Week 16: God Who Sees Me

Monday: Genesis 16

Tuesday: Matthew 16

Wednesday: Nehemiah 6

Thursday: Acts 16

Friday: Genesis 16, Matthew 16, Nehemiah 6, Acts 16

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 16: 

Sarai let’s her impatience get the best of her, causing her to doubt the promises God has clearly spoken. I know I have been there. How often do I feel that I need to “help God out,” grasping at control? How often do I just plain say (or imply with my actions), “No, God, don’t do it like this…” or “Can’t you just do it this way?”

But when Sarai and Abram take matters into their own hands, jealousy, hatred, and anger creep into their family.

Hagar runs away from her hardship, but then comes the voice of the Lord encouraging her to go back, to persevere. It will be hard, but He promises many blessings on her family if she will stick it out. Don’t run from the suffering; God has a plan.

And Hagar testifies – I have seen the God who sees me.

Is there a situation in your life right now that you are trying too hard to control?

Are there areas of your life where you feel impatient with God?

Here is your encouragement to persevere – God sees and cares for you.

Tuesday, Matthew 16:

            “You are the Christ, Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

As I sit with these words, I realize how much my days would shift if I would simply put this acknowledgement before all other tasks and worries of the day. No matter what I face, no matter what this day holds, He is the Christ, Messiah, my God come in the flesh to save me. It is the best of all miracles! And then, as if that is not enough, He chooses Peter to carry forth His message. He chooses you, me, us to participate in sharing His good news with the world. Clearly Peter is not without fault – he is rebuked by Jesus in the next paragraph. How amazing that the God of the universe would use us, flaws and all.

Spend some time at the beginning of your day today, tomorrow, or throughout the week meditating on what it truly means to worship Christ as Messiah – the Anointed One of God who came to save us.

Be filled with awe and thanksgiving that God has prepared good works for us, in spite of our shortcomings.

Rejoice! He has given us the keys to the Kingdom!

Wednesday, Nehemiah 6:

            Nehemiah is misunderstood and wrongly accused, tempted and opposed by his enemies and yet in the middle of all of this – victory! – the wall is completed. Even in the midst of disaster and hardship, God is accomplishing His purposes, for our lives and for His Kingdom.

Are you facing opposition or temptation of any kind?

What helps you to stand firm in His Word and the work He has called you to?

Pray today for perseverance to stand firm in the midst of trials.

Thursday, Acts 16:

            How beautiful is this picture of Paul, Luke, and Silas’s attentiveness to the Spirit? As they move through all the different places God so clearly reveals to them, I am encouraged by the way they are actively looking for the next person they can encourage with the Gospel. Timothy, Lydia, even the jailer, all are invited into the family of God and the encouragement of Jesus. And as they live in this way, as they look for Jesus and His people everywhere, the Lord is faithful to answer them! They hear His voice, they see Him work, both in miraculous earthquakes and in the hearts of people. When we are looking for Him, we will see Him working! When we call out to Him for direction, He will answer us!

Are we living in this way? Actively looking for the next person we can encourage in the faith?

In what ways could you make disciples of the people God has placed right in front of you?

Spend some time today looking for evidence of God working in your everyday life, and take time to thank Him for the ways that you see Him.

Friday Reflections:

Our best friends moved away last year right at the beginning of our nationwide lockdown. We thought they’d be right back for a visit, but we haven’t seen them since. Since then, we have had more loved ones move away than we have ever experienced before – our mentors, our closest neighbors, our own adult children. Again and again, I have felt left behind.

Now let me be clear, I am not trying to make a direct comparison here of my “hardship” to Sarah’s barrenness, Nehemiah’s persecution, or Paul’s imprisonment. But as I examine my heart posture, and the heart postures of the people in our Scriptures this week, I see so clearly who I want to be and who I do not want to be in trials.

Admittedly, most recently I have identified with Sarai. As I lay awake into the night I wonder… maybe we should move. Maybe there is something bigger, better, grander out there for us than what we already have here. I can feel the discontentment start to set in as I dream of the next place, the next home, the next ministry.

Just like Sarai, I can begin to believe that maybe I could devise a better plan. Just like Sarai, I begin to think that maybe there is something bigger, better, grander than what God has planned, what He has promised. Because if it was up to me, we wouldn’t have to wait. But if we didn’t have to wait, I shudder to think what I might never learn.

  In contrast, I see the faith and trust of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. When they are “kept by the Spirit” from going where they want to go, they redirect and keep preaching the Gospel. When the Spirit of Jesus leads them out of their way to Macedonia, they obey. No amount of accusations, beatings or imprisonments will deter them. They persevere in the plan and the promise that God reveals to them, trusting that this is the big, grand thing He has called them to.

And in the middle of the waiting, when things are not going as planned, after being beaten, flogged, shackled in the dark Paul and Silas don’t wonder if there is something better out there. Paul and Silas don’t settle into contentment and dream wistfully of all they would rather be doing. Paul and Silas sing praise to God.

Because wherever we are, that is exactly where God intends for us to be. And whatever we are waiting on, God has something that He longs to teach us in the waiting. And no matter what our trial or circumstance, no matter how beaten down or cast out we feel, God is always worthy of our prayers and our praise.

In the midst of persecution, temptation and opposition, Nehemiah stays the course. In the midst of ridicule and the call to sacrifice, the disciples stay the course. And in the midst of intense hardship and pain, Paul and Silas not only stay the course but they physically stay. They don’t race out of the prison cell the moment their chains are broken off their feet. They stay and share the Good News of Jesus with the jailer, the very man who bound them. They baptize him, and his family. They share a meal in his home. They disciple him in the simple, beautiful ministry of staying where they are, exactly where the Lord has put them.

This is who I want to be in my trials, the big ones and the small ones. As I lay awake at night wondering what is next, what our future holds without so much of our beloved community, rather than jumping ahead of God and trying to get things done in my own way or on my own terms, I want to be one who stays the course.

And I want to be one who chooses to praise Him, no matter what, knowing that whatever He brings will be the very best.

Who do you identify with most from our scriptures this week? 

In what areas are you racing ahead of God and making your own plans like Sarah?

Is there something in life that you are called to keep working on, no matter how challenging, like Nehemiah?

Are you questioning, like Peter, one minute fully declaring Jesus your Lord and the next minute consumed with human concerns?

Let’s be like Paul and Silas, praising and worshipping our worthy God, even in the midst of our trials and our chains. Let’s be the people who stay the course, full committed to this life that He has called us to.

Week 15: God, Our Great Reward

Monday: Genesis 15

Tuesday: Matthew 15

Wednesday: Nehemiah 5

Thursday: Acts 15

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

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 15: 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, Matthew 15: 

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, Nehemiah 5: 

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

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

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

Thursday, Acts 15: 

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

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

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

Friday Reflections

Do not be afraid. 

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

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

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

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

Not your land.

Not your financial security.

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

I am your shield. I will protect you.

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking to for comfort and protection?

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

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

Week 14: God in the Middle

Monday: Genesis 14

Tuesday: Matthew 14

Wednesday: Nehemiah 4

Thursday: Acts 14

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

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 14: 

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, Matthew 14: 

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

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

Are you in need of God’s provision today? 

Are you facing a “storm” of your own?

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

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

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

Wednesday, Nehemiah 4:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, Acts 14: 

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

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

Friday Reflections

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

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

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

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

This is why we have His Word. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in a “middle” season?

What parts of life aren’t going as planned?

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

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