Week 24: God Who Knows the End From the Beginning

Monday: Genesis 24

Tuesday: Matthew 24

Wednesday: Esther 1

Thursday: Acts 24

Friday: Genesis 24, Matthew 24, Ester 1, Acts 24

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 24

How often am I tempted to lower my standards, my expectation of what God will do because it just doesn’t seem possible? But Abraham is unflinching. Surely by now, he knows God will indeed provide exactly what he and his family need. Surely by now, I should, too.

Abraham’s trust seems to be contagious, because his servant, who doubted just verses before now prays a very specific prayer to the Lord. And God answers, even before He was finished speaking. We shouldn’t be surprised. This is always who God is – providing exactly what we need. Now, I am not saying He will always give us exactly what we ask for, and I am not saying He will always do it instantly as He did in this story. But what would it take for us to have the trust of Abraham, the trust of the servant, to lay it all out there to God believing He hears and He will give in accordance to His will? I like that God does not just provide for Abraham and Isaac in this story, but for the servant as well. He gives the servant what he needs to serve his master. And He does the same for us.

What do you need to ask God for more of in order to serve Him well?

Meditate on Philippians 4:19 today, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

Tuesday, Matthew 24:

“The one who stands firm to the end will be saved,” Jesus says. What an amazing picture, the Gospel of the Kingdom going out to all nations. It both fills me with awe and reminds me: we are not done yet. We are not done preaching the Gospel to each other and to the world. With our words, with our lives, with our love. May we stand firm to the end!

Who can you share the Good News with today?

Lord Jesus, make us ready. Make us a people standing firm in Your love, Your strength, Your grace. When You come on that day we have all confidence that we will see Your radiance and Your glory and that You will gather us to Yourself. Oh, what joy! Lord, may we not grow weary. May we not grow lukewarm in our love and passion for You. Make us faithful and wise servants until that day when every knee bows before You. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, Esther 1

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Our choices reveal the kind of person we are, but there is another side to the coin. We may, by our choices, also determine what kind of person we will become.” This gives great hope to me that my past mistakes and choices do not have to define me. I doubt Queen Vashti understood the far-reaching consequences of her choice not to come when her husband summoned her. The author doesn’t really reveal her motive. Maybe it was rebellion or defiance; maybe it was a conviction not to be paraded around for show. Either way, her choice set into motion a series of events that would alter the future for many.

Our choices have weight. They have consequences. And today, with the help of the Holy Spirit in Christ, we have the opportunity to determine what kind of person we will become, one small choice at a time.

What choices lie in front of you today?

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead all your steps with wisdom and discernment.

Commit James 1:5 to memory over the next several days, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Thursday, Acts 24:

There are times when we are tempted to manipulate the truth or our circumstances because we don’t quite trust that God will come through for us. But Paul tells the truth when falsely accused, trusting God alone to be His protector. For years, he refrains from offering bribes, using flattery, or altering the truth even a little bit because He knows that God is His defense.

Is there an area of your life where you feel like you need to come to your own defense?

Have you ever been tempted to manipulate the truth, bribe, or coerce to ensure a certain outcome?

Let’s ask God today to increase our faith in Him alone. Only HE can secure our future and our eternity.

Friday Reflections

In Isaiah 46:10, God declares that He “makes known the end from the beginning.” He says, “My purpose will stand… what I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as we have passed through several seasons of lots of unknown. It seems we are always either at the beginning of something or right in the middle.

There is a reason that Paul and the writer of Hebrews repeatedly refer to life as a race, a journey requiring perseverance, strength, and above all, the help of the Spirit. But when we dedicate our next steps, our choices, our decisions, our very lives to the Lord, He will give us what we need. He will equip us for what is ahead, all the while holding the end in His loving hands.

Beloved, if you are still reading this, it’s not the end yet.

God isn’t finished yet.

I think of Paul waiting for two years in prison, having already received the promise that he would testify about Christ in Rome. I wonder if there were days when he wondered how he would get there. I think of Abraham, insistent that God will bring Isaac a spouse from his own country and family. I think of myself in my own seasons of uncertainty, when I cannot yet see what God might be trying to accomplish, when it doesn’t quite appear like God’s plans, in fact, are for my good.

I can sit in my own “middle” places and look at my little tribe feeling at a loss, overwhelmed, unequipped. But God knows the end from the beginning. And if this is the place He has called me, if these are the people He has given me, if this is the thing He has put in front of me, He will equip me for the next step, the next right choice, even if the path ahead is hazy.

In the midst of a very dark day recently, a dear friend prayed, “God, help us remember that it ends with us with You.” I clung to that phrase for days.

It ends with us with Him.

Paul can tell the truth because he knows where it will end for him. Abraham can trust that God will fulfill His promise to make him a great nation, because he knows where it will end for him.

And we can stand firm because we know where it will end for us.

Even in the middle of the darkest circumstances, even when we cannot see ahead of us on a winding and hazy path, even when it looks like no good could possibly come from this, we can trust, we can hope, we can believe. Because we know what awaits us. We know that this is not all there is.

We know this all ends with us with Him.

Week 23: God Who Prepares a Home For Us

Monday: Genesis 23

Tuesday: Matthew 23

Wednesday: Nehemiah 13

Thursday: Acts 23

Friday: Genesis 23, Matthew 23, Nehemiah 13, Acts 23

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 23:

Abraham calls himself a foreigner and a sojourner. Even after many years of living in Canaan, it isn’t fully “home.” 

Abraham knows a greater truth, that he “looks forward to the city with foundations, a city whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10). And even as Abraham looks forward to his secure eternity, he lives in such a way that the people around him clearly see and know that he has a special relationship with God, that He has been set apart by Him.

We, too, are foreigners in this land. We will never be fully at home on this earth, and we shouldn’t be. We were designed for that same city as Abraham, the one where we get to behold the face of God forever. Does this change the way we live? I sure hope so. I pray that like Abraham, all those around us, whether they know our God or not, know that we love Him by the way that we live.

Is your focus today on your earthly home or your eternal one?

How does shifting your gaze to Heaven, our forever home, impact the way you live today?

Tuesday, Matthew 23:

There is firm instruction here from Jesus that cannot be ignored. I am convicted that so often I seek my own recognition, my own respect, my own honor, rather than His. I am humbled today by this call to exalt our Lord and our neighbor above ourselves. And, I am in awe of His mercy! Even in the midst of a strong warning, He longs to gather His people – us! – to Himself! He longs for us much like a mother hen desires to gather her chicks to herself and protect them underneath the safety of her wings.

His love for us, even while we were still sinners, is far beyond our comprehension.

Are there areas in your own life where you are seeking your own recognition, glory, or respect?

How can you make a conscious decision to value others above yourself?

How can you elevate the importance of God and promote His glory and respect?

Wednesday, Nehemiah 13:

Again and again we watch Israel fall back to her old patterns of sin. I wish I couldn’t relate. Does Nehemiah feel guilty as he catches his people in sin? Does he feel responsible? His plea is that God would remember him and show mercy as he reinstates the rules and repents on behalf of his community. But just as in yesterday’s text, there is God’s mercy, even amidst the direst of situations.

In verse 2, in parenthesis and easy to miss, it says this: “Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.” This is who He always is. This is what He always does. We will see Him save Israel time and time again though she continues to sin. And it is true for us, too, though we mess up and turn away and do the unspeakable, God in His mercy reaches for us, blesses us, gathers us to Himself. He really does make beauty from ashes. He does not forsake His people, nor will He ever.

Is there a habitual sin that you need to repent of today? 

Lord, have mercy on us according to your great love.

Take heart, dear one. God’s desire is still to bless you, still to call you into a relationship with Him.

Thursday, Acts 23:

In the midst of what probably looks and feels like the end, God assures Paul that it isn’t. And as we have seen over and over again in Genesis and throughout the rest of Scripture, when God promises, He keeps His promise. Paul will continue to testify about Jesus. And even when it looks bleak, God continues to equip Paul – giving him all he needs to accomplish His purposes, thwarting all the plans of Paul’s enemies (even at the last minute!), pouring out His favor through unlikely officials.

The same is true for us today! He has purpose for us and nothing – not persecution or opposition, not sickness or broken relationships or lost jobs or deep hurt – will stand in His way.

What in your life seems to be keeping you from what God has called you to?

Spend some time in prayer over that today. Believe that He who promised will accomplish His purposes in your life!

Friday Reflections

If I am honest, “home” is a topic that causes both my greatest delight, and over the years, more than a bit of angst. I think we are designed to long for a home – a safe place, a shelter from the harsh world, a place where we are nourished and comforted and can grow with those we love.

All my favorite memories are of “home” – whether gathered around my parents’ kitchen island laughing with family, or walking through the front doors of my own home to my children’s mess and chaos and laughter. I can imagine our children, crowded on the couch for a movie, holding hands in prayer around our giant farm table, running through the kitchen as I stir a big pot of soup for dinner, swinging from the trees in the backyard. I hope and pray their favorite memories will be of home, too – their favorite meal, the smoke of a bonfire on a hot, July evening, laughter too late into the night.

I love spending time and intentionality making our home comfortable and functional, a safe space that people feel welcome and safe, a place that even our grown children will want to come back to for years to come.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that; we are called to love our people and this is one way we do it.

Yet over the years, as my children have grown and many of them have moved halfway across the world to a foreign country, as my parents have aged and family events have taken place far from where I live, I have waffled a bit. Is this truly where we should be making our home?

I resonate with Abraham when he calls himself a foreigner and a sojourner, even after 60 years of living in Canaan. No matter how long I live in Uganda, there is always more to learn, I am always just barely scratching the surface of cultural understanding. And yet, when we visit the United States, we feel like foreigners there, too, hardly knowing how to keep up with a culture we have grown unaccustomed to. There is a sigh of relief when we walk back through our own front door and crawl into our own beds, but there is always a twinge of sadness about leaving our parents, brothers, sisters, and daughters on the other side of the ocean.

When I am here, there is always a subtle longing for that home, our people. And when we spend time there, there is always a longing for this home and all the people we adore in this place. The more He moves us around this world, the more and more I know the truth that I think Abraham, Nehemiah, the disciples, and Paul knew deeply – home isn’t really a place we will ever find here.

Hebrews 11 says Abraham went out, “not knowing where he was going.” By faith, it says, he went to a foreign land and lived in tents, “because he was looking forward to the city whose designer and builder is God.” It continues, “[Abraham] acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on this earth”…”they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared for them a city.”

            He has prepared for us a city.

            He has prepared for us a home.

Abraham knows it as he humbly asks the Hittites to sell him a piece of land on which to bury his wife. Nehemiah knows it as he rebuilds a city and then begs the Lord to have mercy as its people continue in rebellion. Paul knows it as he declares that to live is Christ and to die is gain. The rest of the kings and prophets mentioned in Hebrews 11 know it as they endure all persecution and hardship “so that they might rise again to a better life.”

So friends, make your home. Fill it with memories and the people you love. Fill it with praise and laughter, things that are so glorifying to the Lord. But hold all loosely. And when your kids move out or your besties move away, when you take a new job or move to a new city, when you are just feeling a bit displaced even in your own home, be reminded: we are citizens of a better country, a heavenly one.

Let’s be present to wherever we find ourselves while remembering that we are truly just passing through, on our way to that glorious place that will be forever.

Read Hebrews 11 over the weekend and be filled with encouragement by all those who have gone before us, who have forsaken all else to race toward this Heavenly home.

Shift your eyes to Heaven, beloved. This is all temporary, but our life with Him is forever.

Week 22: God Who Provides

Monday: Genesis 22

Tuesday: Matthew 22

Wednesday: Nehemiah 12

Thursday: Acts 22

Friday: Genesis 22, Matthew 22, Nehemiah 12, Acts 22

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 22: 

I can’t ever read Genesis 22 without tearing up. Abraham’s obedience is astounding. So is His trust in God, and the certainty with which he says, “God will provide the lamb,” in the face of an unfathomable situation. I long for this kind of trust and certainty of who God is.

And then, even more amazing than the obedience of Abraham is the provision of God. It gives me chills thinking about that ram in the thicket. Because I know that God is still the God of that kind of provision. He provided Christ, the promised Lamb, the sacrifice needed to redeem me. And if He can provide that, then surely I can trust and believe He will provide everything I need.

Spend some time today reflecting on Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

If He has provided His Son, the ultimate sacrifice, the greatest gift, He will not fail to provide what you need in this season, friend. He doesn’t always give us what we want, but we can rest securely knowing He will provide exactly what we need for our good and His glory – every single time.

Tuesday, Matthew 22:

Our God prepares good things for His children! Because we are His, we will receive an invitation to the wedding feast. And the very best way to express our gratitude for this promise is to love the Lord and to love others. This is the sum total of what He wants from us and what He wants for others here on earth – love. All the commandments point back to this. We don’t love so we can find favor with God, we love because we have found favor with God, and living in His grace gives us what we need to love sacrificially in big ways and in little everyday ways.

Spend some time today praising Jesus for your invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb in eternity.

How does this knowledge equip you to better love Him and love others?

Wednesday, Nehemiah 12:

If the wedding feast doesn’t give us a clear enough picture of Heaven – here’s another one. These priests and Levites are people who have devoted their whole lives to God and His people. And here they are, named. They each have a place and they each give praise to God and respond to each other’s praises to God – what a picture of the Kingdom! This is what Heaven will be, a place prepared for each individual, each known and loved by God, each responding to one another in praise, worshipping together with one voice. They joyfully dedicate all they have done to the Lord who has provided for them, who has made it all possible. What a glorious celebration!

Are you cultivating this kind of Kingdom culture and experience here on earth as it is in Heaven?

Practice today sharing your praise of God out loud with friends, family or neighbors. Respond in praise as they share theirs. Worship together, laugh together. This is a little glimpse of eternity!

Thursday, Acts 22:

I love Paul’s testimony, and even more, I love the boldness with which he shares it. He doesn’t share with shame or guilt, but as a clear indication and proof of what God can do with a life turned toward Him.

God has chosen us – you! – no matter your past, no matter your guilt or shame, to know His will and to see the Righteous One, Jesus! If we know this good Father, who provides us His Son and all other good gifts, how can we not tell the world?

Are there parts of your story that you are ashamed of?

How can those be a testimony to the goodness and provision of God that encourages others?

Friday Reflections:

I already mentioned that I love the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. Such a story of courage, obedience, and God’s clear provision.

The chapter starts by saying God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” Abraham replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

The Scripture says that early the next morning, Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.

Can you imagine? There doesn’t seem to be any argument here. He just loaded up his donkey? I don’t know about you, but I am certainly not this quick to respond when God asks something of me, and I especially don’t think I would be if He was asking for my child.

Can you imagine the pain and confusion of Abraham as he loads his donkey with firewood? As he treks up the pebbly mountain with his beloved son walking beside him? This is the son whom he prayed for. This is the son that God Himself promised to him, to make him a great nation. He had promised an everlasting covenant to this son and his descendants. And now He would take him away? 

And yet, faithfully, courageously, he loads up that donkey and he climbs the mountain.

Have you ever been there? Looking at your own plans, the things you thought God had promised you and just wondering, “Why, Lord? How can this be good, Lord?”

Do you wish you had this kind of blind and crazy trust, this kind of resolute courage?

Me, too.

I envision Isaac plodding along next to his father, the firewood on his back. Genesis says that Abraham carried the knife and the fire, and I wonder if his hands trembled with the unknown, with the weight of the task that the Lord had asked of him.

Isaac is uncertain.

“The fire and the wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

I just can’t get over Abraham’s certainty. It is a bold claim he makes, seemingly unwavering, and he says it before he can even see any proof of it: God will provide the lamb. He seems so sure.

Do I believe this? That whatever the mountain is, no matter how steep or seemingly hopeless, though the pebbles slip under my feet as I trudge onward, God will provide? That no matter what I’ve been asked to sacrifice, God will provide? God will provide the strength, God will provide the grace, God will provide the way?

That’s courage, isn’t it? To look up at our mountains, whatever they are and trust Him and proclaim that God will be enough, because He will provide Himself.

Abraham builds his altar and piles it with wood. He binds his son there and reaches out his hand to slay him. His trust in God to provide a way out is unimaginable. And just as he lifts his hand, he hears a voice from heaven call his name, stopping him, instructing him to lay aside his knife.

 “And Abraham looked and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.…”

Sometimes we feel like the one carrying the knife, climbing that mountain with our faces set against the wind and wondering all the long way why God would call us to this, how He could ask this thing of us.

Where is your Mount Moriah? Maybe it’s your church, your ministry, or just your family and your home life and you feel like you’ve hit a wall, a climb so steep, and you’re so exhausted, you aren’t even sure you want to do this anymore.  Or perhaps your Mount Moriah is your relationships – with your spouse or your children or your closest friends.  It’s lonely on this mountain road, trying to be faithful to what God is asking of you. What is God asking you to lay on the altar? 

Do you think it could be that what God is after most is our surrender? The laying down of your life and your plans and the opening of your hands to His? Could it be He doesn’t want your leadership skills or your productivity or your big plans as much as He wants you? Just you.

Maybe, the greatest courage is to lay it all down. To look up the mountain and tremble with fear but don’t let it stop you.  Do it anyway, knowing God’s way is better and that ultimately He will provide the very best – His Son, the sacrificial Lamb. God will give us a ram in the thicket.  He will give us Himself.    

Week 21: God, Our Well

Monday: Genesis 21

Tuesday: Matthew 21

Wednesday: Nehemiah 11

Thursday: Acts 21

Friday: Genesis 21, Matthew 21, Nehemiah 11, Acts 21

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 21: 

The Word says The Lord was gracious to Sarah to do what He had promised. Even when she is certain it will never happen – a son.  And how much more gracious to us, to give us His Son, just as He promised! Just when we are tempted to despair, a well, a place of refreshment – Jesus.

How often do I laugh like Sarah, not believing that His promises could be possible and yet they are? How often do I despair like Hagar, allowing myself to believe that I do not have what I need to move on, and yet He provides?

Gently He calls to me, “Do not be afraid.” He has heard us, He has seen us, He has done what He has promised and He has provided His son.

Are there places in your life where you are doubting God or doubting that He will come through?

How can His fulfillment of His promises in Scripture, most importantly His fulfilled promise to send the Messiah, encourage you today that He will fulfill all His other promises to us?

Tuesday, Matthew 21:

We begin today with Jesus fulfilling prophecy, the very proof that God keeps His promises, Jesus Himself the very best promise God kept. And even until the very last minute, Jesus so desires the people to understand, the grace of God desiring all to come into the Kingdom. There are hard truths here for the Pharisees, for those who would not accept His message. But there is a great truth here for you and me – apart from Him, I know that I am a Pharisee. I know that my tendency is to be like the son who says he will do it but doesn’t, to be lacking in fruit like the fig tree, to be as selfish as those selling in the temple. Can you identify? 

We need a Savior and so we cry out, “Hosanna! Save us!” And in His amazing grace, He does!

Spend some time today examining your heart for places where selfish ambition may have gotten in the way of humility, where distraction or disobedience has caused you to remain unfruitful, or where you have obeyed with lip service and not with your heart. Repent as He reveals these things to you.

Now REJOICE! He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, who saves us from our sin and will bring us into eternity with Him forever!

Nehemiah 11:

I’ll be honest, it was a bit difficult for me to pull encouragement from another list of names, but I keep coming back to the truth that we are all necessary in the plans of God. Here, Jerusalem is finally rebuilt, but it is still weak and vulnerable without enough people living there. Verse two says some people had to volunteer or willingly offer to live in Jerusalem, suggesting that there was some sacrifice involved. Some would have been leaving their homes, their farms, their families. But their sacrifice was accomplishing something bigger, something better – unity in the community of God’s people.

Is there something you are being called to sacrifice for unity in the Body of Christ? Maybe it is something tangible, but often for me it is my own pride, selfishness, or comfort. Maybe you can relate?

Spend some time today asking God to give you a heart that is ready to joyfully sacrifice for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Acts 21:

Sometimes, I cannot believe that Paul kept going. Uproar after uproar, persecution after persecution, one tearful goodbye after another, suffering upon suffering. And yet, he carries on. The only way this is possible must be that he remembers the grace of God who saved him. Paul describes himself as the worst of sinners, but rather than despair this only strengthens his resolve to see other sinners come and receive the grace and healing that Paul himself has experienced, at any cost. 

Even in the midst of persecution, Paul asks for permission to share the Gospel with the crowd. How can this encourage us to testify to God’s grace even in the midst of our own hardship?

Only one thing can keep us persevering through suffering – Jesus. His grace, His strength, His presence with us. Can you testify to His goodness today, no matter what you are facing?

Friday Reflections

There is grace here.

But we have to choose to see it.

There is joy here.

But sometimes I am too focused on my own agony that I am blinded by what is right in front of me.

Genesis doesn’t say God made a new well appear. It says He opened Hagar’s eyes to see it. And then just a short walk away she filled up her skin with water for her son.

Is it possible that in her pain and despair, Hagar assumes the worst – that God is not with her, that He will not help her, that God does not see her suffering – and that this perspective is what caused her to be blind to the well in front of her?

Is it possible that in my own trials or pain, I let that same lie sneak in – that God couldn’t possibly see me, that maybe this time God has left me or maybe this time will be the time that He does not come to my aid – and my eyes become so fixed on that lie that I am blinded to the grace and joy that is right in front of me, all around me, or perhaps just around the corner?

I need Him to open my eyes.

I remember watching my children and our dear friends jump around in a circle, singing loudly one evening after dinner. Our friends were living with us temporarily because they had just lost their mother. It had been an extremely painful season, one where we begged for healing and miracles and God answered in a different way. I remember watching them jump, the sound of their laughter filling up our tiny house. The words dropped into my spirit as if straight from the Lord, there is joy here.

From an outside perspective, maybe there shouldn’t have been. Their mom, my friend, had just died. My own children, whose laughter rang loud in this moment, had also lost parents in similar fashions at different times in their lives. There were many days where it felt like a desert, where I thought grief might take all of us under. And the momentary laughter didn’t mean that the grief wasn’t there, it didn’t take the sorrow away, but in that moment I saw there was joy there, too. No matter how hard it got, we would still have joy, and He would give us eyes to see it.

I scribbled it on the journal always laying open on the counter:

This is what I want them to remember: there was joy here, too.

Yes, it was hard. Yes, there was pain. Yes, there were long seasons in the desert. But His grace didn’t leave. 

And this has remained true through all our seasons. We’ve walked through several hard ones. In fact just a few months ago we found ourselves in the midst of impossible grief all over again. There were nights where I felt like we were wandering in the desert, water skins and hearts depleted. There were nights when we couldn’t see the way through, just barrenness stretching in all directions and me crying to God that I couldn’t watch my child suffer like this any longer.

But I have been in the desert enough times before that it doesn’t take me too long to ask the Lord to open my eyes. 

Beloved, the well is there. Here. Our well is Jesus. His grace, His joy, they never run out. But we have to choose to see it. We have to ask Him to open our eyes to His goodness right here in the middle of the desert. We need His grace like Hagar and Ishmael need water. And it doesn’t come from within.

Maybe you feel it, too, like you are here in the wilderness with your own empty water skin and if you don’t find some grace soon then you just won’t be able to keep going. It’s true. Without Him, we perish. God has to open our eyes to the well before we can drink from it. And He opens our eyes to the truth of His grace and goodness through our time in His Word.

Do you remember what Hagar called God last time she was in the desert? Back in Chapter 16, Hagar said to the Lord, “You are the God who sees me.” He is the God who sees us, and He is the God who makes us see.

When I forget that He is the God who sees me, I am blind. But when I, like Hagar, cry out to Him remembering His grace, He gives me eyes to see Him right here in the desert. He provides the well of grace in this moment – enough for today. He provides the well of joy in all circumstances – even the hardest. He provides the well of His goodness, even in the midst of this world’s pain.

Nehemiah knows it, and he keeps building. The disciples know it, and they keep following. Paul knows it, and he keeps testifying. We know it, let’s keep looking for it.

Genesis 1:20 says God was with the boy.

Make a list of the ways that you see God – glimpses of His grace and joy today.

What if we challenged ourselves to do this every day for the next few weeks? I bet you’d be surprised how long the list gets, and how looking for the good truly changes our wilderness into places of His grace and provision.

Week 20: God, Our Guide

Monday: Genesis 20

Tuesday: Matthew 20

Wednesday: Nehemiah 10

Thursday: Acts 20

Friday: Genesis 20, Matthew 20, Nehemiah 10, Acts 20

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 20: 

God can use even seemingly strange and unlikely circumstances to bring glory to Himself and blessings to His people. God speaks to those who listen attentively to His voice, and He protects those who are seeking Him.

God knew the intention of Abimelech’s heart and so He kept him from sinning.

Do you ever get stuck in a place of guilt over sin you’ve already repented of? I know I do. While repentance is a good and necessary part of our relationship with the Lord, we are not called to live in guilt and sorrow after we have confessed and repented. In Christ, we are forgiven and set free!

If there is past sin that is still haunting you, give it to the Lord today. Rest in knowing that He sees the intention of your heart and has forgiven you in Jesus!

Tuesday, Matthew 20: 

Again His grace, covering us all, those who have been faithful for their whole lives are welcomed into the Kingdom right alongside those who turned at the very last moment. What mercy!

I am struck by the picture of the landowner, going out into the streets and calling all he sees to come do the work. Clearly, the landowner represents The Lord in this parable, but I want my life to be spent this way also – calling others to come into the Kingdom, calling others to come and see what God has done for us, calling others to come and put their hands to the work that has eternal reward.

In what ways are you spending your life calling others into the Kingdom?

If that question is hard to answer, in what ways could you start calling others into the Kingdom of God?

Ask God to open your eyes, as He did for the blind men, to opportunities around you to invite others into His Kingdom.

Wednesday, Nehemiah 10: 

This long list of names gives us a pretty clear idea that the entire community was wholeheartedly committed to this covenant with God. The whole community, priests, Levites, leaders and ordinary lay people essentially promise to keep the entire Mosaic law, and they are very serious about it. Even as I read this I thought, “these are a lot of rules to keep… there is no way I could keep them.” And, of course, if we know any of Israel’s history, we know they don’t keep them, they can’t keep them, at least not perfectly. It is impossible to read this and not be astounded by the grace of Jesus who redeems us, not just even though we can’t keep the rules, but because we can’t keep the rules. Because no matter how hard I try, though I might commit to it with all my might or even sign my name to prove my dedication, I cannot perfectly follow the law and I deserve death because of it… but Jesus. Jesus takes the punishment I deserve, you deserve, even these signatories deserve on Himself and gives us life instead!

Rejoice today in the free gift of Jesus!

Another takeaway for me in this passage was that the sheer quantity of names here (84, over half that are not mentioned anywhere else) highlights something else we have seen often in Ezra and Nehemiah – it is not just the great leaders, but the ordinary people as well, who are essential to accomplishing the will of God and a part of His redemptive plan.

The things you have to do today may feel small, especially if you are tempted to compare your life with someone else’s life or ministry, but YOU are essential, vital in accomplishing the purposes of God!

Thursday, Acts 20:

Paul, Luke, and their companions are hopping all over the globe it seems, preaching the Gospel, performing miracles, and even raising the dead! Though this life came with much hardship, I admire how little attachment they must have had to their physical possessions and earthly homes to be able to pick up and travel about as they did. In fact, verse 24 confirms this as he says to the Ephesians, “I do not account my life of any value… if only I may… testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Oh, how I long to be able to truly say this – that my life is of no worth except to testify to the Gospel! Paul emphasizes to the Ephesians the word of His grace. His word gives us the hope and encouragement we need to live like this – less and less attachment to earthly things and more and more longing for heaven. His word gives us the assurance we need to be able to say as certainly as Paul, that it’s not our lives or our things that are precious, but the Gospel of Christ and our secure eternity with Him.

What earthly attachments might be standing in the way of us giving our “all” for the sake of the Gospel?

Can you, like Paul, say that your life is of no value in light of sharing Jesus with those around you? (I know that’s a loaded question! I, too, am not always sure I can confidently say this, but it certainly is a good goal to have at the forefront!)

Who can you share the Gospel with today? Who needs to hear the testimony of God’s amazing grace?

Friday reflections:

I got a message from someone recently: How do you know what God wants you to do next or where He wants you to go? How do you hear His voice?

I thought about it for a while. I wanted to give a really profound answer, something prescriptive with specific steps that might help this person discern the will of God. But I also wanted to give a really truthful answer, and as I thought about it the truth was this: Sometimes I just know. And sometimes, I don’t know.

And I really, really don’t like not knowing.

Sometimes God’s voice is loud and clear and we know exactly what to choose or where to walk. There is a clear right and a clear wrong and we will ourselves to choose the right way. But a lot more often, at least in my own life, there are two choices in front of us which seem equally good and we don’t necessarily hear the voice of God calling us into one or the other.

And while I don’t really like the not-knowing, while I still make the pros and cons list and still beg God to drop some kind of really obvious sign or speak audibly about what should come next, I am learning that the not-knowing seasons can become fertile soil for my heart to grow in trusting Him. And that doesn’t always happen in the seasons where I know (or really just think I know) what comes next. 

So yes, we do the things we know to do – we spend time with Him in the quiet and we read and internalize His word. So much of His purpose for our lives is found clearly there – in the quiet with Him and in His word – our purpose to love Him and love others and live lives that point others to the Gospel. We ask trusted friends and mentors to pray with us, and to speak wisdom into our decisions. We even make the pro and cons lists. But sometimes, we still don’t know, and that is ok. Sometimes we have to wait. And sometimes we have to make the next choice even while we don’t know yet and trust that if our heart’s desire is to honor God, He is going to use whatever we choose.

Just as with Abimelech, as we make our choices with a clear conscience and clean hands, God will guide us into what is next. He will not let us make a “wrong” choice if both options can be used to glorify Him. He will protect us and keep us as we choose our next steps with Him in mind.

By His amazing grace, His people are essential to accomplishing His redemptive plan.

And for our big God, just the desire to please Him, to follow Him, to make the next right choice is enough for Him to use to accomplish His purpose, His redemption, the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

When the blind men call out to Jesus, He asks them point blank: what do you want me to do for you? I think of this question as I look at these crossroad places of my life, where I can’t quite discern what the next right step might be, where there doesn’t seem like a “better” option. When I honestly ask myself this question, I know there is only one thing I truly, deeply want: more of Him. In Ephesians, Paul asks God to give the Ephesians “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better”

Not so that they chose the right thing. Yes, our choices are important and I don’t want to discredit that, but maybe when we are asking God to show us which choice to make next, He wants us to choose the one where we know Him better, where we spend our lives for others to know Him better, where we fall more deeply in love with Him.

Jesus opens the eyes of the blind men and they see and they follow Him. He opens our eyes, too, to see that He is all that we need, the hope of eternity. He sees the intentions of our hearts and He will continue to use us as we keep our eyes focused on Him.

Often our next right choice is just to seek Him, to trust Him in the waiting and the not-knowing, and He will guide us into what is next.

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?