show you mercy and favor. We can trust Him for that.

Tuesday, Mark 11

Riding into the city on a colt, Jesus comes as a man of peace, as a servant. Jesus is celebrated as a victor, and rightly so, for soon, He will be triumphant over death. The people however have a different expectation of what triumph should look like. Often, we do, too. We think that victory will look a certain way, that God will be good if and when we experience a certain outcome that matches up with what we think is best.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree, a tree with the appearance of fruit but no actual fruit, to teach his disciples a few lessons. Even in the midst of destruction – the fig tree that produces no fruit and is cursed, and the temple that has been abused by thieves – Jesus encourages His disciples to remain faithful. “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’…it will be done for them.” This is an assurance that God can overcome any obstacle, any trial, any problem. And it warrants the kind of faith Joseph had in Genesis to believe that God was with him in every dire circumstance. The kind of faith Jesus wants His disciples to have as they enter into a season where their faith will be tried and tested, where they might not get the outcome or resolution they were hoping for. This is the type of faith He wants us to have today, to believe that no matter our mountain, our obstacle, our hardship, He can overcome. He can triumph because He has already triumphed over sin and death!

What are the “mountains” that need to be moved in your life?

How can you trust Him even when the resolution you thought was best isn’t in plain sight?

Do you truly trust that God can overcome any obstacle? Can you pray in faith that He will meet all of your needs, show you mercy and favor in times of hardship, and move your mountains? Can you believe that God can use even times of destruction to bring about His perfect plan?

Wednesday, Psalm 6

Psalm 6 affirms what we have already read and studied both in Genesis and Mark – the Lord has mercy on His children, and He hears our cries of help in times of trouble. He is with us through all situations and He answers our prayers in His unfailing love.

Even in deep grief, David turns toward the Lord. We, too, can allow our grief and sorrow to drive us into the loving arms of our Savior and not away from Him. David leans into God’s steadfast love, and the Lord hears him and welcomes him home to rest in His loving arms.

Repeat it to yourself this week – “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Thursday, Romans 10

When we seek to establish our own righteousness, we are just like the Pharisees Jesus speaks against in Mark. We are like the people who worship Him as He enters the city, but crucify Him just days later. Just like the fig tree in Mark, it is possible to be zealous on the outside, to appear to bear fruit, but lack true faith. 

This faith isn’t something we muster up. We cannot rely on our own strength but only on the finished work of Jesus, the work that tore the temple curtain into and the only way we have access to our loving Father. We believe He can do the impossible, believe He can move any mountain and overcome every obstacle – He can redeem us, He can raise the dead, He can give us new life – and that is our righteousness. 

Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.

Who can you share the good news of the Gospel with today?

Friday Reflections

“Levi! Levi!” Our 5-year-old son Noah is calling out to his brother from the middle of the biggest puddle in our yard. Levi is standing at the edge, soaked by the rain, but uncertain if he wants to venture into the puddle.

“Hey Levi!,” it’s really deep here. Grab my hand!” Noah makes his way toward the end of the puddle and reaches out for his little brother. Trusting, Levi grabs on and follows Noah into the puddle that almost reaches his waist in the deepest part. I watch them walk away from me, hand in hand, and all I can think of is Jesus’s hand reaching out to me in the midst of the waves.

“It’s deep here, love. Grab my hand.”

The waves have pummeled us in the last season; the water has felt deep as we have navigated all sorts of big life transitions and unexpected grief. So much so, that I don’t feel I have much to offer in the way of teaching. But I will share with you what I know to be true, what the Savior has proven to me again in the recent months:

In the deepest waves, in the darkest night, in the hardest season, Jesus reaches out His hand to us. And He doesn’t let go.

He didn’t let go of Joseph as he endured slavery and then prison. He didn’t let Joseph stop believing in Him, hoping in Him, and no trial could thwart God’s good plan for Joseph.

He didn’t let go of Israel, though they were fickle, worshiping one day and blaspheming the next, defiling the temple and appearing full of fruit though they were not. He died for them anyway, longing, always longing to draw them to Himself.

He didn’t let go of David, though the world was against him, though he would hide in caves and run for his life from his own son, though he cries out in anguish and floods his bed with weeping. The Lord hears His cry and uses his life regardless of his doubt or despair.

Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.

Do the waves feel big, dear one? Does the water feel too deep? Jesus reaches out His hand and says, “Grab on! Trust me.”

Even when we can’t see Him, even when we can’t feel Him, even when things don’t seem to be going our way, He is with us and we can trust Him.

When the waves are too high and the night is too dark, we can trust the one who gave it all to draw us to Himself. He will never let go.

Week 37: God, Our Constant

Monday: Genesis 38

Tuesday: Mark 10

Wednesday: Psalm 5

Thursday: Romans 9

Friday: Genesis 38, Mark 10, Psalm 5, Romans 9

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 38

There is nothing, nothing, that our God will not forgive, nothing that he cannot use for good. Even in Judah’s atrocious sin, God has planned to bring the lineage of Jesus through him. This doesn’t excuse Judah’s sin but rather reminds us that no one, not one of us, is too far gone for God to use us. In Matthew 1:3, Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. This is our God – He can take even the worst of sinners, even the most terrible sin, and turn it around, even using it for His own glory. Nothing is outside of His reach.

It’s easy for me, even after I have repented of my sin, to believe that I have made such a mess of things, that I have messed everything up, that God could never use or fix or redeem this. Do you ever feel this way? But when I believe this, I am limiting who God is, limiting His power and sovereignty and ability to use anything. God can, and does, use anything He chooses to, even our very worst mess ups. Our God takes the very worst sinners and says, “You are mine. I can use even you.”

Where have you messed up recently?

Is there a certain sin or mistake that haunts you, that causes you to feel like a failure?

Spend some time asking the Lord’s forgiveness for that and then leave it with Him. You are not too far gone for forgiveness. You are not too far gone for redemption. You cannot mess everything up because we serve a God who can use even our mistakes. Rest in that.

Tuesday, Mark 10

In thinking through our passage yesterday and God’s ability to use anyone, even people who have messed up tremendously, verse 27 jumped right out at me – “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Remember that when you feel like you may have fallen too far.

There is so much in this chapter – an encouragement to receive the Kingdom with childlike faith – looking for God to provide everything we need without doubt the way a toddler looks to a loving parent.

And then, my favorite part, verse 21 – “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

Jesus looks at us and loves us.

Jesus knew this man was going to walk away. He knows when and how we are going to make mistakes. But He looks at us and He loves us!

Yes, it can feel impossible to throw off the things of the world, to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel, but Jesus can make it possible. We can trust with childlike faith that He gives us all we need. And all we lose, anything we give up to follow Him, will be restored to us in eternity. What an amazing promise! Look closely – persecutions are part of this promise. Persecutions in the midst of a list of good rewards? Yes, because even our suffering and hardship can be used by a good God to draw us to Himself. Again, what is impossible in this world, maybe even impossible for us to comprehend, is possible for God.

Like blind Bartimaeus, we need Jesus to give us eyes to see!

What feels impossible to you right now?

Spend some time in prayer, believing that what is impossible with man is possible for God. Spend some time telling God that you believe He will give you all you need (sometimes I have to say it until I believe it).

Let’s ask God to give us eyes to see His impossible work, here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Wednesday, Psalm 5

We can rest deeply knowing the King of the universe hears our voices. We can wait expectantly because He will always answer. He is our shield and our refuge. Hallelujah! 

Commit verses 11 and 12 to memory this week and repeat them to yourself when you are in need of encouragement. Let all those who love His name rejoice!

Thursday, Romans 9

It’s not as though the word of God has failed. This passage is so full of the Gospel and God’s mercy. When we feel weak and defeated, we can rest in knowing God holds us, forgives us, saves us, and nothing can separate us from His love.

While it is completely opposite of the way anything works in this world, God’s grace and our salvation isn’t something we can earn, isn’t something we can be good enough for. It’s uncomfortable to say, but I know that if left to my own devices, I would not choose God or the things of God. It is a humbling realization, but it is also one that moves me to praise Him for His completely undeserved and unmerited favor. This is great news for all of us who fall short, who mess up again and again. God’s love for us isn’t dependent on us. His mercy and grace are who He is regardless of who we are.

It’s not as if the Word of God has failed. How often do I approach my day, my life, or my current situation as if God’s word may not hold up, may not be enough, may not be true. And how would I live differently if I truly believed His Word hasn’t failed and will never fail? He is always trustworthy, always gracious, always good. We can rest in His kindness and grace.

Friday Reflections

A familiar worship song plays in an unfamiliar church and I let the tears fall. I may not know anyone here yet, but I know all the words and for a few minutes, though we are all different, we are united in singing the same words to the same God. The same words that I sing in my kitchen in Uganda. The same words I sing along on the way to drop off kids at school. The same words I repeat over and over to myself in the middle of the night when my anxious thoughts won’t allow me to sleep.

The Pastor is reading from Romans and I know the words. God’s Word. Words I have memorized for years and prayed to Him in agony and in rejoicing.

And when everything around me is so different, I take great comfort in the realization that My Father is exactly the same. I may not know much about how things work around here and I may not know many people, but I know Him and He hasn’t changed one bit. He never will.

I find myself often longing for a “normal” day, to settle into some sort of familiar rhythm that feels easy and predictable. But if I am honest, I am not just missing our normal rhythm because we have been traveling. As I look back over the last year and a half I am astounded at just how many times our rhythm has been disrupted – whether it be COVID quarantine or online school or hybrid school, a medical emergency or friends moving away or trying to redirect ministry while still keeping everyone safe in a pandemic. “Normal” days have eluded me for quite some time, and I think it is safe to say that I am not alone in this.

The whole world has experienced some amount of upheaval in the recent season. Most of us, probably even all of us, are staring out at an unpredictable future wondering what might come next, how we will have to pivot and change directions. I don’t know about you, but I can get so stuck feeling anxious about everything that is changing that I forget that we have a constant, the best constant, our unchanging Father.

And even when I can’t see it, He can. And even when I don’t know what is next, He does. Even as everything is changing, He isn’t.

We watch as He holds Judah, even as he makes a terrible mess of things. We watch as He teaches His disciples, warning them of suffering even when they don’t fully understand. It’s easy for me to remember as I read that God has their best in mind, that He will keep them safe. Maybe because I have read it before and I already know the ending.

Maybe you need to hear it as much as I do, so let me pull you in close and speak it over you – 

He holds you and will carry you through whatever comes next. Even when you don’t know what’s next. Especially when you don’t know what’s next. He holds you, even when you have made a terrible mess of things. He can use even our mistakes, He can put us back on the right path. He looks at us and loves us. He holds you, even as you face suffering and hardship. Even when you don’t understand. Especially when you don’t understand.

I don’t have many answers. I don’t know when life might go back to “normal” or even if it will. But I know our unchanging God who is my constant even now. I pray in the midst of uncertainty, when you cannot see what is next, you would know His constant, unchanging love and feel Him holding you close.

Week 36: God Who Purposes Our Suffering

Monday: Genesis 37

Tuesday: Mark 9

Wednesday: Psalm 4

Thursday: Romans 8

Friday: Genesis 37, Mark 9, Psalm 4, Romans 8

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 37

Joseph – hated by his brothers, sold into slavery as a “good alternative” to being murdered. I can’t help but think of how easy it would have been for him to despair. Joseph has heard from the Lord in two different dreams that seem to suggest that his family will one day bow to him, but I would be willing to bet that it is pretty hard to  hold onto that promise as Joseph is chained and led away by slave traders to a foreign land. And Joseph may not have known it at the time, but as readers we know that it only gets worse. He will be chained, enslaved, and later even imprisoned long before what the Lord has spoken to him comes to pass.

It is clear that only God in His providence could use such terrible circumstances to bring about His good purposes and plan. But He will. Time and time again this is who God is, this is what He does. He will bring good, rich blessing to Joseph and eventually save his whole family (and thus the lineage of Jesus), out of Joseph’s suffering. God is active and working, even in our hardship and distress, even when the plan doesn’t look good. Even when we can’t see what He is doing.

When things seem to not make sense this week, when you cannot see how He is going to use your hardship, remind yourself of His promises. He is working all things for your good. He always fulfills His promises. We can always trust Him.

Tuesday, Mark 9

Jesus has started speaking often about the cross, His death, and resurrection. I wonder if He allows Peter, James, and John to come up the mountain with Him because He knows they are anxious and fearful, or if He knows they will need to look back on this after His death to more fully understand. God is always revealing himself to us if we choose to see Him.

I resonate so deeply with the heart of the possessed little boy’s father who cries out to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” As I think of God purposing everything, even suffering, I so want to look at the hardships in my life and in the lives of my friends and fully believe God will use it for good, that God will bring about His good purposes and my own sanctification through it. I cry out with the Father, “Lord, help me believe!”

What truths about God are you struggling to believe today?

I encourage you to name those things, and search for Scripture that specifically addresses those promises.

I am so encouraged that we can serve a Living God who is not upset with us when we are anxious, afraid, or struggling to believe but instead invites us to pray, “Lord! Help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, Psalm 4

What a gracious Father, who answers us when we call, who has mercy on us and hears our prayers.

Spend time with God in prayer today and rest in knowing that He hears you.

Thursday, Romans 8

Romans 8 has to be one of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible (am I allowed to say that?) It is so full of rich promises that I have been sitting here staring at my screen, completely unable to summarize. Instead, I want to highlight some of these promises and invite us to memorize them, write them down, and pray them back to God this week. His word is so powerful, and I am so grateful for these truths –

  • There is no condemnation for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus
  • Jesus has set us free from sin and the eternal death that comes as a result!
  • Jesus took the sin we deserved, bore the punishment, and now we are free from punishment and inherit only eternal life with Him
  • The Spirit of God is living in us!
  • We are God’s children, and we are heirs of His Kingdom and eternal blessing!
  • Our present sufferings pale in comparison to the glory promised us in eternity
  • One day, this world will be completely liberated from suffering, completely redeemed
  • The Holy Spirit cries out to God for us, even when we don’t know what to pray
  • God works all things for our good
  • God predestined us – chose us in advance to do good work for His Kingdom
  • God justified us – made us righteous though on our own we are not
  • God will glorify us – we will live with Him forever in eternity
  • God gives us all that we need
  • NOTHING can separate us from the love of God! Hallelujah. 

Friday Reflections

As I sit here, my mind is wandering back to a morning a few years ago. Will you go back with me? 

It is the rainy season in Uganda. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between, and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each other’s homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God?”

It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.

We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend suddenly and unexpectedly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. As we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis, someone else’s daughter was assaulted, and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we all know the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. How do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. My friends’ hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.

I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me and in front of our Father. Her hurt is different from mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.

We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.

I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.

Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.

A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.

Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from burns, but it is clear she’s been drinking as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time, but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.

It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.

How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?

“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.

I remember the words of Romans 8 – we consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We hope for what we do not see. 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… We are more than conquerors because of all this sin? This death? This rampant addiction and disease and suffering? He conquered it for us, and He promises, He promises, that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us will also give us all things that we need.

Not all things that we want. Not the life free from suffering that I am thinking back to today. But all things that we need. All things that will draw us to Himself. All things that will glorify His name.

And in His grace, nothing will ever separate us from His love. Thank you Jesus.

I trudge back up the hill, my mind still mulling over questions. God where are you in all of this mess? How will you use this for glory? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course, I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”

My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it, but I know it is true. He is at work here. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – yes, indeed, He gives us all things we need and will use even messy, hard things to cause us to search harder for Him.

Maggie walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Maggie, who just months ago, I thought would die. Maggie who at 19-years-old held her 4-year-old and her dead newborn and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Maggie who moved into our guest room as frail and sick as other women who died there. Maggie who lived. She walks up the hill, her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”

Of course I do. I read the words again. I read that neither death or life or the angels or the demons or the present or the future or height or depth or anything in all creation would be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I read that all of it is purposeful. That we will conquer, because He has conquered.

For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.

What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy?

It is hard to believe sometimes, but we can know God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”

Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised to us, and eternal life awaits us!

Week 35: God Who Knows My Name

Monday: Genesis 36

Tuesday: Mark 8

Wednesday: Psalm 3

Thursday: Romans 7

Friday: Genesis 36, Mark 8, Psalm 3, Romans 7

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 36

At first glance, this is simply another list of names that we might be tempted to skip over. But spend a few minutes in this scripture and we will realize some greater truths about God and His character. We have seen from previous passages in Genesis that Esau or “Edom” as he is called here, is not the chosen brother, he is not the son through whom the lineage of the Messiah will go forward. In fact, the Edomites will become enemies of Israel, refusing them passage through their territory on their way to the promised land and coming against them with an army. We see Esau has chosen to marry unbelieving women, something the Lord and Esau’s own father commanded him not to do. And yet, the Lord still sees fit that Esau’s family line is recorded, that his name and the names of his family members are written down for many to read for years to come. Our Father deeply cares about every single person He created, even those stuck in sin and walking away from Him. He knows our names. He knows their names. The names of those seeking after Him and the names of those turning their backs. And He purposes to use every single one of us to accomplish His purposes. 

Are there people in your life who you have deemed as unworthy of Gospel love? 

What would it look like to believe God knows their names and they are precious to Him?

Do you ever find yourself feeling insignificant and unworthy?

Spend some time today reminding yourself of your preciousness to God. Rest in knowing that He sees you and He knows your name. He has it recorded in the book of Life for all eternity!

Tuesday, Mark 8

Again and again and again, the Lord has compassion on His people. When He is surrounded by a hungry crowd, He gives thanks and breaks bread. They do not know, but later He will give thanks and let His body be broken for us, our Bread of Life. He breaks the bread for the crowd and the text says they were satisfied. His body breaks for us and we can be most satisfied in Him. It is so easy to shift our eyes and look to other things to satisfy, but none of them will. He alone is enough to satisfy our souls. And even as He satisfies us, He calls us to lay down our lives for Him. So minute by minute, little tiny decision by little tiny decision, each time we surrender our desires and choose Him instead, our satisfaction grows and our joy increases.

How are you finding your satisfaction in Him?

What does it look like in your life today, even in the small, to lay down your life for His sake?

Wednesday, Psalm 3

I read Psalm 3 several times before I noticed the little note under the title, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.” Wow, I think I have problems. David’s son is literally trying to kill him. I cannot even imagine how painful that would be. And yet in the midst of it all, David turns his eyes to praise God. He remembers who God is and he sings it aloud for all to hear, “You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord and He answers me from His Holy mountain.” God is the lifter of our heads even in the darkest valleys, even in the most unthinkable circumstances. When we call out to Him, He always answers us.

Can you praise Him today even in the midst of your own heartache?

Remember who He is, dear one! The lifter of your head, the God who answers you!

Thursday, Romans 7

Some of Paul’s language here can be a little hard for me to understand. But as I have mulled over it this week, I think what it boils down to is this – God’s law is not the problem. Our sin is the problem! And God’s perfect law makes it very clear to us just how sinful we are. And I SO relate to what Paul says later in the chapter – the good he wants to do he finds himself incapable of, and the evil he wants to flee from he finds himself drawn to. “What a wretched man that I am!” But we can recognize our sinful nature without despair because this is exactly what Christ came for. He knew exactly just how wretched we were and exactly how much we needed Him. Relying on Him is the only way to the good we long to do, the only way to abundant life!

How are you actively battling sin and temptation in your own life?

Spend some time today repenting for your sin and then praising Jesus who took it all on the cross!

Friday Reflections

I smiled with pride as I watched my kids walk into new schools this week. But at the same time I felt so proud of them in their new adventures, so in awe of their courage to do something so new and unknown, I felt anxious for them, probably even more anxious than they were feeling for themselves.

For the last five years, they’ve attended a school where everyone not only knows their names, but their parents’ and siblings’ names, their birthdays, and often even the most intimate details of their lives. They’ve been in classes with their sisters and a small handful of other children that they have basically grown up with. Their dad’s close friend is their Chemistry teacher. Their good friend’s mom is their math teacher. We have thrived for years in a tiny, intentional, intimate community.

So my breath catches in my throat a bit as I watch one bob away from me down the sidewalk of the crowded college campus. My eyes fill with tears as the high schoolers push their way toward me through the hallway after a long first day. I shake my head and try not to let the thought that has been nagging me all day take root, “We don’t know anyone here.”

But as I read through this list of names in Genesis one, as I think of Jesus having compassion on and distributing food to thousands upon thousands of individuals, wanting each one of them to be safe and well fed, I am reminded that God knows my name and the names of each of my children. He knows their parents and their siblings, their birthdays and the very most intimate details of their lives. He knows what we are walking into and why He has us here, even when we are still a bit uncertain.

I am tempted to shake my head a bit at the disciples in Mark 8. It’s nearly the exact same scenario that they lived through weeks or months before, with different numbers of people and a different number of fish. They had seen Jesus do this before. And yet, when Jesus suggests to the disciples that the people need something to eat, their response is the same.

            “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

Seriously? How can they ask Jesus this? They had just watched Jesus feed a crowd even larger than this, basically conjuring up a feast from just a few bites. A feast with twelve baskets left over, abundance, far more than they started with. Don’t the disciples know that Jesus will do this again? And He does. Once again, He takes nothing and makes it something, He takes lack and makes it abundance, He takes the starving and He satisfies.

Jesus, who knows our names, will satisfy the starving again. He will take our lack and make it abundant again. This is who He is. This is what He does.

So we walk through a town full of people we have never seen before. We smile at strangers. We don’t know the names of the baristas or the grocers, and they don’t know our coffee orders or let us pay later like they do at home. But a waitress chases me down the street out of the restaurant with the water bottle and toy truck that we left behind and I feel like God is reminding me – we will be known again. We will find intentional and intimate community because this is what He designed us for. But in the meantime, He knows our names and He knows us more intimately than anyone on this earth ever will.

I don’t know where you are today? I don’t know if you are surrounded by your people and praising God for them or if you are more like us, feeling displaced and lonely. It’s easy to feel like the disciples looking at a couple loaves of bread and thinking, “How are you going to do this, Lord?” God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is going to keep working now like He did before. God who has taken our nothing and made it into something before is going to do that again. And here in our lonely seasons, He knows our names. He knows each hair on our heads and every ache and dream in our hearts.

He sees you, love. I pray you hear Him call your name today.

Week 34: God of Undeserved Grace

Monday: Genesis 34-35

Tuesday: Mark 7

Wednesday: Psalm 2

Thursday: Romans 6

Friday: Genesis 34-35, Mark 7, Psalm 2, Romans 6

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 34-35

Even in the midst of hardship and suffering, Jacob remembers God as “God who answered me in the day of my distress, and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Can we? I am reminded as I read that remembering can be an act of worship. God takes Jacob back to the place He first revealed Himself, and so often He takes us back, to remember the places He revealed Himself to us, the places He carried us through, the battles He fought on our behalf. And Jacob names the place where God first spoke to him, the place where God now speaks to him again, Bethel or “House of God.” 

There is suffering for Jacob on the journey and there will be for us. But everywhere we remember Him can be a House of God, too. There are places where we will doubt, where we will wrestle, where we may momentarily lose our way. Can you hear our Father whisper, “Remember? Remember how I sustained you before? Now let me sustain you again.” When we trust in His promises, any place can become a House of God.

What parts of your journey feel unexpectedly hard?

What are you wrestling with?

Can you spend some time today remembering ways God has shown up for you in the past, ways that He has sustained you through hard times before?

How might that give you the courage to face whatever is in front of you today?

Tuesday, Mark 7

Following the rules without relationship with Jesus means nothing. The Pharisees are arrogant, believing that their own righteousness will somehow save them, somehow bring them to God. I fall into this trap too. But the Phoenician woman is full of humility, acknowledging her place before Jesus and thus, Jesus heals her daughter. We will finally be healed, finally be set free from our sin, when we stop striving, quit pretending that we can make ourselves righteous, and instead surrender to Jesus who owes us nothing but gives us everything. It is those who come humbly to Jesus longing only for Him who will receive His blessing.

And I got stuck repeating it over and over to myself, that one thing everyone was saying about Jesus in verse 37. Even as I say it out loud it feels like an exhale, “He has done everything well.” Say it. Say it again. Say it until you believe it, until you know it to be true in the very core of your being because it is. 

“He has done all things well.” Do you feel a weight lifted?

I don’t do all things well. I have not done all things well. The weight of that could swallow me if I spend long enough thinking about it. But our promise and our hope is that Jesus already knows that and He comes and He does indeed do all things perfectly. I can come with my need and my lack, my empty hands and my empty cup and I can trust He will still do all things well.

Are there places where you are carrying the weight or burden of doing things well all by yourself? Work? Parenting? Marriage? Ministry? You won’t always do everything right and that is ok. Allow yourself some space today to feel and rest in the grace of God that makes up for your lack.

Let He has done all things well be your mantra, your prayer for this week. Repeat it to yourself when things seem to be spinning out of control, when things aren’t going as planned, and believe it. Nothing is outside of His reach.

Wednesday, Psalm 2

Blessed are we who take refuge in Him.

The evidence of human rebellion against God is everywhere. Turn on the news, take a quick scroll, you will see death and destruction seemingly around every corner. People are hurt, and hurting others. We have been wronged, and we have done wrong to others.

And yet, amidst all the hurt, we can take refuge in Jesus, the coming King who will destroy  death, mourning, and suffering. This broken world is simply a stepping stone to the Kingdom where we will live with Him forever.

Blessed are we who take refuge in Him.

Thursday, Romans 6

We who were once dead in sin are now raised to new life in Christ! Now, we must die to sin, which for me is not a one time death but a daily, intentional turning of my heart from the things of this world to the things of God.

We will be resurrected! And yet, how often do we forget to live as those who have been given new life in Christ? We will have a resurrection like His! This is an incredible promise. So how do we offer ourselves to God – every part of us, in every thing surrendered and offered up to Him? His grace alone enables us to live like this. Daily, hourly, minute by minute. When we remember our life isn’t just the here and now but is forever, we fix our eyes on Jesus and everything else falls away.

How are you surrendering to God today?

How are you dying to sin today?

How might you live in the gift of God – eternal life – here and now?

Friday Reflections

The world feels heavy this week, friends, and I am finding it hard to type words that have meaning while so many around the globe face unspeakable horrors. My heart has been heavy for those in Afghanistan and Haiti, for my dear friends and neighbors in Uganda who find themselves jobless and unable to attend school for yet another year due to the pandemic, and it has led to a heaviness for others around the world facing oppression, persecution, and disaster.  

The stories of the Bible, even the stories of the Lord’s servants who He loves and favors, are full of sin, pain, suffering, and brokenness. You might feel yours is too, and there is good news for us – Our God runs toward pain and suffering, not away from it. And He comes with undeserved grace and favor for all who put their trust in Him. And so as we sit in the heaviness this week, as we feel the weight of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world and maybe the weight of our own pain or our own sin, I am thankful we are not without hope. We can carry the weight of the sadness, yes, but we also carry a hope that far outweighs this burden. The hope that the same God who spoke with Jacob and met with Him, the God of compassion who healed the daughter of the Phoenician woman, is here with us now and intends to come back, making all things new. 

He didn’t make Jacob, Israel, many nations, because of Jacob’s lack of doubt. Jacob, the God-wrestler, the deceiver by his very name, was chosen by God because God loved him, because he would return to God and put his trust in Him again and again.

“Come let us go…” Jacob says, “I will build an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” This is still who God is today, and this is still our reminder – wherever we are, whatever hurt we are facing or weight we are carrying, we can return to the God of grace who answered us before and will be with us again.

Jesus didn’t heal the Phoenician woman’s daughter because she deserved it, but rather because she came to Him humbly and put her trust in Him. He didn’t heal the deaf and mute man because of anything the man did, but rather to display His glory so that the man and those around him might know Jesus does all things well. As Jesus comes to these individuals, and as He comes to us, we are no longer limited by ourselves, the weights that we can carry alone or the battles we can fight solo. His grace is too good, too big to comprehend, and when we let it, it does indeed make our burdens light.

I am often tempted to believe that my good works, my own faithfulness, my well constructed plans will lead me closer to Jesus. We all are. We stumble over our own feet chasing after what we think might get us closer. And yet, our God runs toward us with lavish grace. Our God purposes to use our lives and ordains our steps even in the middle of all our sins and our mistakes.

I think of God who spoke to Jacob at the place where they had met before. I think of Jesus who goes to those who can’t speak well or listen well, can’t get there on their own. We need God to meet us like this. We need Jesus to give us wise words, to make us quick to listen and slow to speak. We need Him to come and right all this suffering and we have hope that He will.

We can’t earn it. We can’t muster it up or work our way there. So we surrender. He knows we can’t and He knows it is too heavy and He comes. He comes into our limitations, our defeat, our real life circumstances with grace that saves us and makes us whole. 

God, You are the God of undeserved grace, and you do all things well. We trust You.

Amen.

Week 33: God Who Meets Us in Our Need

Monday: Genesis 33

Tuesday: Mark 6

Wednesday: Psalm 1

Thursday: Romans 5

Friday: Genesis 33, Mark 6, Psalm 1, Romans 5

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 33

I can hardly read this story without crying. I can imagine the fear and anxiety Jacob felt as he prepared to meet the brother he deceived, betrayed, and ultimately ran away from. What will he do? What will he say? Will Esau try to kill Jacob and his family? Is he still angry? Jacob prepares gifts for his brother. He is ready to bow down, to grovel, to somehow try to find favor and as he lowers himself to the ground, silently begging God to spare him from the worst… Esau runs to him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

Unmerited, undeserved forgiveness. It is what Jacob finds in the arms of his brother and it is what we find in Christ, and hopefully in the arms of each other. We can forgive each other freely because of how He has freely forgiven us. And when Jacob realizes the grace of being forgiven like this, he says to his brother, “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” Yes! As we forgive one another as Christ forgave us, we will see the face of God in our brothers and our sisters. As we love and forgive like Him, we will reflect His face, His love, to the world.

Is there someone you need to forgive today? Can you look at the example of Esau and find the courage to forgive, no matter how big the mistake or how deep the betrayal?

Is there someone who you need to seek forgiveness from? Approach them humbly like Jacob. Pray to be received. See the face of God in the one you have wronged and strive to make right the relationship.

No matter where you have been, what you have done or how badly you have messed up, the arms of Christ are open wide in forgiveness. I pray today that you could receive His mercy and forgiveness!

Tuesday, Mark 6

The disciples must be so tired. They’ve been on the road for weeks, driving out demons, healing the sick, staying in the homes of strangers. When they returned they got word that John the Baptist had been killed, and just as they are about to get away with Jesus in a quiet place and rest, thousands of people run after them to hear Jesus. In true Jesus fashion He has compassion on them, teaching them and even feeding them. The disciples have been so faithful in their ministry, and still, they are exhausted. We’ve all been there.

Later, in the boat without Jesus, the disciples are stuck, straining against the wind and the waves, utterly defeated. And do you see what Jesus does? He comes to them. He joins them in their struggle. He speaks courage.

Are you feeling exhausted? Weary? Stuck?

Jesus got in the boat with His disciples and He does the same for us, joining us in our struggles, speaking to us – Take courage! Do not be afraid.

Wednesday, Psalm 1

I imagine this tree, planted by streams of water, steady and strong, spreading out shade and yielding fruit. I long to be like this tree, to delight in the law of the Lord and walk with Him every day, now and in eternity!

Let’s commit this Psalm to memory this week.

Thursday, Romans 5

Having Romans 5:1-11 memorized has carried me through some dark seasons. Especially this – we also rejoice in our sufferings. What a truth we have to hold onto, that He is using everything, even our suffering, to make us into the people of perseverance, character, and hope that He wants us to be.

While we were dead in our sin, He came for us. While we were still guilty, His enemies, He died for us. What love! What grace! Because of Him we have peace with God, that which we do not deserve, freely given to us. And we have the hope of eternity with Him, the hope that His glory will always prevail, and that can pull us through any suffering.

Are you experiencing hardship or suffering?

How is this developing perseverance, character, and hope in your life?

How does focusing on the hope of eternity make hardship and suffering feel lighter?

Spend some time today receiving and marveling at the free, undeserved gift of the grace and mercy of Christ. Stand in awe! And be filled with hope.

Friday Reflections

I know, I know, I skipped right over Job. Since we only have 20 weeks left and I think Job works best as a full story, we are going to start there at the beginning of next year and I can’t wait. For now, though, we will remind ourselves of the truth of God’s promises through Psalms on Wednesdays. I love the raw honesty of the Psalms. So often I am tempted to mask my emotions when I come to God. Somewhere along the line I have been taught to think that a “good” Christian doesn’t allow all their real hurt, turmoil, and confusion to be seen and known, that I have to “clean it up a little” before I bring it to the Lord.

The Psalms show us how untrue that is. I can lament to God and allow all my raw emotions to pour out before Him without questioning His character. I can believe who God is and still wonder “Why?”, still feel disappointed, confused, even abandoned. There is no emotion that my God cannot handle, and when we look at the life of Jesus, we see there is no emotion our God has not also felt. When we are feeling most desperate, most forgotten, most misunderstood, Jesus has walked there, felt those things, suffered in those same ways.

The Psalms teach us to cry out to God in both raw desperation and unbridled joy. Jesus knows we are needy. He expects us to be needy. We can come to Him with our needs. I don’t know about you, but sometimes this is so hard for me. Both in front of Jesus and in my own community.

I love holding space for other people’s suffering. I love to be the person who opens her home and her heart to the hurting, who drops off a home cooked meal, who sits long into the night to listen and to catch the tears.

I love to be the strong one, the one who helps, the one who gives.

It’s been the work of many years and much wrestling with my own selfishness to cultivate a lifestyle of giving generously and opening our doors and our hearts to the hurting. At times it has been uncomfortable and stretching, but it has always been worth it. A few months ago, I would have told you that living intentionally, giving of myself intentionally, cultivating a lifestyle of inviting in the broken, the stranger, the outcast, has been the hardest, most worth-it work of my life.

Until God placed me here. Due to an emergency that we didn’t see coming, a health scare that nearly left us flat on our faces, we packed up our family in less than 48 hours and headed to the other side of the world with nothing but the clothes in our suitcases and a strong conviction that this was God’s next right step for our family and He would provide. I resonated with Jacob this week as he walked toward the unknown with everything he owned, everything he had built and worked for at stake, headed toward a brother who may or may not still be angry at him, not sure what would happen next.

We have spent eight weeks of this year so far living in a stranger’s home, on an unfamiliar, smooth, paved road, in a community we know nothing about. I’ve felt like the disciples, weary from ministry, desiring to rest, but tossed by the wind and waves instead. But then the next door neighbor told us we could come over any time and use their playground. And a woman I had never met, the sister of a friend of a friend, dropped off dinner.

A stranger lent us her car, packed full of all the necessities and lots of treats. Friends and family members stocked us up on groceries and did our laundry and sat with us in the long silence after hospital visits where there was no good update to give.

And in these slow and disorganized days I am seeing maybe the harder part of the equation is being the one who receives. The one who asks for help. The one who shows up vulnerable and empty-handed and says, “Yes, I am in need.”

Maybe one of Jacob’s greatest blessings on this long journey will be receiving the forgiveness of his brother. Surely one of the disciples’ greatest blessings was having Jesus look them in the eyes and say take courage. It is what He says to us as we come to Him honestly in prayer, giving Him our need and being willing to receive what He gives – Mercy. Grace. Courage. Salvation. Peace.

I’m learning to be needy, friends.

I am learning that maybe in all my work cultivating a space where people could come and be vulnerable I built up a pride and identity of being the one with something to offer – a safe place to land, a glass of cold water on a hot day, a listening ear and a hand to wipe away the tears.

But to have true and lasting community, we need to be both. We need to be the helper and we need to be the one in need of help. We need to be the giver and we need to learn to receive. Real relationships and true community happen when we can also be the person who doesn’t have a place to go and cannot afford her groceries. We have to start coming to Jesus, and then to each other, as needy people ready to receive.

I’ve cried bitter tears in the last six weeks in front of more strangers and casual acquaintances than I care to count. But God is slowly taking away my embarrassment and showing me the beauty here. Because I realize I never would have been able to learn to listen and lean in to someone’s suffering unless that someone had shown up vulnerable and allowed me to. I never would have had to do the hard work of opening up my home to a stranger in need if that person hadn’t been brave enough to show up needy. Jacob never could have received that amazing forgiveness of Esau if he hadn’t first needed to be forgiven. The hungry five thousand would have missed the miracle if they hadn’t been in need. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we are still needy, still messy, still broken, Christ wants to meet with us.

There is no learning to serve others or to give generously unless someone has the courage to show their brokenness and lack and allow me to serve. There are no tears to wipe away unless someone has the courage to cry them in my presence. There is no honest relationship with our Savior unless we show up with our need, ready to receive.

I don’t yet like being the needy one, but I am leaning into this place God has us and believing that maybe my need will become someone else’s place of ministry. Maybe God will teach them the beautiful wrestling He taught me if I allow myself to receive instead of pretending I am not in need.

“Can I bring you groceries?”

“What do you need from Target?”

“I put cash in the center console.”

“We are coming for dinner – and bringing dinner.”

“What if you take a break and I’ll go to the hospital tonight.”

“Thought you guys might like some pizza.”

I can’t even list all the messages I have gotten like these. And honestly, at first, my gut reaction is to say, “No, we are ok!” or “Oh my goodness, you shouldn’t have done that!”

But when people have shown up needy in my life, it has given me an opportunity to know the Father’s heart in giving. And now I get to learn His heart for me in receiving. I get to learn the courage it takes to show up in need, the courage it takes to cry real tears in front of another human being, the courage it takes to be ok with not having the answers. And it is teaching me more about the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Father who gives good gifts to His children and is delighted when they freely receive them.

So I am learning to believe He calls us to both giving and receiving in ministry. Paul needed healing and was able to heal. He had to receive the Gospel message before he could share it. He both was ministered to and ministered to others. Peter needed his feet washed before he could go and do likewise. Jacob needed the forgiveness of Esau before he could move on to all God was calling him to. The disciples needed the refreshment of Jesus before they could go minister again.

And above all, all of us need to receive from the Lord. While we are still powerless. While we are still uncertain. When we are broken and things are messy and we do not know what is next, God invites us to come to Him in our need and receive His goodness.

This is hard work, vulnerability. Maybe the hardest, most worth-it work of my life.