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?