Week 32: God Who Meets With Us

Monday: Genesis 32

Tuesday: Mark 5

Wednesday: Esther 9-10

Thursday: Romans 4

Friday: Genesis 32, Mark 5, Esther 9-10, Romans 4

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 32

After decades of living apart, Jacob is about to meet the brother he deceived all those years ago. Shame wounds deep. Past mistakes can haunt us. And Jacob is afraid. But in great fear and distress he doesn’t run, instead he reminds himself of who God is and who He has been to him before.

He remembers who God is, and what God has instructed him: “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper.’”

He remembers who he is in light of God’s majesty, that without God and before God he had nothing: “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan.”

He asks God for help: “Save me, I pray.”

He reminds himself again of what God has promised him: “But you have said ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea.’”

And God comes to meet with Him.

Yes, they wrestle. Yes, there is struggle. But God does not leave Jacob in his shame and fear alone. He meets him there. He meets us here. And He does not not leave until He has blessed Jacob and Jacob can confidently say, “I have seen God face to face.”

What shame or guilt are you carrying into this week? What fear of the unknown or the future is filling your mind? Can we follow the example of Jesus and:

Remember who God is and the promises He has given you.

Remember who you are in light of God’s majesty (He has been merciful and kind to us!)

Ask God for help.

Trust in His promises – He has never broken them, not one!

Tuesday, Mark 5

I imagine the tenderness in Jesus’s eyes as He looks into the faces of each of these people that society has utterly given up on. First, there is the man with the impure spirit. Let’s take a minute to imagine this guy: he is so ostracized by his peers and community that he has chosen to live among the tombs. His community is clearly terrified of him because they have been binding his hands and feet with chains. He is cut-up, bruised, and bloody from breaking out of the chains and cutting himself with stones. He is a picture of complete hopelessness.

            And Jesus asked him his name.

Then there is the woman with the issue of blood. The culture of the day would have deemed her “unclean” and therefore not allowed to be around other people. She was expected to separate herself from her peers and community until she got her issues under control, but she couldn’t. For 12 years she has been sick, isolated, and now she has nothing left after spending it all trying to find a solution. She is desperate, and her reach through the crowd proves it all the more.

            And Jesus looks for her. And then He looks at her.

Last we have Jairus’s daughter. Beyond hopeless, beyond desperate, she is dead.

            And Jesus takes her by the hand.

This is the Savior who wants to meet with us, who came for us. Who looks us in the eyes. He calls us by name – He knows us. He looks for us – He sees us. He takes us by the hand.

Where are you feeling hopeless? Jesus knows your name.

Where are you feeling desperate? Jesus sees you.

Where is your spirit feeling dead and defeated? Jesus takes you by the hand.

Wednesday, Esther 9-10

While it’s a bit of a gory picture at first glance, it is also such a clear and profound picture of how God protects His people. In the course of just a few days, the Jews have gone from victims to victors! From the brink of annihilation to honored and exalted. God’s chosen people triumph over their enemies, both then and now. If we are in Christ, no matter our circumstances, no matter who or what comes against us, we are not victims. We will be victorious, maybe now, definitely in eternity.

Verse 22 of chapter 9 says their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. This is what God promises to do for us, as well.

What is coming against you in this season?

What challenges seem insurmountable?

We are not victims of our circumstances and trials but victors in Christ Jesus. We can endure and overcome all things because our hope lies in Him and our eternity is secure.

Thursday, Romans 4

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. I have just read this over and over because it jumps out at me that Abraham didn’t just believe in God, but he believed God. Believed what God said. Believed what God promised him. Believed God even when it didn’t make sense, even when he couldn’t see it yet. And with just that one line, I am so convicted that I often walk through my days believing in God, but forgetting to truly believe Him. Believe that even when I can’t see or understand, all things are working for my good. Believe that even when things don’t go according to my plan, they will go according to His plan. Believe that none of this life is beyond His reach, outside of His power and sovereignty.

When we believe God, like Abraham, our sins will never count against us. When we believe God, like Abraham, we will receive all of God’s promises. Not because of who we are or anything we have done but because we have a loving Father who gives life to the dead (that was us!) and calls things that were not (we are not righteous on our own) as though they were (now we are made righteous in Him!). Paul says that Abraham did not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God – even when it looked impossible! Oh Lord, help us to not waver, help us to not simply believe in you but to believe you.

Where are you having trouble believing God this week?

Are there promises of God that you know to be true but they just don’t seem true right now?

Our word today says that Abraham was fully persuaded that God was able to do what He had promised. And friends, He is still able. Let us be fully persuaded of His goodness and Faithfulness toward us.

Friday Reflections

“I need to walk.” It’s a kind of SOS text message that I have been sending to my best friend for over a decade. When she lived down the street from me, it inevitably meant that she would show up at some point within the next thirty minutes, sneakers laced and stroller ready. These days she lives an ocean away but sometimes I still send the text, put on my shoes and pull out FaceTime. “I need to walk,” I text, but what I really mean is “I need to talk.” I need to share my heart with someone who knows me – all of me – and loves me anyway.

I got to spend time with my bestie this week. We got to walk and talk, laugh and cry. After a few really hard years, I don’t think I realized just how unlike myself I had been feeling until we were together and everything felt right again. It is amazing how even in the midst of the dark and the hard, someone who has truly known us can remind us of who we really are. We need this. I am deeply grateful to have a few amazing people in my life who do this for me.

And as I read through our Scriptures this week, I am reminded that our God wants to do this for each of us – for Jacob, for the demon possessed man, and the woman with the issue of blood, for Esther, and for each one of us today. The God who knows us more intimately than even our closest friend wants to meet with us, to remind us of who we really are, and who He made us to be. He makes it right again.

It is simple but true, when my mind is racing and my heart is thumping, I can send out that same SOS to my loving Father – I need to talk. As my head hits the pillow at the end of an over-full day or as I wake up in the morning already feeling overwhelmed, I call out to Him, “I need to meet with you.” And even quicker than the most loyal friend, here He is. He wants to meet with you. He wants to remind you who you are.

In great fear and distress, Jacob calls out to the Lord, “God, save me.” After being freed from his anguish, the demon possessed man begs Jesus for the chance to stay with Him. In his darkest moment, Jairus pleads earnestly with Jesus to come with him. In total desperation the woman with the issue of blood reaches out to Him.

And I can, too. In my darkest moments, in fear, distress, anguish and desperation, I can send up the SOS, “Jesus! I need to talk.” And my God, the God who came down and wrestled with Jacob. The God who wasn’t repulsed by a demon-possessed man or an “unclean” bleeding woman but looked them in the eyes and knew their names, the God who took the little girl’s hand in His own, will come to meet with me. He knows me well enough to remind me of the truth of who I am because of the truth of who He is.

How would it change the way we approached God if we truly believed He wanted to meet with us? If we began to call Him, speak to Him like a treasured friend and knew He cared to listen to every little detail? It might drastically alter our relationship, moving Him from someone we view as far-off and unavailable to a God who calls us by name, who desires both to listen to us and speak to us. We might say with Jacob, “I saw God face to face.”

So, friends, let’s try it. Next time you find yourself alone, even for a moment, can you pause and talk to the God who loves you, knows you, and wants to meet with you? Can you see Him looking into your eyes the way He did with the demon-possessed man, the woman with the issue of blood, the dead little girl? I pray that you would feel His tenderness toward you, His love for you, and that He would remind you of who He created you to be.

Week 31: Always Faithful God

Monday: Genesis 31

Tuesday: Mark 4

Wednesday: Esther 8

Thursday: Romans 3

Friday: Genesis 31, Mark 4, Esther 8, Romans 3

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 31

When Jacob left Canaan and his family 20 years earlier, God appeared to him and promised that He would one day bring him back again. Now 2 decades, 2 wives, 12 children and countless flocks later, God instructs Jacob to return. False accusations and envy are building against Jacob, but instead of protesting in self-defense, Jacob recounts the faithfulness of God through much hardship and struggle.

And yet, just after Jacob has encouraged his wives of God’s past faithfulness to them, we read that Jacob tricks Laban by leaving hurriedly without telling him. Is he afraid? Rachel seems to agree with Jacob’s testimony of God’s faithfulness, and yet she grabs her father’s household gods to bring along. Is she worried now that God won’t protect them as they go? I can be fickle, too, trusting God one minute and overcome with fear and worry the next. But God remains faithful, to Jacob, to Rachel, to us.

What are you afraid of today? 

Like Jacob, or Rachel, are you making a back-up plan just in case God doesn’t come through?

Meditate on His faithfulness to you today. Think of times that He has come through for you before. Rest assured that He will be faithful again.

Tuesday, Mark 4

Jesus calms the raging sea with just one word – Peace. I know so truly that this is what my heart needs. This peace is available to me, to you, because the same God who calmed the sea, who has power over all of nature, has that same divine power over our hearts. I hear Him asking me today the same question He asked the disciples – “My Child, why are you so afraid? Why do you fret and worry? Don’t you know Who I am? Peace, be still.”

I don’t know about you, but my heart needs to rest in these words today. So often I feel like I, too, am sinking, the storm and the waves of every-day life and its struggles crashing all around me. And the truth that I need to grab ahold of is that Jesus is not far off. He is in the boat, in the middle of the storm, right next to His disciples. And He is here with me as well.

What are you currently worrying about? What is causing you to be anxious?

Take heart, Beloved. Jesus is in the boat with you. He will not let the storm overtake you. Sit with Him in the quiet and hear Him whisper to your heart. Peace, be still.

Wednesday, Esther 8

God, always faithful, uses the bravery of Esther and the obedience of Mordecai to save His people. He keeps His promises, just as He always does. God can change the hearts of kings, of government leaders, of enemies. God can use seemingly insignificant people to further His plans. God always triumphs over evil and He always saves His own. He uses the most unlikely to achieve His purposes, He lifts up His faithful servants, and He restores joy to those who mourn. These are His promises to us throughout all generations!

Which promises of Scripture does God use to encourage you?

Spend some time today thanking God that He uses our bravery and obedience to further His mission. Spend time thanking Him that He always keeps His promises. He is a good and faithful God and worthy of our praise and worship!

Thursday, Romans 3

I am so grateful that my unfaithfulness cannot nullify the faithfulness of God. What grace! Not one of us is righteous and not one of us has not sinned, and yet though we fall short, time and time again, God in His faithfulness continues to use us and bring about our good and His glory. We cannot do good without Him. We cannot know peace without Him.

The laws and guidelines of God serve to make us aware of our sin, aware of our desperate need for a Savior. But only the love and kindness of God can save us. Only Christ’s death and resurrection could justify us before the Throne of Holy God. He has indeed given us grace upon grace upon grace.

Are there areas of your life where you might be striving to prove yourself to God, to earn your own salvation?

Out of love and awe, we strive to follow God’s guidelines but this can never earn us His favor. In His grace and His faithfulness, He has already poured out His favor on all who are in Christ! We rejoice at His goodness and mercy!

Is there someone in your life who needs to hear this message, who needs to be encouraged that they can cease their striving to be “good enough” and rest in the arms of the Father who knows their sin-struggles and chooses to impart the righteousness of His Son? Reach out to them! Let’s run into this broken world to share the message of this great grace. 

Friday Reflections

In Genesis Chapter 31, Jacob’s faith that God will be with them is certain, even amidst unfair treatment and false accusation from Laban’s family. Oh, how I long for a faith like this! God promises to go with Jacob even in times of fear and uncertainty, and He promises the same to us today. And even in dreams, God who spoke to Jacob before now speaks to Jacob again. His faithfulness is clear. His provision is clear. Jacob and his family obey.

And yet, just moments later, Rachel tucks her pagan gods in her pocket, “just in case.” Was her trust in God and Jacob in the last paragraph genuine? Was she just pretending to trust, all the while having a back-up plan? Or did she just grab the household gods in a moment of fear and weakness?

Jacob sneaks out of Haran without telling Laban. Is he worried that Laban might not let him go? Does He not believe that God who has kept him, protected him, and used him thus far, will do so again?

Haven’t we all been there? My head knows God will always be faithful, always be with me, always provide. And yet my flesh wants to make an alternate plan, “just in case.” My mind races ahead with anxiety over things that haven’t even happened yet, trying to come up with solutions to problems that may not even present themselves.

Like the parable of the seeds, we know we are called to be those who allow the Word to grow up in us, to have hearts that are consistently attentive to God and accepting of Him, to bear fruit for His glory. But in order to do so we must fight the temptations to believe Satan’s lies, to run when persecution and trial arise, to let the cares of the world, deceitfulness, and desire choke out our passion for God and His glory.

Jacob testifies of God’s faithfulness to him as Laban stands to falsely accuse him and I realize, this is what I must do. This is how I move God’s faithfulness from knowledge of a truth in my head to internalizing a truth in my heart and living out this truth in my days. God who spoke to Jacob at Bethel appears to him now in his struggle. Jesus who sits with His disciples in the middle of the storm speaks peace and calms the wind and the waves. And God who has whispered to me in the quiet before, God who has been faithful to me and my family before and carried us through all manner of storms and hardship, well, certainly He will whisper to us again, be faithful to us again, carry us through again.

Jacob testifies that if His God had not been on his side, he would never be where he is today. That is true of me and I hope you can see it is true of you, too. God who was faithful to you that one time? He is going to be faithful to you now. God who carried you through that long struggle? He is going to carry you through any struggle you face now and any struggle you will face in the future. God who provided for you in your moment of desperate need? Oh, yes, dear friend, He has already thought of how He will provide everything you will need for all that you will face.

We can stop making back-up plans. We can stop letting our imaginations run wild with worry and planning solutions for what is not-yet, coming up with all the “just in case” fixes. Because as I examine my own heart, I ask myself, “just in case what?” And the painful answer that I can barely choke out is the reality of the lie I am striving to fight, “just in case God doesn’t come through.” And isn’t this what the enemy wants us to believe? That God might forget us? That maybe Jesus will stay asleep through this one? That maybe somehow all our carefully crafted plans and answers and resolutions will protect us and keep us? That we, left to our own devices, might be able to somehow control the narrative and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe?

            Peace. Be still.

I need a Jacob faith to counteract my Rachel nature. And I know only one way to find it – in God Himself. We read God’s promises in our times of fear and uncertainty and are reminded that He is the same God today who will keep these promises to us. We listen for His whisper in times when the lies get loud and know that God who called out to us before will speak to our hearts again. We testify of what He has done for us, reminding our hearts and our spirits that God who was faithful before will always be faithful, even in the unknown, even in the struggle, even in the hard.

Jacob will fear for the future again. The disciples will find themselves in another boat, facing another wind, and they will again panic. So will you, so will I. But Jacob and the disciples will cry out to the God and Savior who helped them before, who never let them down, and who kept all His promises. And we can, too.
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Week 30: God Who Chose Us

Monday: Genesis 30

Tuesday: Mark 3

Wednesday: Esther 7

Thursday: Romans 2

Friday: Genesis 30, Mark 3, Esther 7, Romans 2

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 30

God blessed Jacob with abundance – both in children and in flocks – just as He did Abraham and Isaac before him, as He promised He would do. It is clear to us as we study Jacob’s story that this blessing isn’t because of anything Jacob has or hasn’t done. It is completely unmerited favor! God promised, and so God delivered. How encouraged we should be by this message!

This is what we have in Christ, too – completely unmerited favor. He chose us, not because of anything we did or didn’t do but simply because He loves us and wants to be with us. It is astounding. What does this favor look like? Ephesians 1:3 says our Father God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. In Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit and all its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – and a promised eternity. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Spend some time meditating on the following verses:

  • Ephesians 1:3-4
  • 1 Peter 2:9
  • Isaiah 43:1
  • John 15:16
  • Romans 8:28
  • Titus 3:3-6

Pick one to memorize as your anthem and reminder this week that you are chosen and cherished by a loving Father.

Tuesday, Mark 3

The tradition and legalism of the Pharisees misses the point of God’s law completely. God gave His people the law as a guideline for how to love Him first and to love others, so certainly doing good for others would be permissible on the Sabbath. I am often so keenly aware of my desire to “do things right,” but this text begs the question: does my desire for “correctness” get in the way of me freely loving God and my neighbor as I should?

Everything Jesus does seems odd to the Pharisees – the healing on the Sabbath, the calling of these misfit disciples, the forgiveness of sins and casting out of demons. Even the way Jesus defines family is different than culture or tradition would prescribe. …But He is the ultimate example of love – healing, gathering, drawing others to Himself, and He calls us to “go and do likewise.” 

Is there a desire for legalism or correctness in your life that is prohibiting you from loving God or your neighbor well? If so, this is not from Him. God gives no instruction that would keep us from seeking His glory and others’ good.

If something comes to mind (hint: mine are often parenting related, or just plain selfish) spend some time in confession today asking God to make your desire for Him and others greater than your desire to be right!

How does Jesus’s definition of family challenge your own thinking and the way you draw others in?

Wednesday, Esther 7

Esther exposes injustice and cruelty. This is often hard and can come at a high price, but just as Jesus calls us to an upside-down, extravagant love, He calls us to stand up for righteousness. We can rest assured that in the end, evil will not prevail and comes to the ruin it deserves. We can do our part to expose injustice and cruelty, to stand up for what is right and just, knowing that we fight from a place of Jesus who will ultimately overcome all injustice, wipe away every tear, and restore all that is broken.

Is there an injustice taking place in your circle of influence that God may be calling you to speak up against?

Rest assured that we fight from a place of ultimate victory in Him!

Read Isaiah 61. Praise God for being a God who fights for the brokenhearted and persecuted, who gives beauty for ashes and who will restore all things in His perfect timing!

Thursday, Romans 2

It is striking to me how much this passage written by Paul teaches such a similar lesson to the story yesterday in Esther. Certainly, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! I love finding correlations of His character throughout all books of the Bible – even those written thousands of years apart!

Haman wants to pass judgement on Mordecai and the Jews, but is judged instead. This is a sober warning, but also a great encouragement to be merciful just as our Father in Heaven is merciful! It is indeed His kindness that leads my stubborn heart to repentance. It is indeed the promise of eternity, His unfathomable goodness to me that gives me the strength to persist in doing good.

How has His kindness and mercy led you to repentance this week?

Where is God calling you to persist in doing good, even in the hard? Take courage! He will give us eternal life through His Son!

Friday Reflections

It is so easy to read these Gospels as familiar passages that I have been taught since childhood. But as I read Mark this week, I tried to truly imagine the scene. To be honest? It sounds like mass chaos. Despite opposition, Jesus has become so well known in all of Israel that there is hardly a place He goes where He isn’t recognized. Everywhere, it seems, He is surrounded by throngs of people, sick, desperate, needy, demon possessed, clamoring just to get close to Him.

I get claustrophobic just thinking about it. I imagine the children’s Bible from my youth, the happy crowd, nicely spaced out and sitting all around Jesus as He teaches, but when we look at Mark 3, that isn’t really what is depicted. He told His disciples to get a boat ready because of the crowd, lest they crush Him. For He had healed so many that all who had diseases pressed around Him to touch Him.

This is a picture of a desperate people. A broken people. A sick and unclean people. A people gathered by Jesus to Himself.

This desperation and chaos that overwhelms me just to think about is the people that Jesus loves. The people that He would die for. We read further and it says that Jesus went up on the mountainside and “called to Him those whom He desired.” These would be the twelve men that Jesus did the rest of His life and ministry closely with, day in and day out. And Jesus isn’t settling for the best He can find, He is intentionally choosing those who will be His people, the ones whom He wants. And you know who they are?

            The fishermen.

            The tax collector.

            The politician.

            The thief.

Some of these men were outcasts, some of them poor, one of them likely a political anarchist, one of them taking advantage of his own people for personal gain. Just like those pressing around Jesus threatening to crush Him, these men too were desperate, broken. These men would follow Him, but they would also doubt Him, betray Him, deny Him, and cause Him grief. Yet Jesus called to Himself those who He desired. The disciples, you, me.

God chose Jacob to carry His name and His lineage despite his doubt, his wrestling, his faltering faith. God chose Esther to stand up for her people and speak out against injustice despite her age or her gender. He chose these disciples regardless of their lowly background or the fact that many of them were probably hated by their peers or the fact that they would cause Him all kinds of trouble. He chose Paul, the self-proclaimed worst of sinners, a pharisee and a murderer.

And if you profess to know Him, dear one, He chose you, too.

He didn’t choose us because of any good that we did or could do, but because of His great love and mercy. It is indeed His own kindness that leads to repentance and His love that draws us to love Him.

To you who are broken and in need of healing, to you who have sinned and need rescue, to you who are weary and in need of rest, Jesus opens wide His arms. To you who struggle with doubt, to you who are desperate, to you who feel stuck, Jesus beckons. And if you are feeling insignificant, unimportant, or cast out, I invite you today to feel His loving gaze upon you. He calls to Himself the ones He desires. He knows your name. He knows your shortcomings and your failures. He desires you, His Beloved, to come rest in the loving arms of the God who saved us, who chose us, who loves us, and who is forever calling us home. 

Is there a sin, a hurt, or a weariness that is keeping you from running to Jesus? It is true that we are unworthy of His love, but He opens His arms to us anyway. Let’s lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross and run into the open arms of our loving Savior.

Is there someone that you know who is weary, broken, outcast, struggling who you can draw into your circle or your home in this season? Jesus redefines family and community, and we can, too.

Week 29: God Who Wastes Nothing

Monday: Genesis 29

Tuesday: Mark 2

Wednesday: Esther 6

Thursday: Romans 1

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

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 29

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

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

Where do you feel unseen or unheard by God?

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

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

Tuesday, Mark 2

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

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

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

Wednesday, Esther 6

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

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

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

Thursday, Romans 1

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

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

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

Friday Reflections

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

We know better. Or at least, we should.

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

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

            Dear one, lean in close.

            Nothing is coincidence.

            Nothing is happenstance.

            Nothing is wasted.

            God is going to use all of it.

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

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

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

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

Nothing was coincidence.

Nothing was happenstance.

Nothing was wasted.

Oh, friend. He used all of it.

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

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

Week 28: God Who Is Always at Work

Monday: Genesis 28

Tuesday: Mark 1

Wednesday: Esther 5

Thursday: Acts 28

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

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 28:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, Mark 1

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

Where can you look for Jesus in the unlikely today?

How does the Gospel of Jesus give you hope?

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

Wednesday, Esther 5

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

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

This passage caused me to think of Psalm 119:

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,

            Who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep His statutes

            And seek Him with all their hearts – 

They do no wrong

            But follow His ways

Oh that my ways were steadfast

            In obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame

            When I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart

            As I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees;

            Do not utterly forsake me.

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

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

Thursday, Acts 28

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

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

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

What promises of God are you still waiting on?

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

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

Friday Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 27: God Who Triumphs Over Fear

Monday: Genesis 27

Tuesday: Matthew 27 and 28

Wednesday: Esther 4

Thursday: Acts 27

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

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 27: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, Matthew 27 and 28: 

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

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

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

What are you afraid of?

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

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

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

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

My God in whom I trust.”

Wednesday, Esther 4:

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

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

What “impossible” task are you facing?

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

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

Thursday, Acts 27:

There it is again – Do not be afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

Give thanks for who He has been to you!

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

Friday Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 26: God Who Gives Us Courage to Stay

Monday: Genesis 26

Tuesday: Matthew 26

Wednesday: Esther 3

Thursday: Acts 26

Friday: Genesis 26, Matthew 26, Ester 3, Acts 26

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 26:

Look at how graciously God provides for Isaac! Isaac has a decision to make – there is a famine in his land. Will he go down to Egypt? Will he stay even though all seems bleak? God instructs him to stay. It’s a choice that doesn’t make much sense by most standards. Why would you stay in a land with no food? Because the Lord asked you to. Isaac trusts God and does as God instructs him, and he is abundantly blessed. He plants and harvests a hundredfold that same year! God provides for him and his family, probably in ways he never could have imagined.

We can do what God asks of us. We can follow His instruction even when it doesn’t make sense to a watching world. He will always give us what we need for what He has called us to do.

Is there a difficult place where He is asking you to stay, to press in, to not grow weary, even if it doesn’t make much sense?

Hear Him whisper to you today, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

Tuesday, Matthew 26:

This chapter is gutting and yet is so beautiful, our Savior, fully God and fully man, giving up His life for us. “Not considering equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2) but laying it all down, for His Beloved, for His betrayer, for me, for you.

My words feel inadequate against the awe of this chapter. Jesus, calling the woman’s act of sacrifice beautiful. Jesus, giving thanks before He allows His body to be broken and His blood poured out for us. Jesus, serving the very one who would turn on Him. Jesus, planning to use the very one who would disown Him. Jesus, singing with His beloved just before asking the Father to please make another way. Jesus, obeying His Father in the hardest moments, for you. For me. Jesus.

Like the woman at Bethany, spend time today standing in awe of our Savior. Let the tears fall, if they come. There is no greater love than this.

Lord Jesus, may this never be just another story. May we always stand in awe of what you have done for us. May we never grow tired of this testimony, this outrageous love.

Wednesday, Esther 3

Haman seeks after one thing: his own honor and glory. I’ve been there. He shamelessly uses pride, flattery, and even bribery to get what he wants, and what he knows is wrong. Esther gives us several very straightforward examples of what it looks like to be the people of God and what it looks like to be an enemy of God.

The Jews, especially Mordecai, are a sharp contrast to Haman. They keep themselves “separate from the ways of the other peoples.” Isn’t this our call today? Isn’t this how we should live? Not conforming to the ways of the world around us but looking only to God and His word to inform our customs and our decisions? We are to live in the world but not to be of the world. We are to live with the people of the world but stand out among them because we have a joy, a peace, a confidence that is different because it is from Jesus.

Are there areas of your life where it is easier to seek your own glory and honor than to lift up others or to seek the glory of God?

Are there areas of your life where you are tempted to conform to the culture around you, even when it is in opposition to God’s Kingdom culture? (There are a lot of these for me and often they are subtle.)

Let this be your encouragement to live in the world but not of it, with the world but set apart. Ask the Lord to help you!

Thursday, Acts 26

Paul testifies again and again. He never tires of telling what God has done for him. How many times have we read this account so far in Acts? How many more times will we read it in other letters? What Jesus did for Paul doesn’t seem to ever get old or stale or boring for him. I so badly want this to be true of me.

Has the Gospel lost its luster in your life? Does it feel like the “same old story”?

I pray we would never tire of speaking of God’s goodness, both in our salvation and in the little details of our lives. I pray that we would never get over His goodness to us, that we would never stop boasting of who He is and what He has done for us!

Friday Reflections

I thought I was brave once. At 18 years old I decided to move across the ocean to a village in East Africa with a suitcase full of crayons and construction paper and a heart determined to change the world with the Gospel. I was bright-eyed and optimistic; I felt like Abraham, on the cusp of this exciting new adventure with the Lord, ready to go and do whatever He called me to in an exotic, foreign place. 

And yes, it is beautiful and brave to set off for a foreign land, to follow His calling into the new, the unknown, the exciting. But lean in close and I’ll tell you something else: sometimes the thing that is just as brave? To stay. To dig in where it seems old, familiar, and unexciting. To not grow weary in the good that He has placed right in front of you, right here, right now.

Early in my adult life God did a lot of big things. Together, we grew a big ministry and a big family in the beautiful place I now call home. He used that bright-eyed optimism, blind trust and often naivety in ways that I never could have imagined.

At the time, I did not know the beauty that would find me in a life poured out for Him, the joy of calling little ones “daughter” and pressing into Him to learn what courage really meant, the exhilaration of true and undefiled worship in a sea of people who did not speak the same language but worshiped the same God, the thrill of witnessing a life changed due to basic and simple provision of such things as medical care and nutrition assistance.

I did not know the pain that awaited me on the other side of the ocean, on the other side of humility where I would recognize just how little I had to offer. I did not know that I would carry the responsibility of looking into a mother’s face and telling her that her child was not going to live. I did not know that I would forge deep friendships with people imprisoned by addiction that I could not help them fight, no matter how I tried. I did not know that I would provide care, for months at a time, for people living with HIV, desperately begging God to spare their lives, only to later find myself holding their hands as they slipped into eternity with Him on the other side.

And I did not know that in the middle of much pain and grief and loss, I would experience a joy and a peace that far surpassed human understanding. The Lord would take the most dark and difficult places of my life and make them the places where I knew Him more intimately and deeply than I had ever fathomed possible.

Over the years of motherhood and ministry the “big” things got smaller and the loud things got quieter and as a family we settled back into a pattern of life that wasn’t quite so flashy, wasn’t quite so bold, wasn’t quite so exciting. I hung laundry on the line a lot more than I cared for the dying and I made huge pots of spaghetti and changed diapers and mediated sibling rivalries as my amazing team of Ugandan staff worked on the frontlines providing for and sharing the Gospel with our community. And on lonely nights I would tuck warm little bodies into bed and sit on the couch planning tomorrow’s spelling lesson and wonder what, if anything, I had accomplished that day.

And in the quiet, God whispered a secret: obedience is always the bravest.

He taught me that just as Mary of Bethany poured out her life’s savings in perfume over her beloved Savoir, my life poured out for Him was enough, even when no one was watching. This daily laying down of myself for my family, my neighbor, my community, was just as beautiful to the heart of God as any grand gesture or dramatic move.

I’ve wrestled as I have folded mountains of laundry with a longing to do something “bigger” for the Kingdom. I’ve wondered as I’ve chopped carrots and checked homework and wiped noses if this is what I am supposed to be doing for the Gospel. I’ve dreamt of something a little more bold, a little more adventurous, a little more exciting.

Isacc stays.

Paul shares his testimony again.

Jesus goes to the cross in obedience to the Father.

Jesus said of the woman who anointed Him in Matthew that wherever the Gospel was preached in the world, “what she has done for me will also be told.”

When I look at my children and ask myself what I want them to remember of me, what I hope that they will tell people when asked about their mother, all I want is them to picture me like that woman, all that I have poured out for Jesus, genuinely, quietly, without any fanfare, my tears of gratitude falling on His feet. I have spoken on big stages. I have built a “big ministry”. I have opened schools and I have lived in a foreign country, and I have written bestselling books. (Oh please hear my heart here, all and only by the grace of God.) But those are not the things I want to be said of me one day when I am gone. Those are not the images I want my children, my friends, and my community members to have of me one day. 

I want them to remember me here in the messy kitchen chopping that pile of carrots. I want them to remember me there curled up on the couch with my Bible. I want them to remember a warm smile when they walked in the door and a warm meal on a cold night. And most of all I want them to remember that in all of it, the big and the small, the miraculous and the mundane, my Joy was found in Jesus alone.

I want to be the one who stayed.

I want to be the one who shared about what God had done for her again.

I want to be the one who did the little things in obedience to the Father.

Friends, He might call you to something big and grand today. There are seasons for that. There are mighty works and growing ministries and miracles that are so far beyond what we can imagine. But also, He might call you to be right here. To grow those roots deep. To love extravagantly and not grow weary doing the good and the seemingly small right where you are with the people right in front of you.

And if He is, obedience is always the bravest.

Week 25: God Who Goes Before Me

Monday: Genesis 25

Tuesday: Matthew 25

Wednesday: Esther 2

Thursday: Acts 25

Friday: Genesis 25, Matthew 25, Ester 2, Acts 25

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 25:

For 20 years, Isaac and Rebekah prayed for sons, and God answered their prayers and His promise to keep Abraham’s lineage going. But when their sons are finally granted to them, will they continue to believe in the promises of God? God reveals to Rebekah that the older one will serve the younger one, which was certainly a reversal of cultural expectations. Can they believe that God will indeed go before them?

Are you having trouble clinging to some of the promises of God in your life?

List them out here and then look up scripture to remind yourself of the truth of His word. You may not see if yet, but God is always a God who fulfils His promises to His people!

Tuesday, Matthew 25: 

There He is again, throughout all of time, throughout all of history, going before us, preparing a place for us! Are we ready? Are we stewarding what He has entrusted us in such a way that if He came back today we would gladly run into His arms knowing that we have used our time wisely here on earth and are ready for new life in eternity? I don’t believe this text is meant to be scary, but certainly an exciting encouragement to live every day ready, fully trusting Him, and fully desiring to use each gift, each breath, each moment He has given us for the glory of His name!

How would you live today if you knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow?

We don’t know, and the Bible makes it clear that no one can know the exact time Jesus will return. This should encourage us and spur us on to love and serve. How glorious it will be on that day to be among His sheep!

Wednesday, Esther 2: 

Esther. The only book of the Bible with no mention of God and yet God’s divine favor is clearly with Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews. Can we believe for a second that the events in this book are just happenstance as they position Esther and Mordecai in the perfect position to later save their people from impending destruction? There will be no signs and wonders, no blatant miracles, and yet it is so evident that God is working every little detail together for the bigger story, the salvation of His chosen people.

Even when God is most hidden, He is here. Even when we cannot see Him, when there are no signs or wonders or miracles, He has a purpose. And that purpose is always to deliver His people, to draw them to Himself.

Is there an area of your life where you don’t see or feel God at work?

Can you believe He is in the details, orchestrating all events, big and small, for the good of His people (you!) and His own glory?

Thursday, Acts 25:

Unlike Isaac and Rebekah, Paul is sure of God’s promise to bring him to Rome to share the Gospel. Still being deterred, still being questioned, still being tried like a criminal. But Paul, faithful and true, unwavering in his trust of God and God’s plan for his life continues to share his same Gospel boldly.

I want this kind of faith! I want to finish the race in this way! If Jesus comes back tomorrow, I want Him to find me here faithfully serving my people, boldly sharing His Gospel, firmly clinging to His Word.

Lord Jesus, make us a faithful people, a people who shine like stars in the universe, holding firmly to the Word of life. Lord make us people confident that you have gone before us and give us the grace and strength to live as those just passing through, on our way to our heavenly home. We love you. Amen!

Friday Reflections:

Sometimes I think about my early days in Uganda. I lived with the most generous host family who spoke barely any English in a room smaller than my old closet. Sometimes, the loneliness took my breath away. But sometimes the beauty did, too. I think about standing on the first acre of property I purchased here, just a plot of grass with a mango tree right in the middle, the tree we would gather under for years to sing praise and study God’s Word as a community.

I had no idea.

Sometimes I think even further back to that little girl kneeling in front of a hard church pew having swallowed down bread and wine, overcome with gratitude to Jesus and bowing her head to ask God to use her little life for something, anything that would build the Kingdom. I remember the rough, pinkish upholstery on the kneeler.

I had no idea.

I think of young Esther. We don’t know much of her background other than she lost both parents at a young age, something no child should ever endure. She has grown up in exile as a minority, likely facing hardship and mistreatment. There she is in the middle of many women subjected to all kinds of beauty treatments and diets, hiding her true identity as she awaits being taken before the king.

I bet she had no idea.

No idea she would indeed become Queen, not just of her own people but of a foreign people as well. No idea that God had orchestrated all these events – the removal of queen Vashti, Esther’s appointment as the queen instead, Mordecai’s overhearing of a plot against the king, the records that wouldn’t be referenced for years – not just to save her, not just to save her family, but to save her people, God’s people. I bet she had no idea that all of these things were in fact God orchestrating the salvation of His chosen people. 

For thousands of years throughout the Old Testament, God has preserved a remnant of the Jewish people no matter how much they rebel or disobey. God’s saving work in and through Abraham’s descendants would have come to an end if God had not been in every little detail of Esther’s life and story. God’s people have endured thousands of years of persecution and hardship, and now an enemy seeks to completely destroy them.

And yet, God goes before.

I think of Esther, young and newly queen, reporting the officer’s plot to the king and giving credit to Mordecai. She was probably just trying to do the right thing, to protect her husband and maybe even herself. She may have thought it was “by chance” that Mordecai “just happened” to overhear the guard’s plans. And maybe many years later it would be “just by chance” that the king would be unable to sleep and “just happen” to ask to read the exact place in the Chronicles where it had been recorded that Mordecai saved his life.

But we serve an intentional God, a God who goes before. A God who doesn’t let things happen by chance but uses even the seemingly small to bring about His purposes.

I get teary now to think of it, in those early days in a foreign country, how I had no idea. But God knew. I had no idea of how He would answer my little heart’s cry to live a life poured out to Him, of how He would bring rich community and fellowship into my loneliness, of how one day hundreds and thousands of people of all ages and tribes would hear His word preached there on that plot of grass. I feel overwhelmed and small and undeserving as I let the realization sink in – He always knew. He had always already gone before me.

He knew when I made small steps to move here and a man from my hometown “just happened” to be visiting and when little girls’ lives “just happened” to intersect with mine that He was building my family. He knew when I walked that acre of grass with the mango tree that it would be one of hundreds of acres I would walk falling more deeply in love with this country and community each day. He knew one day I would look down the hill at that same little mango tree and it would be surrounded by classrooms, a chapel, and a clinic, surrounded with children and parents laughing and eating and just enjoying one another.

And He knows right now as I go about my day that all the other little things that just happen to crop up might indeed be shaping our future, the future He has for us, the one we can’t see yet, but we can rest in certainty that it will bring us to Him.

And you might be where I am now, looking at your family and your ministry and your very life standing in awe of the way that He worked it all together. Or you might be closer to little orphaned Esther, little me on the church-kneeler asking God to do something with her life, young me in a foreign place lonely and yet hopeful for what might come. And that’s ok. Even when we can’t see it yet, God goes before us. He is going before you now, Beloved. He is making a way. He is going to take all these pieces and He is going to weave them all together beautifully into the story He is writing.

One day we’ll look back and we will know with certainty that He has always, already gone before us.

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.