Week 29: God Who Wastes Nothing

Monday: Genesis 29

Tuesday: Mark 2

Wednesday: Esther 6

Thursday: Romans 1

Friday: Genesis 29, Mark 2, Esther 6, Romans 1

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 29

Even through trials, even in spite of his own sin, Jacob is brought by God to exactly the right place at exactly the right time – where God wants him to be. It would seem like finding a needle in a haystack, to head off to a foreign land and hope to find some long lost relative, and here Jacob finds himself welcomed, brought in, part of the family. God sees Jacob. God hears Jacob. God provides for Jacob.

Then we see God’s tender care for Leah, the less loved of the sisters. Leah names her children exactly what her life, Jacob’s life, your life and my life testify – God sees. God hears. God comforts. God is worthy of our praise.

Where do you feel unseen or unheard by God?

Spend some time looking through scripture and throughout your day for evidence that God does see you. When we are looking for God, we will always see God.

Praise Him for all the ways that He sees, hears and comforts us. Our God never fails!

Tuesday, Mark 2

Jesus has just told the leprous man that He is willing to heal him. This willingness extends to us – He is willing to heal our sins just as He heals the sins of the paralyzed man being carried on the mat. His willingness went even further to healing the man’s legs and causing him to walk for the sake of the doubting onlookers to believe in the Son of Man. God will go to great lengths to ensure that His people know who He is. He is willing to call Levi, the tax collector. He is willing to stop and teach the crowds. He is willing to call not the righteous but the sinners to Himself. What mercy!

Are there things you are holding back from Jesus today? Are you unwilling to ask because you are sure that He won’t? Unwilling to approach Him for fear that He will not answer? I’ve been there.

Allow me to look you in the eyes for a moment and say this – our God will not fail. He will not fail you now. Take courage from this group of men carrying their paralyzed friend (probably quite awkwardly), lowering him through the roof to Jesus. Take courage from this motley crew of sinners gathered around a table, following Jesus with all that they have because they are “sick” enough to recognize they have no other hope. Now ask Jesus boldly for the healing you need, the help that you need. His answer may not come in the exact way that you want it, or in your own timing, but it will come. Our God is willing. Our God wants to heal our hearts, to save our souls. He came not for the righteous, but for us.

Wednesday, Esther 6

We all want the honor that we think we are due. At least I do. The older I get, the more I know, without Jesus my heart is utterly wicked and I am much more selfish than I care at all to admit. And yet we read it all over the Psalms, we see it all over the Scriptures, God will exalt the one who trusts in Him, and the ways of the wicked will perish. Oh, praise Him for redeeming my sinful heart!

When we are in the middle of being slandered, when we are in the midst of persecution or hardship, it can be so hard to believe this. David laments it in Psalm 73 when he says, “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Does this resonate? It sure has for me in different seasons of life. And yet, God alone justifies us, vindicates us, redeems us. He promises that even if we don’t see it for a long time, even if we don’t see it in this life at all, we will be exalted and blessed eternally by a God who saw it all, knew the truth, and brought us into glory with Him through His son. It is true for Mordecai and Haman in this almost comical story – the righteous and faithful are honored and the wicked fail. One day, it will be true for us as well.

Spend time today in Psalm 73. I love how David begins in lament, but by the end is singing the praises of His God who he calls his strength, his portion, his refuge. I pray that it would be true of us, too. That we would sing and shout, “But as for me, it is good to be near God.”

Thursday, Romans 1

Paul writes his letter to the Romans from Corinth. He hasn’t traveled to Rome yet, but he has heard of the faith of the believers there and longs to encourage them, and be encouraged by them. Paul writes to strengthen “God’s beloved,” even those he has never met.

The words of this text don’t need any explanation from me. How glorious, how unimaginable, that God looked on us while we were still sinners and deemed to die for us. We are going to dive into some deep theology and some beautiful truths together in Romans.

But as I sit here and think about Paul writing to a people he didn’t know, might never know, I just keep thinking of you. Unless you are Tamara (love you!) I probably don’t know you. I might never know you. And as I sit here behind my screen my heart is overcome with love for you as God’s beloved, as a co-laborer in Christ, wherever you are. You are not alone. I am praying for you right now, today, you who are loved by God and called to be His holy people. All grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Live loved and seen and known by Him today, Beloved. Amen.

Friday Reflections

The world may call it coincidence, the way the king wakes up at night and just so happens to look through the book of chronicles and just so happens to stumble upon Mordecai’s name there the night before his planned murder. The world may call it coincidence the way Rachel stumbles up to the well at the exact time that Jacob happens to be there, that she just happened to be watering her sheep when it was not time for the sheep to be gathered.

We know better. Or at least, we should.

So often I am tempted to think that my current circumstance is a product of chance, that my struggle is only because of an unfair and broken world, or my victory is only because of my own hard work or maybe even happenstance. But when I sit alone in the quiet I can look back on my whole life, my failures, my victories, my struggles, my disasters and my joys and I can know that God was at work. He was at work all along.

After trying to take things into his own hands for far too long, Jacob acknowledges God at Bethel and God directs him to the exact well, at the exact time where he meets his future wife and furthers God’s promise to his father and grandfather. Esther asks her people to fast and pray and by doing so entrusts herself, her people, her husband, her king to God, and when she does God stirs the heart of her husband and king and moves in ways that Esther never could have orchestrated herself. Paul, having never visited or even met the Romans, writes boldly to them what he believes God wants him to say, acknowledging and trusting God who will later ask him to go testify in Rome where he will meet the people that his letter encouraged.

            Dear one, lean in close.

            Nothing is coincidence.

            Nothing is happenstance.

            Nothing is wasted.

            God is going to use all of it.

I found a picture of myself the other day. I was 20 years old in a baggy t-shirt and braided pigtails. There was so, so much that I didn’t know. I had just become a mom. I had just started a ministry. I was basically just a little girl. And usually, I am so so hard on that little girl, shaking my head at all the mistakes that I made, wishing I had done better, wondering what may have happened if I had done better. But as I looked at the sparkle in that young woman’s eyes, a thought dropped into my mind, “I liked being her.”

Yea, she was naïve. Yea, she made some mistakes. But man, she loved Jesus and she loved His Word and she loved her kids and you know what? He used it all. Even the ugly parts. Definitely the beautiful parts.

And if I hadn’t been so bright-eyed and naïve and if I hadn’t made mistakes and if there hadn’t just happened to be all the ugly and all the beautiful and all the struggles and all the joys, if there hadn’t just happened to be all the right people in all the right places and all the unfairness and brokenness of the world and all the coincidences? Well, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I wouldn’t get to be this girl. And I like being her, too.

Because when I look back at her sparkly eyes and the roads that she walked with Jesus, when I remember the seas that He parted, when I remember the battles He won on behalf of my family and the little miracles that made us who we are today, I know – 

Nothing was coincidence.

Nothing was happenstance.

Nothing was wasted.

Oh, friend. He used all of it.

Like Jacob, God chose to use my life even as I continued to doubt. Like Levi, God continued to call me to Himself while I was still a sinner. Like the paralyzed man, He put people around me who pushed me toward Jesus when I couldn’t even drag myself there. Like Xerxes, God whispered to me in the darkest hour of the night. Like Paul, He gave me the courage to obey today, without knowing what that might yield in the future.

I never could have imagined all the things that we would face. And I never could have imagined how good God would be to us through it all. And if that was true then, it will be true again. We can count on it.

Week 28: God Who Is Always at Work

Monday: Genesis 28

Tuesday: Mark 1

Wednesday: Esther 5

Thursday: Acts 28

Friday: Genesis 28, Mark 1, Ester 5, Acts 28

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 28:

Even after Jacob’s clear sin of deceiving his father, God chooses to continue His blessing, His lineage, His chosen people through him. I sit and think how undeserving I am of His grace, His son, His salvation. 

God doesn’t just reiterate His promise to Jacob, though that would have been enough. He speaks to him personally in this dream of the ladder. For Jacob, this ladder was a reminder that God was still coming to make the earth His dwelling place. In John 1:51, Jesus identifies Himself as the ladder, our eternal link between heaven and earth. I think of Jesus, my ladder to Heaven. Not a ladder that I have to climb up, but one where He Himself comes down to get me, to rescue me. We don’t have to climb. We don’t have to strive. We can’t reach heaven on our own. Jesus Himself comes not just to carry us up the ladder but to be our ladder, our only way to stand righteous before God.

Meditate on John 1:51, “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Are there ladders you are trying to climb today, thinking that if you are just good enough, wise enough, kind enough you might somehow earn the favor of God?

If so, spend some time in prayer laying these things on the altar. Praise Jesus for being our ladder, our only way into the Kingdom, our King who comes for us.

Tuesday, Mark 1

Here He comes, our Savior. Heralded by John, tested by Satan, beloved of God. Mark was likely writing this Gospel account to a group of persecuted Roman Christians. He writes to give his readers hope that Jesus is, indeed, exactly who He says He is. Here in this first chapter, we learn so much about Jesus. He is baptized by locust-eating John and calls poor and uneducated fishermen to Himself. He loves to use the unlikely. It is His delight to heal the outcast, the demon possessed and leprous, and it is His delight to find solitude with His Father. Who is this strange and wonderful Savior? He is one bringing an upside-down Kingdom and calling the unlikely to Himself – even you, even me.

Where can you look for Jesus in the unlikely today?

How does the Gospel of Jesus give you hope?

Who can you share this unlikely, upside-down Gospel of Grace with today?

Wednesday, Esther 5

I wonder if Esther’s knees were knocking, if her heart was beating too fast as she waited in front of the king’s hall. If this went well, it could save her people. If this went poorly, it would cost her life.

And when the king does agree to see her, Esther is wise and patient in her presentation of her requests. In stark contrast, Haman’s pride and haste, and his delight in the demise of others, blind him to the reality of what is going on.

This passage caused me to think of Psalm 119:

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,

            Who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep His statutes

            And seek Him with all their hearts – 

They do no wrong

            But follow His ways

Oh that my ways were steadfast

            In obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame

            When I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart

            As I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees;

            Do not utterly forsake me.

If you are like me, you might get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you first read these verses – who is blameless and keeps all His statutes? Certainly not me. If you are like me, you might identify a little more with Haman than Esther – more often blinded by pride and haste than strengthened by patience and wisdom. There is good news for those of us who fall short, for those of us who cannot truly say that we “do no wrong” – Jesus! His grace categorizes us as blessed. His grace makes us blameless. His grace gives us the strength, patience, and wisdom of Esther, and makes our hearts upright that we may declare His praise!

Take a few minutes to meditate on the passage above from Psalm 119. 

Thursday, Acts 28

Once again, God protects Paul. This time from a deadly snake’s poison, saving his life to fulfill His purposes.

As we wrap up our time in Acts, I am utterly amazed at the way Paul has poured out his entire life to teach the Gospel of Jesus and proclaim His Kingdom. He has been persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, snake-bitten. He has lost all of his comfort, his physical health, many of his friends. And we know that he would say that it was worth it all for the Kingdom. Lord, please, give us such boldness.

And finally, he arrives in Rome, just as the Lord promised. It was a long and winding road, but God was with him all the way, leading him all the way, accomplishing His purposes all the way.

What promises of God are you still waiting on?

Does the road feel long and winding for you today, too?

I pray Paul’s journey gives you the confident trust to believe that God is still working, even in the detours. I pray we would all find the courage of Paul to forsake anything for the sake of our Lord Jesus.

Friday Reflections

Jacob is basically homeless. Running from a brother who hopes to kill him, running toward extended family who are basically strangers to him, he begins the 550 mile trek to Haran. And when he is too weary to hold his head up any longer, in desperation he makes a stone his pillow.

Have you ever experienced this kind of weariness? The kind where you are fairly certain that you just cannot go on?

But as the last of his strength finally gives out (imagine how exhausted you have to be to use a stone as a pillow?), here alone in the wilderness, he hears and sees God for the first time recorded in Scripture.

Jacob. His very name means deceiver. Jacob, who dishonored his faither in his old age. Jacob, now hated by his own brother. Jacob, leaving all he has ever known, and headed toward years more struggling and wrestling. Jacob, chosen by God even still. And as he finally succumbs to rest, God shows him a ladder.

In the middle of this desert place, in the middle of his weariness, God speaks and reveals the most beautiful promise of all time: God Himself will come down to get us. God Himself will come to make a home with us. And this God, our God, will not leave us until He has fulfilled these promises to us.

Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.

And as Jacob awakes a slow realization tumbles from his mouth, one that often stirs in my heart, too, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I wasn’t even aware of it.”

Paul isn’t that different from Jacob, really. Worse than a deceiver, he is a murderer. Running. Running from his own terrible sin, running to kill even more Christians. Paul, chosen by God even still. And doesn’t he even call himself that? The worst of sinners. And I know I have been. And there on the road, on Paul’s way from one murder to another, God speaks to him, too, revealing that same beautiful promise: they will receive the forgiveness of sins. There will be no more ladder to climb because He Himself will come down to get us.

Paul will be persecuted. He will be beaten, flogged, tortured. He will be imprisoned and shipwrecked, hurt, and misunderstood. And Jesus will continue to appear to him, continue to speak to him, continue to reassure him of the promise that He will not leave until He has fulfilled His promises. And while he never says it, I wonder how often Paul thought, surely God was in this place and I wasn’t even aware of it.

This is what is always true, dear one. In the midst of things we label pointless trials, annoyances and setbacks – the Lord is in this place. In the middle of our weariness, when all of our own strength has run out and we are all but ready to lay our head on the hard stone floor and call it a day – the Lord is in this place.

We have had our share of weariness this year. Emergency travel and hospital stays and plenty of losses and goodbyes. We have had our share of the trivial annoyances and interruptions that crop up, too. Things that shouldn’t make me clench my teeth in anger but do. And repeatedly God has brought me to the very end of myself, the place where I slump on the ground tired enough to sleep on a stone.

Remember Psalm 119? Did you know that word “blessed” literally translates to the word happy? We can be happy in God, not because we are righteous or blameless, but because of the ladder, Jesus. Because God came down to get us and gave Jesus as the bridge, the ladder back to Him. We can be happy, even in the desert place, because He who is always working will always fulfill His promises to us.

And so how do we become the Jacobs, those who sit without hesitation and say, “surely the Lord was in this place even when I was not aware of it.” And how do we go a step further and become the Pauls, those who are aware of the presence of God even in the midst of the hardship, whether hardship looks like petty irritations that spark a reaction too big or outright crisis that leaves us gasping for spiritual breath?

I want to be the kind of person who names this place, even the hardest place, Bethel, House of God, because God is always here and Jesus is always our ladder and He will never leave and is with us wherever we go. Even in the desert. Even in the shipwrecks. Even today.

Week 27: God Who Triumphs Over Fear

Monday: Genesis 27

Tuesday: Matthew 27 and 28

Wednesday: Esther 4

Thursday: Acts 27

Friday: Genesis 27, Matthew 27 and 28, Ester 4, Acts 27

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 27: 

It seems the very thing that Isaac and Rebekah prayed fervently for has become a cause of discord in their marriage. Isaac clearly doesn’t trust, or maybe has forgotten, the promise of the Lord that his older son would serve the younger and that the promise would continue through Jacob. Rebekah clearly doesn’t trust her husband’s leadership, either. This is such a clear example of the fall – man not trusting God, woman not trusting man (or ultimately God) – and is the cause of much hurt in marriages and other relationships today. Another possibility, also reminiscent of the fall, is that Isaac does remember the prophecy God gave, but so desires the indulgence of his favorite food that he ignores it completely.

Rather than speak to her husband in encouragement and remind him of the promise God had given them, Rebekah takes matters into her own hands, using deception to get her way. Yes, ultimately the will of God is achieved – it always is! But I wonder how much deep hurt could have been avoided, how much future family turmoil could have been prevented, if she had gone to her husband in humility and they had prayed fervently for God’s wisdom the way they had fervently prayed for children.

Here in this passage we see clearly that God’s purposes will always be accomplished, but our obedience can make the path a lot more joyful. Choosing to take matters into our own hands, or yielding to our own selfish desires, rather than trusting the promises of God, is sure to lead to hurt and dissension.

Isaac, much like Adam, chose to ignore the instruction of God and instead satisfy the desires of his flesh. While I’m not often tempted by “delicious game” I know that too often the desires of my flesh look shiny and appealing next to the commands of God.

Is there an area of life where your own desires are preventing obedience to God?

Rebekah on the other hand might be justified as wanting the things of God, but rather than trust Him, rather than approach her husband, she uses sin and deception to get her way.

Is there a situation in your life that you need to approach with humility and honesty, trusting God to reveal His will and His way? 

Tuesday, Matthew 27 and 28: 

They say it is the command Jesus spoke most often, and the most frequent command throughout the entire Bible – “Do not be afraid.” And yet the world around us, and my own heart, seem increasingly anxious. So how do we move this from a command on the pages of our Bible to a heart truth that truly changes the way we live? I’ll be honest. I am still working on this, wrestling to embody this, daily. I want to live unafraid. While it may seem simple, something that never fails to put my mind at ease is reciting, out loud or in my mind, memorized Scripture.

When I find myself scrolling haphazardly through my phone, my mind wandering to all the “what ifs” imaginable, when I wake up at 3 am and my mind begins racing with all that needs to be done in the morning, the Word of God is the only thing that can calm my anxious heart.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said to the women at the tomb. “Do not be afraid,” our Savior whispers to us.

What are you afraid of?

This question, while simple, never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Because when I answer honestly, behind all my fears is a false belief that maybe God won’t be enough, maybe He won’t provide, maybe He won’t see us through this time.

Let’s memorize Psalm 91 together this week. It begins like this:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,

My God in whom I trust.”

Wednesday, Esther 4:

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” While God is not mentioned directly here, Esther and her people need His command more than ever – “Do not be afraid.” The Jews are facing complete annihilation and Esther is facing death if she doesn’t find favor with the King. I understand her pushback to her uncle – this is a monumental, seemingly impossible task.

And yet sometimes the impossible task before us – the difficult parenting, the relationship in need of restoration, the fight for the oppressed and marginalized, the sharing of the Gospel with an unbelieving friend – is the very Kingdom work that we are called to right here, right now. Here we are, for such a time as this.

What “impossible” task are you facing?

What fears are getting in the way of jumping into this task wholeheartedly?

Let’s follow Esther’s example. Are there some friends that you can call and invite to fast and pray with you as you do the next thing God is calling you to?

Thursday, Acts 27:

There it is again – Do not be afraid.

And did you see Paul’s response? I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

And I wonder… Do I? Isn’t all my churning fear and worry just another way that my heart says that maybe it won’t be exactly as God has promised?

I am amazed at how long and arduous Paul’s journey has been. Both physically and literally he has been beaten down, crashed by the waves. And yet, he knows who God has been, and so he can rest assured of who God will be. Do I? Can I look back at all of life’s storms and see Him there with me? I can. And so, can I look at the storm ahead, though uncertain, and say with sure confidence that it will be exactly how God ordains it and that He will be with me every step of the way?

Paul breaks bread. He gives thanks. He believes in the God who will deliver them.

Think of some storms in your life that God has carried you through.

Give thanks for who He has been to you!

Now spend some time asking Him to remind you that He will deliver you through all of life’s storms, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever!

Friday Reflections

I can see the women with their eyes wide open as they tremble in front of the tomb.

They listen to the angel’s words – can it be? This, their greatest nightmare, the death of their friend and Savior, will be their greatest joy if what the angel says is true.

And I have always lingered long on those words in verse 8, “they hurried away from the tomb, terrified yet filled with joy.” Because so often this is me – definitely afraid of what is to come, and yet filled with awe to be in a position to have to trust Him in the first place.

I think of Esther as she calls for her friends and countrymen to pray and fast with her, and I imagine her trembling just like the women beholding the angel. Is it possible to be afraid of what obedience to God might bring and yet simultaneously giddy with anticipation because we remember all that God has done for us and believe that He will bring more good, even in the unknown, even in the storm?

Then, as they hurry away, they see Him. They see Him and they fall and grab ahold of His feet. And I imagine in that moment that all their fear disappeared and was replaced with only their joyful sobs as they clung to the real, live, tangible feet of Jesus. And He says it again, the angel’s command, His own, often-repeated command, “Do not be afraid; but go and tell my brothers… they will see me.”

Jesus doesn’t just take away our fear. He triumphs our fear with joy. He replaces our fear with purpose.

Just seconds after He reminds the women not to be afraid He gives them further instruction – go and tell my brothers they will see me. And isn’t it true for us, too, that often when we are most afraid, our eyes are most opened to see Him working? Often in the situations that feel the most like an earthquake or the eye of the storm we have to trust Him more than we have before, and thus experience His provision more than we have before.

We tremble. Because who wouldn’t tremble at the feet of the Savior? At just a glimpse of all He might have planned? But like Paul, we break bread – we remember what He has done for us. And we give thanks, because we can rest in His promises to us. As we trust, we are filled with joy and peace, we overflow with hope, just as it is promised. We know all He has done for us, and we know all that He has yet to do when He brings us into His kingdom.

Friend, whatever it is you are facing, do not be afraid. Whatever it is He is calling you to in obedience, rest assured – you will see Him! Go and tell the world of what He has done for us, for you! We can trust Him. And today, we REJOICE in Him!