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.

Week 17: God Who Renames Us

Monday: Genesis 17

Tuesday: Matthew 17

Wednesday: Nehemiah 7

Thursday: Acts 17

Friday: Genesis 17, Matthew 17, Nehemiah 7, Acts 17

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 17: 

Can you even handle this grace? God always coming for us, always choosing us, always renaming us. Always giving us His promises. And in the renaming, God asks Abraham to mark himself, to set himself apart. And though not through circumcision, He asks it of us, too, to mark ourselves as His by the testimony of our love.

As He sets Abraham apart, God promises Him that the whole land Abraham and his family inhabit now as foreigners will one day be their everlasting possession and it rings true for me, too, that this world that often feels foreign, this world with its problems and its trials where we can feel so displaced, is not our permanent home. He promises us an everlasting possession, a new Heaven and a new Earth where we will be at home with Him forever.

And if you need any more proof that God is not done writing your story, read it right there in verse 24, “Abraham was 99 years old when He was circumcised.” Our faithful God is never done working, never done coming for us, never done keeping His promises.

Are you living His love in a way that marks you, sets you apart from the world? Will people watching your life know that you are His by the way that you love?

Spend some time today praising Him for the promise of Heaven. We are foreigners here, and it has never been more apparent. But one day we will be at home with Him forever in his beautiful world made new.

Tuesday, Matthew 17:

            I love the intimacy Jesus shares with His disciples as He tenderly reaches out to touch them. “Do not be afraid,” He says. They have heard the voice of God, they have seen the glory of God shining from the cloud, and instead of being afraid they are invited to get up, to come near.

            Jesus is concerned with the “big stuff” – fulfilling all the prophecies and restoring all things. And He is concerned with the “small stuff” – a young boy with seizures, even a four-drachma coin to pay tax. And He says that all we need to draw near is faith as small as a mustard seed and I don’t know about you, but sometimes my faith does feel this small.

            Gracious, merciful Jesus says, “Get up. Do not be afraid. With me, with me, nothing will be impossible for you.”

What feels impossible today? Maybe it feels too small for God to even really notice or care about?

Nothing is too big or too small for Him. He sees you and He is gently calling you near, to take your tiny faith and put all of it in His hands, allowing Him to do the impossible in your heart.

Wednesday, Nehemiah 7:

            Tempted to skip another list of names? I know, me too. But as I slow down to really look at the words and ask God what He might be trying to teach us, even with yet another list, verse 5 catches my eye. “He put it into my heart to assemble the [people].” God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to know the people that he was doing life with, that he was doing community with. And it made me ask myself, beyond just loving my neighbor, am I really taking time to know my neighbor?

            We all long to be known, to have our name on someone’s list of people they care about and count among close friends. It occurs to me that on the surface I can be kind and “loving” without being intentional. But real love, God’s love, the love that Jesus exemplified isn’t just surfacy kindness, it’s knowing people deeply. Knowing their hurts, their joys, their failures, their successes and sticking with them through thick and thin. These few words got me asking myself about my relationships, and begging the Lord that He would put it in my heart not just to be nice to my neighbors but to truly know them, and out of that knowing, love them deeper.

Do you truly know the people you are in community with, or are you content to let the relationships remain on the surface?

Sometimes, a true, knowing relationship starts with our own vulnerability. Who can you share some deep heart stuff with this week? Who can you ask about their own deep heart stuff?

How can you spend some time this week moving your relationships from just loving to truly knowing?

As we answer these questions, let’s take our cue from Nehemiah’s words and ask God to put it into our hearts to know and love people well.

Thursday, Acts 17:

            There is so much in this chapter that we could discuss, but I am going to start with the part that most convicted my own heart – Paul’s teaching at the Areopagus. I read these words over and over this morning, “I see that you are very religious… but you are ignorant of what you worship.”

Oh, Lord, save us from meaningless religiosity! There is so much around me that I am tempted to worship: my own plans, my own dreams, my own security, my own comfort. Success. Achievement. Other people’s opinions. Myself. Lord, free us from these “unknown gods.” Reveal to us where we have put things before You, where we have been religious, but not Christ-like.

            Lord, make us like the Bereans, eager to receive Your message, eager to examine the Scriptures, eager to seek You every day of our lives. Gracious Father, we repent of our ignorance. Forgive us for the times we have not worshiped You the way You alone deserve. Thank You for life and breath. Thank You that You are not far from any one of us. Be near to us today, Lord. Amen.

Would you pray this with me, today?

Friday reflections

            Abraham fell facedown.

           The disciples fell facedown.

           Holy God is worthy of our adoration, our awe, our complete reverence.

And yet, though sin would make it so that we should not be able to come into His divine presence, we see it in all of our Scriptures this week – Holy God desires to commune with His people, with us. See how He extends His promise, this seemingly impossible promise to Abraham, that he whose wife is barren, he who is childless in his old age, will be called the father of many nations. See how Jesus extends His hand, lovingly, gently, “Jesus came and touched them” and instructs them, “do not be afraid.” Abraham, Peter, James, John… they have heard the voice of the Living God, the Holy God and instead of being afraid, instead of burying their faces in the ground, they are invited to come near. To participate in the promises of God.

            And doesn’t it seem like an impossible promise – the salvation of me, the worst of sinners, life eternal with this loving, Holy Father? Doesn’t it seem near impossible in a world that spins crazy, to take Him at His word and really, truly not be afraid?

            But friend, our Holy God, the one who deserves us to fall on our faces at His feet, to worship Him in all reverence, He comes for us. He came for us.

            He came so we could lift up our faces to His throne, so we could grab ahold of His promises to us, so we could live unafraid and unashamed. So that we could live renamed.

That we would no longer be called sinner, but Righteous.

That we would no longer be named cast-out, but Loved.

That we would no longer be unbelieving and perverse, but Believing and Pure.

That we would no longer be called doubting, but Certain.

…That even though some days my faith feels as small as a mustard seed, it would be enough, because He makes it enough. He renames me Strong, Brave, Faithful, Beloved.

And do you see it there, in Acts 17:27? The very reason God created us, the very reason He gave us all life and breath and everything else is “so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out and find Him though He is not far off from any one of us.”

Yes! He designed us so that as He reaches out to us, we, too, might reach out to Him. We, too, might seek Him and find Him and know our true identity, our true name in Him – Beloved.

God is worthy or our reverence and adoration. Spend some time on your knees, face to the ground if you can, worshipping Him today.

In what ways has God “renamed” you because of your salvation? I think of “taking off the old self and putting on the new” (see Ephesians 4:22-24). What is He calling you to take off today? What is He calling you to put on?

What are you afraid of? Spend some time surrendering these fears to Him. Hear His voice say to you, “Chin up, Beloved. Do not be afraid.”

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?

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.