Week 19: God Who Saves

Monday: Genesis 19

Tuesday: Matthew 19

Wednesday: Nehemiah 9

Thursday: Acts 19

Friday: Genesis 19, Matthew 19, Nehemiah 9, Acts 19

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 19: 

Lot’s heart to protect and serve strangers is evident as we begin this passage. Lot seems to believe the warning of the angels as he urges his sons-in-law to hurry and leave the city, and yet even he hesitates to actually obey their command. Then we have the ever-elusive verse about Lot’s wife. The text says she looked back – did she long for that old way of life? Did she yearn for the sin behind her? Did she simply look back over her shoulder, regarding the old life she enjoyed or did she actually turn back and actually become consumed by the flaming sulfur falling from the sky? I’m not fully sure but it begs the question, do I long for the life behind me more than I long for the eternity with Christ that is ahead of me? How often am I tempted to value this temporary life with its momentary comforts and fleeting security more than I long for the life ahead of me with Christ?

Let’s spend some time today examining our hearts, not out of fear of punishment, but because we desire to be people who are longing for the better life that is ahead of us in Christ.

In what ways are you tempted to “look back” or to hold onto temporary comforts instead of longing for the life ahead?

What “little” sins are you unwilling to let go of?

What comfort – physically, financially, emotionally – may God be asking you to give up for the sake of the Kingdom ahead?

Tuesday, Matthew 19: 

The rich young ruler bears a striking resemblance to Lot’s wife – someone who longs to move forward, but can’t quite leave his earthly comforts behind. Just as Lot and his family are instructed to leave their home at all costs, this young man is instructed to set aside anything necessary to follow Christ with his life. And he went away sad because he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

As I examine my own heart through our readings this week, I identify with both the rich young man and Lot’s wife. God has given me a lot of wonderful, physical blessings in this life, and, truth be told, sometimes they can get in the way of my desire for Him. Sometimes just my own sin and selfishness can get in the way. I don’t believe that Jesus intended to say here that those with material blessings cannot be saved, but there is a warning against valuing our material blessings too much, in a way that would hinder us from following Him sincerely.

To be honest, as someone with so much material wealth, when I read this, I can be tempted to despair.

But then, His amazing, saving grace: what is impossible for man is possible for God. With God, all things are possible. All things are possible, even my salvation and eternity with God because of Jesus!

Friends, let us read this with great conviction, but also with great assurance. Go back to those questions from yesterday. Reflect on what might be keeping you from following Him wholeheartedly, and then, rejoice! Because He is merciful and He will save us, even from ourselves and our own selfish desires. What is impossible for us is possible for God. Lord, may it be!

Wednesday, Nehemiah 9: 

“They stood where they were and confessed their sins.” This is where the impossible starts. God, in His grace, beckons us to confess our sins and turn from them. The Israelites read from His word and then they worship. They exalt the Lord. As we read through the history of the Israelites in the rest of these verses, we see clearly their rebellion and disobedience, and we see how God continues to save them, protect them, and carry them through. The same is true of us today, friends.

Look at verse 19: “Because of Your great compassion, You did not abandon us in the wilderness.”

Whatever impossible you are facing, He will not leave you there. He does not abandon us, and His love for us will never leave us.

Find a quiet space today and stand where you are. Use Nehemiah 19 as a guide to worship our good God who saves us.

Thursday, Acts 19:

Again we see the juxtaposition of material possessions or cultural traditions and the way of Jesus. Those who believe in Ephesus confess and even burn their scrolls, denouncing their old practices in favor of Jesus, even though it costs them greatly. Then there is Demetrius, concerned that the way of Jesus is going to take away his business and that his false gods will be discredited. This leads only to chaos.

As I think of the sorcerers with their scrolls on fire, I reflect on how much they are “giving up.” Much like Lot and his family, their whole life is in flames in that moment. And yet they have lost it all to seek something greater, the way of Jesus.

Lord, thank you for saving us from our sin, from our culture, from our selfish way of life. Lord, help us to give it all to you, remembering that what feels impossible to us is indeed possible with you.

Friday reflections:

Lot invites these strangers into his home and insists they rest. He places a fine feast before them; he protects them, even at the expense of his own family. I wonder if he knows they are messengers from the Lord? It is one thing to protect those we know and love – that comes easily to me. But to protect and serve strangers can feel altogether different, more risky, more uncomfortable.

Lot has no way of knowing yet that these strangers in turn will save him and his family from complete destruction. It’s risky, inviting them in, protecting them from the depraved world outside that says he should leave them to suffer and protect his own reputation instead, but I am sure Lot realizes that his bold hospitality was worth it when His own family doesn’t go up in flames with the rest of the city the next day.

And did you see that? Even when Lot hesitated to follow the angels’ instruction, even when his own comfort momentarily outweighed The Lord’s instruction, the angels pulled him from danger for the Lord was merciful.

The Lord was merciful.

I can’t read this story without thinking of strangers that God, in His abounding mercy, has used to shape my own life, even bring about my own healing and heart-work, when I have been willing to open my door a little wider, to prepare the feast even when the world outside is saying maybe it’s too risky.

I can’t read this story without seeing the face of my friend Mack – once a stranger, but one who taught me more than most friends and soon became like family.

It’s a long story, but it races through my mind now. Mack stumbled up to our doorstep just over ten years ago, drunker than anyone I have ever seen, a gaping hole in his leg from a burn that had charred it to the bone. Logic would have said to send him away, definitely to keep him far from my family of little girls, but when he fell asleep on our front porch I covered him with a blanket instead, and I didn’t know that one small decision would change my life, all of our lives for the better.

Later than evening I bandaged his leg. I did it the next evening, too, and the next and the next. And then I bandaged it every day for the next ten months. As Mack began to heal, and began to sober up, our once silent hours of bandaging turned into longer conversations. About him, about me, about a God who is good in our pain and our suffering.

Not only did Mack’s leg heal, but he got sober, accepted Christ, and became a man that my children called Uncle, a staple guest at all holiday meals and birthdays. Mack got a job and a place down the road, but joined us for Bible studies and dinner and jumped on the trampoline with the kids in the backyard. It seems like a beautiful ending but it certainly was far from perfect. Addiction still roared its ugly head, plaguing his mind and often his health. Eventually, his addiction is what killed him. The day we buried him, I peeked my head in his room and found his Bible laid open atop his copy of the Alcoholics Anonymous and I wept.

I wasn’t crying because he died. There is no doubt in my mind that no one was happier to meet Jesus in eternity than Mack was that day. I wept because the Lord was merciful. In His mercy he took a man so unlikely, the opposite of everything I would ever look for in a friend, and he made him a part of my every day. In His mercy He allowed me to walk alongside him in his battle against addiction, and as I watched the Lord heal Mack’s heart He taught me deep lessons about my own. In His mercy, He snatched Mack out of this brutal life and took him to the next where addiction has no grip on him. In His mercy He allowed Mack to continue calling out for Jesus, even in the deepest darkness. And in His mercy, He rescued me from my temptation to remain comfortable and instead prompted me to drape a blanket over a strange man who in turn blessed my life in more ways than I can possibly write here.

The Lord is merciful, because just as those two books juxtaposed each other on His bedside table, He allows us to experience pain and joy, both hardship and blessing.

He saves us, so often from ourselves. He saves us to live in eternity with Him.

What could it look like in your own life today to invite a stranger in, or to declare that an outcast is under the protection of your roof like Lot did?

Can you think of a time that you thought you were serving someone, but when you look back you see that it was God granting you His mercy?

What stands in the way of us living with the open hospitality and service of Lot? Risk? Fear? Opinions of others?

In what ways has the Lord been merciful to you, even amidst the hard and the pain of this life?

Week 18: God of Hope

Week 18 – God of Hope

Monday: Genesis 18

Tuesday: Matthew 18

Wednesday: Nehemiah 8

Thursday: Acts 18

Friday: Genesis 18, Matthew 18, Nehemiah 8, Acts 18

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 18: 

            It’s reassuring to know that God repeats His promises to Abraham. I need to be reminded of His promises again and again, even the ones I have memorized and know by heart. And even after God makes His promise clear a second time – you will have a son – Sarah laughs, struggling to believe it’s really true. But, dear one, nothing is too hard for our God.

            Are you struggling to believe that He could use your current situation for your good and His glory? Are you struggling to believe His plans for you are perfect? Are you struggling to believe that He will be with you in the midst of trials? Are you struggling to hold onto the promise of eternity with Him? These are His promises to us!

            And look, even though God has to repeat His promises to Abraham, even when Abraham’s own wife is struggling to believe, God chooses to reveal more of Himself, more of His plans to Abraham. He invited Abraham into the plan. Certainly I do not believe that this is because God needs any help figuring out what He will do next. It’s because He wants to do something in Abraham’s life through what He reveals to Him in conversation. God wants to commune with us, to speak with us, to share His plans with us. Are we listening?

Which promises of God are hard to hold onto right now? It is ok if you need to be reminded.

Let’s make this our anthem this week: nothing is too hard for our God.

Tuesday, Matthew 18: 

            There is no denying it in this passage – just about everything in Jesus’s Kingdom is completely upside down. Or rather, it is right-side up, but appears upside down to a world that seems to have it all backward. The least are the greatest, the children are the teachers. The one is as valuable as the 99. Conflict is solved in private, not loudly on social media, and forgiveness is offered freely, again and again, even to the most undeserving. And as much as it seems that it might be near impossible to live in this right-side up, upside-down way of Jesus, the parable of the unmerciful servant reminds me: I can only live this way because He did it first. I can only show mercy because He first poured out such lavish mercy on me.

            I can only love, because He loved me first. I can (even when I think I can’t!) forgive, show mercy, lean into the hard, because this is what He did for me.

Which of the things listed in our passage today are hardest for you to live out? Childlike humility? Forgiveness? Quiet reconciliation? Mercy?

Truly, we can only embody these things in the power of the Holy Spirit. Spend some time today inviting Him to show you the way to live for Him.

Wednesday, Nehemiah 8: 

            How do we look ahead with hope in such uncertain times? Because the joy of the Lord is our strength. The Israelites in Nehemiah read from the book of the Law so that they can remember all He has done, and remembering what He has done is what allows us to look ahead to all He has not yet done, to all that He will do.

            And just as God revealed His plans to Abraham, He makes His Word clear and causes His people to understand. What a privilege to understand the Word of the Lord and to rest in His promises! 

            These exiled people remember all God has done for them and they celebrate, and “their joy was very great.” We remember all that God has done and we celebrate, filled with great joy. 

Spend some time today in thanksgiving, celebrating all He has done for you!

How does reflecting on and remembering what He has done, what He has brought you through, give you confidence to face what is ahead?

Thursday, Acts 18:

            God gives Paul the courage to stay. Though he is abused and opposed, God speaks to Him, these words we have seen and heard so much, “Do not be afraid… For I am with you.” And so, Paul stayed in the hard place, stayed faithful to his call to preach the Gospel, and in his staying, in his perseverance, God was glorified as many came to Him. Sometimes, the brave thing God is asking of us is to go. But sometimes, the bravest thing, the hardest thing, the most heroic and faithful thing, is to stay.

            My husband and I speak often of the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila. They don’t get a lot of fanfare in Scripture, and they probably wanted it that way. But their ministry is so powerful. I imagine them looking with love at their brother Apollos, inviting him into their home not to criticize his lack of understanding but to impart a greater understanding to him. Apollos is able to go on to Achaia and other places after that and explain the Scriptures, proving that Jesus is the Messiah. Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus, but because of their faithfulness, their message went to the world.

            My husband and I have both been blessed to have Priscillas and Aquilas in our own lives, faithful friends and mentors who have drawn us in with love to explain, encourage, and even correct. We deeply desire this to be our ministry to the little town God has placed us in, to draw in young and passionate disciples and explain to them more fully the love of the Father. We feel that like Paul in Corinth, like Priscilla and Aquila, we are called to stay, but by the encouragement of others, we can still share the Gospel with the world.

Is there a place in your ministry or life where you feel stuck or opposed? Could it be that God is asking you to press into Him and stay the course?

How can you be a Priscilla/Aquila encourager in this season?

Spend some time today asking God to give you the strength and courage to stay faithful to what He has put in front of you in this season. Hear His words in verse 9-10 spoken over you today!

Do you have a Priscilla or Aquila in your own life, someone who has lovingly and gently encouraged you in the faith? If yes, take a moment to thank God for them today, or even reach out and thank them! If not, can you think of someone you could ask to come alongside you and encourage your faith?

Friday Reflections:

            I wonder about Sarah’s laugh. It doesn’t seem like it’s the giggle of someone overjoyed at what the Lord is going to do, but rather the somewhat sad, skeptical chuckle of someone who wants to believe but just can’t quite be certain – will God really do that for me?

            And haven’t we all been there, looking at the promises of God, wanting so desperately to believe they will be true for us, but silently skeptical they might be? How is it so easy for me to look at other people’s lives and believe all God’s promises are true for them, and then look at my own mess, my own hard, and wonder if God really cares, if He will really show up, if His promises will really be true this time. Why does it feel so simple and straightforward to pray and believe for a miracle on behalf of someone else, but a little silly to ask boldly for a miracle in my own life? How can I so confidently believe His promises for my loved ones, but still sometimes hesitate to believe them for myself?

            Because hope is our most vulnerable thing. Hope says to God, “I trust You for all that is good.” Hope says to God, “I believe You are who You say You are, even when I cannot see it.” Hope says to God, “I believe this is best even when it doesn’t feel best.” Even when it doesn’t feel best to wait in barrenness until you are 90 years old. Even when it doesn’t feel best that the healing of your loved one isn’t coming quickly, or… isn’t coming at all. Even when it doesn’t feel best to wait, and wait, and wait for that relationship to be restored, to keep reaching out and keep trying only to be rejected again. In our human hearts, when we choose to hope, the enemy whispers that we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

            But God’s Word does not, cannot, disappoint.

            “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And our hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:3-5)

            Hope that believes in God’s promises even if, even when… this hope is hard, and brave, and defiant. Hope that believes this isn’t all there is, that Jesus will come back and restore all things, that this world, increasingly a mess, will fall away and be transformed into a place of no tears and no hurt and no trial; this hope is beautiful, and this hope can be difficult.

            But this hope is where He calls us.

            And I keep going back to these words in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

            And that word hard? It’s actually the same Hebrew word used for wonderful in Isaiah 9:6. You know the one, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given… and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

            Jesus is wonderful, and if it wasn’t too hard for God to give Him to us, then nothing, nothing could be too hard for Him! And even our hard will be made wonderful, because even our suffering produces an eternal hope that will never put us to shame.

Can we bravely, defiantly, throw off the temptation of Sarah to let cynicism diminish our hope, to let “realistic expectations” temper our expectation that God will always give good and God will always get glory? Even now, even if, even when.

Can we be people who never chuckle under our breath because we wonder if God will do it but people who laugh loudly, boldly, because no matter what we know God will do it? God will fulfill His promises, not just to others but to us? Can we be the people who chase away skepticism, doubt, and distrust with a laugh that says, “The JOY of the LORD is my strength and I will hope in Him no matter what, because He will fulfill His promises to me?

            Yes, friends. Hope is hard and hope is daringly brave. Hope is wonderful. And hope is what He continues to give us as we continue to turn toward Him.

This one is hard for me, but I want to press into it anyway – where in your life have you let cynicism creep in? Are there people or situations that you have given up on, stopped praying for, because you have decided that it is just too hard for God or He just isn’t going to do it? (tears of conviction streaming down my face as I write, guys)?

Oh friend, nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing is too big for Him. Nothing will not be used for His eternal glory.Let’s ask Him boldly today to rekindle our hope, a hope that will never put us to shame. Let’s be people who laugh loud and brave, because the joy of the Lord is our strength.