Week 6: God Who Sees in Secret

Monday: Genesis 6

Tuesday: Matthew 6

Wednesday: Ezra 6

Thursday: Acts 6

Friday: Genesis 6, Matthew 6, Ezra 6, Acts 6

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 6: Man is utterly wicked – every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil. I am so quickly reminded of my own sin and depravity. And yet here God speaks to the one who walks with Him. Noah was righteous and blameless, and so God spoke to him, revealed His plans to him, established a covenant with him, and promises to save Noah and his family. Because Noah trusts in God, He does everything God commands.

Let’s recenter our hearts today – trusting Him even in the midst of uncertainty. The God of Noah is the same God today, desiring to speak to and make a covenant with His people.

Tuesday, Matthew 6: So much rich instruction from Jesus today! I am convicted that often my sinful nature desires to be seen by others and loves the accolades of men, but Jesus gives us a better way. When we give, when we serve, when we fast, when we pray, we do it all out of love for the Father, out of a desire to know Him more deeply – oh, how I long for this to be true in my own life. I know from experience that my most intimate times with Jesus have often been in the “secret” places of my life, the places where I feel most unseen by others. I know that as I come to Him in the quiet places, and as I obey Him quickly even without the fanfare or applause of others, I am storing up treasure in Heaven.

I love Jesus’s example of prayer in Matthew 6. Pray this prayer (v 9-15) aloud today. Then spend some time writing out your own prayer, based on His example:

Praise His Name!

Ask for His Kingdom and His will in your life and the world.

Ask Him to provide all that you need, believing that He always does.

Seek forgiveness, and freely offer it to any who come to mind who have wronged you.

Ask Him to guard you from temptation.

He is our treasure!

Wednesday, Ezra 6: What astounding provision! Not only does Darius allow the work to continue, but he decrees that the treasury be emptied to provide whatever is needed for the work of rebuilding God’s house. God again uses an unbelieving King to provide for the needs of His people and make a way for them to finish the work He has assigned to them. We read yesterday in Matthew that our Heavenly Father sees and knows what we need – and it is confirmed here too. I can imagine the great joy as the Jews finally finish and dedicate the temple! They praise and celebrate and sacrifice, for He has given them all that they need to finish their work! And He does this for us, too – He gives us joyful work to do and we can trust that when we are doing the work of the Lord, no matter how big or small, He will provide what we need – the grace, the patience, the sustenance, the courage – to complete the task at hand.

What work has He given you to do in this season? It might be to faithfully raise your children, to diligently provide for your family, to love a specific neighbor or community or neighbors, to live the Gospel more intentionally. He will provide all that you need to finish the work He has given you!

Thursday, Acts 6: So often I get this backward, putting the active ministry of charity and service before my devotion to prayer and His Word. But the disciples seem keenly aware that without devoting ourselves to time with Him, our public ministry will only be a distraction. We desperately need this wisdom that Steven has, and we can possess it if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us.

Are you, like me, a “doer” before you are a listener?

How can you prioritize time to be with God, to listen to Him and receive His love for you?

None of us can pour from an empty cup. We must first fill up on His Word before we can serve those around us. How can we shift our focus from doing things for God to simply being with God?

Friday Reflections:

“Yea, he’s the real deal. What you see – that’s who he is in real life, too.” A friend of mine is talking about a famous pastor he happens to know well. We have been discussing the very strange space of Christian celebrity, putting ourselves out there for the world to see while trying to keep our intimacy with Jesus alive in the hidden and quiet places, desiring people to glorify God for our life’s work, but not allowing the praise and accolades of others to cause us to swell with pride.

“He’s the real deal.” This sticks with me. This is what I want the people who really know me to say about me behind my back one day. In a public sphere, on social media, I am often known or recognized for my ministry, for the “unusual” choices I have made in life at a young age, for living in a foreign country. On some level, the world teaches us that we will be known for what we do.

But a handful of people in my life know me for who I truly am, and see the parts of my life that others don’t – the laundry piled on the couch for days waiting to be folded, the way I always burn the rice, the times I get impatient with my children when they interrupt me. These people – my kids, my co-workers, my neighbors – they get to know my heart.

And it is my deep desire that if one day they would be asked what I was really like, they would be able to say about me, “She’s the real deal.” Because in so many ways, it is the ordinary moments of our days and our lives that count so much more than the extraordinary choices that we make. Yes, it was important that Noah obeyed God and did the extraordinary, built the ark, but long before that were all the little decisions, ordinary moments of faithfulness, and quiet obedience that allowed Noah to hear from God in the first place.

While the world sees us for what we do (Isn’t the ark the first thing you think of when you think of Noah?), God knows our hearts. He knows who we are. He sees all that others don’t – the thousandth read-aloud or dirty dish or diaper, the longing for restoration of a broken relationship or the patient conversation with the difficult person. He sees us faithfully doing the hard things when no one is looking, faithfully looking to Him and seeking after Him desiring to please Him in the small. He sees us faithfully doing the hard things when no one is looking. When ministry isn’t growing or when family is struggling. He sees the small. He sees in secret. He sees our hearts.

And hopefully, a handful of people close to you get to see and know your heart, too – and this, far more than any public ministry or internet presence, will be the ministry that matters – that the few people close to you, in your home and your life, saw you keep doing the little things, the hard things, long after the public eye was looking. That you sought after God, that you opened your eyes to Him, that you turned to Him for sustenance when things were tough. I doubt that anyone in my close circle would describe me as righteous or blameless, and I think that’s ok. But I hope with all my heart that they would be able to say that I kept going, that I kept seeking Him, that it was my true desire to love as He loves and to know Him more.

Beloved, by His grace alone, we have found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Let’s be the real deal.

Here is a prayer for today:

Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that it is our hidden reach for you that matters so much more that any public ministry. Place a longing in our hearts for time with you, to hear from you and feel your loving gaze upon us. Give us the wisdom of Steven, the faithfulness and trust of Noah, the perseverance of the Jews in Ezra. Give us this day, our daily bread, Oh Lord, everything we need found only in You.

Amen.

Week 5: The God Who Builds His Kingdom (in Me!)

Monday: Genesis 5

Tuesday: Matthew 5

Wednesday: Ezra 5

Thursday: Acts 5

Friday: Genesis 5, Matthew 5, Ezra 5, Acts 5

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 5: God will not let sin and suffering be the end of His people. All that God does is intentional, purposeful. He numbers the days and years of each of His people, always intending to bring about His good purpose. God sends Noah, his name meaning comfort and rest. The family line begins again, over and over, God continuing to create a people for Himself.

How can you take comfort and rest in Him today?

Tuesday, Matthew 5: These are some of the more famous words of Jesus, words I have had memorized since I was little, words that I teach my children to memorize as well. But even as I read them again this morning, they seem so contrary to the teaching of the world. Blessed are the meek? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are those who make peace instead of fighting and arguing? Yes, if we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we have to live contrary to the world around us. This isn’t easy. To truly love my enemies, to not retaliate when someone hurts me, to not nurse anger, envy or unforgiveness – this is next to impossible without God’s Spirit working powerfully in my heart. And yet, this is exactly what we are called to, and this is how God’s Kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven.

Which of these instructions of Jesus is most difficult for you?

In Him, we are given everything we need for life and Godliness. He will enable us to live contrary to the world, building and upholding His Kingdom!

Wednesday, Ezra 5: After a long pause, the Jews begin again to build the house of God. And again, they face opposition. But did you catch that? When asked who they were, they replied, “We are the servants of the God of Heaven and earth and we are rebuilding…” Yes! Couldn’t that be our answer, too? We are rebuilders, always rebuilding His great Kingdom, made in the image of the Great rebuilder who is always renewing and rebuilding us.

In a world full of idols, the Jews do not hesitate to proclaim that they are serving the God of the Universe and not a local deity. Are we this quick to proclaim our faith in Jesus?

Thursday, Acts 5: As Peter and the other first believers continue preaching the Kingdom of God, they are persecuted and even imprisoned, but rather than despair, they go on teaching and preaching. Even after being beaten they rejoiced! And they didn’t just rejoice in spite of their suffering, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer because of His name! And they did not stop preaching but instead continued all the more, their joy not tied at all to their circumstance but to the good work He had called them to.

Is there a circumstance of suffering that is preventing you from rejoicing? Even when our circumstance is not good, our GOD is. We can always rejoice in Him!

Testify today, to others or even just to yourself, what He has done for you – His salvation alone is reason to rejoice!

Friday Reflections:

Standing at the top of this hill, there is rarely a time when tears don’t fill my eyes. It is impossible to stand here, a place that was once only grass, and not be overwhelmed with His goodness and faithfulness. As I look down from the edge of our property, I remember when it was just a field, filled with children each Saturday as we laughed and played and worshiped God under a lone mango tree. Later came the chapel as we outgrew the shade of the tree, and then a playground and sports fields, houses for the staff and a kitchen to accommodate the growing number of children that ate lunch with us each week.

Today I see all of this and all the classrooms of the primary school, where children will come not just to learn to read, but to learn their preciousness in the sight of a God who loves them unconditionally.

As I let the tears of gratitude fall, I know deep in my soul that He didn’t just grow His Kingdom here, in this village and on this land. But here in this village and on this land, He grew His Kingdom in my heart.

Here, He taught me what it truly meant to persevere through people who faced immense hardships with unshakeable faith and joy. Here he taught me what it meant to give with abandon and really never expect anything in return. Here in this place He was my only companion during seasons of intense loneliness, and my true guide and teacher when I had nowhere else to learn. He taught me the joy of mercy, the beauty of meekness and humility, the treasure of having nothing and yet having everything in Him.

Many have come to know the Lord here in this place – bright-eyed and eager children, old and weary grandparents, those struggling with insurmountable poverty and terrible illness, those with plenty and those with nothing, those with incredible hopes and dreams, and those too tired to even hope for tomorrow.

Our ministry tagline at Amazima speaks of transformed lives, and yes, they have been – but I know the truth, the life and heart that He has most transformed is mine.

I think of the Scriptures we have read this week. Over and over, He blesses us. Over and over He is good. He is the God of new beginnings, the God who is always building His Kingdom everywhere, but most importantly in our hearts

Again, in Genesis, we are reminded that humankind is made in the likeness of God. He created them and He blessed them, and they continued to bear children in the likeness of God, over and over again God choosing to create life and breath out of nothing. God choosing His people as His vessels. In Ezra, the building of the wall begins again after a 15-year-long pause. They begin again. Aren’t we always beginning again?

Again they face opposition, but it says the eye of their God was watching over them. Oh! How attentive He is to us. How merciful to keep choosing a sinful and broken people. And Ezra and His people? When asked who they are? They answer that they are servants of the most high God. We are rebuilding, they say. And aren’t we always?

The longer I live, the more I know my need for it, His grace to begin again. To rebuild. To start over. And each time I am astounded that God would choose me to grow His Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven, both through me and in me.

  • What do you need to “start over”? Receive His grace, the God who grows His Kingdom in us!
  • Take some time today to praise God for His attentive and careful eye, always watching over us.
  • In what ways is God using you to grow His Kingdom? In what ways is He growing His Kingdom in you?

Week 4: God Who Triumphs Over Evil

Monday: Genesis 4

Tuesday: Matthew 4

Wednesday: Ezra 4

Thursday: Acts 4

Friday: Genesis 4, Matthew 4, Ezra 4, Acts 4

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 4: Hope is ever present as God grants Adam and Eve two sons, and yet, evil seems to prevail as the human race plunges further into sin. God, ever faithful gives Cain a warning – “sin is crouching at the door… you must rule over it.” But Cain does not resist. Even still, even in the midst of consequence, God mercifully allows Him to live, to prosper, to be protected, to have offspring. God gives Seth, offering redemption and fresh hope – and people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Even after Christ’s redemption, sin is ever crouching at the door. We may, by His Spirit alone, rule over it. Is there a sin, even something subtle, that is crouching nearby? A small but festering anger or unforgiveness? A spirit of unforgiveness or irritability?

Recognize these “small” sins, the way they lie in wait for us. Name these things, repent and ask the Spirit to enable you rule over sin in your life. As we call on the name of the Lord, He is merciful and good!

Tuesday, Matthew 4: Jesus, fully God and fully man, is able to resist temptation, sin “crouching at the door.” He counters Satan with the truth of Scripture, and ultimately prevails. After battling temptation is when jesus begins His public ministry and I am reminded that often, our hardest work is unseen, beginning in our own hearts and minds before we can minister to others.

Though we will never be perfect, we can learn a lot from Jesus’s example. In the Scripture, we have the truths that we need to combat the lies of the enemy. Today, identify one lie that he is whispering to you, that you may even unintentionally be believing. Now search out a verse or portion of Scripture to combat that lie. Repeat it often. Write it down and hang it where you can see it. Battle the lies of Satan with the Truth of our unchanging Father’s Word!

Wednesday, Ezra 4: Corruption, bribery and jealousy stop the progress on the temple and its wall for 15 years. I imagine the discouragement of the people of Judah as they are slandered and falsely accused. They may feel like evil is winning, that their enemies prevail. It can seem that way, can’t it?

Are there any situations in your life that feel hopeless, or where you feel that evil has triumphed or pain will have the final word? I’ve certainly been there, I think we all have. I encourage you to call a trusted friend or family member and name these things. Invite them to pray with you, and believe as you pray that even when it feels hopeless, suffering and darkness will not prevail.

Thursday, Acts 4: Peter and John are imprisoned for sharing the Gospel – it would be easy to despair, and yet, still many believed. The persevere against persecution and continue preaching the Gospel even to the rulers and authorities who are astonished by their courage. I love that the realization of the rulers as they witness the boldness of Peter and John, is that these men must have been with Jesus.

When people look at our lives, can they tell that we have been with Jesus? Are we living, and even suffering in a way that points others toward Him, that serves as a testimony to His goodness? 

Friday Reflections:

We all get derailed, distracted, discouraged. Sometimes it feels like we have just got it all wrong. Sin crouches at the door. Satan temps and taunts. Corruption, bribery and jealousy threaten the work we feel God has called us to. Hardship and opposition take the wind out of our sails.

And yet, our God does not change.

Still, He calls out to us. Still, He is merciful to us. Still, He strengthens us.

A week after our terminally ill friend breathed her last in our guest bedroom, words from my daughter’s home school assignment caught my eye. We ‘d been learning about paragraphs and punctuation. She wrote, “Our sick friend lived with us for a long time and my mom was brave and took care of her. We thought she might get better, but she didn’t. I saw my mom praying for her. My mom was brave.”

Brave. That certainly wasn’t what I felt as I read it, or as I shepherded my children through yet another loss. I felt downright defeated, as if I had somehow failed our friend, and my family again.

“We thought she might get better,” her paragraph continued, “but she didn’t.” It is seven years later and I cannot type those words without tightness in my chest and tears threatening to spill forth. I think it’s one of the most vulnerable things we can ever say to God, to each other, “I thought it would be this way, but it wasn’t. I thought it would be easy, but it’s not. I thought I would be better, different, more… I thought you would fix it, but…” It’s hard to breathe.

The failure can swallow us in a minute. When we face hardship of any kind, big or small, we can feel like we have failed God or worse, like He’s failed us.

Gently, He guides me to focus on the other words my ten-year-old has written. “I saw my mom praying for her.” I think about all the zillions of times my kids must have seen me praying for her. I think about the days when I didn’t feel like asking God again to heal her, or when I didn’t feel like waking up in the middle of the night to sit with her and make her some tea. I think of the times that I don’t really want to pull out the Bibles after breakfast to start our day in the Word, because I need to hurry to the next thing, or the times I don’t want to stop what I am doing to listen to a child’s hurt or the times that I don’t feel like chopping the carrots for dinner again. But I do it anyway.

And I think of Ezra who has to pause his work on the wall for 15 years, and Peter and John, imprisoned and beaten and mocked, and Jesus hungry and Eve distraught over the loss of her son and all of them praising God anyway.

And what if that is His desire for us in all our failures and our mess-ups. In all the times that things do not go as we had planned or hoped, when we loved the person who never did change, when we cleaned up the messes and no one said thank you, when we did the hard thing for no one’s approval, when there really was no wind in our sails, but we did it anyway. I think that kind of faithfulness might be the bravest kind of brave.

And I think that kind of faithfulness brings us right up close to our Father who is the most Faithful of all, who never changes, who never leaves us, and who does have purpose in all of our pain and trial.

When we look around and it all feels utterly bleak, when sin is crouching and Satan is tempting and suffering is stifling, when we feel we couldn’t possibly praise God for our current circumstance, we praise Him anyway. We praise Him for who He is. We praise Him because He loves us, no matter how many times we mess up. We praise Him because He will not leave or forsake us, not matter how hard this turns out or how badly this things ends. We praise Him because no ending here is ever truly the end when we know we have eternity with Him.

  • What feels too hard right now, or like too much of a mess? We can trust God that, no matter what, His goodness and His plan will prevail.
  • In the midst of persecution, hardship, and even what might look like a failure, Peter and John do not pray for the their suffering to end, they prayed for more boldness and courage to face the situation at hand. And God, always faithful, answered and strengthened them! Dear one, God will give you the strength and courage for whatever you are facing today and in the upcoming season.
  • Turn on a worship song that you love and praise Him anyway, no matter what you are facing today.

Week 3: God Who Restores

Monday: Genesis 3

Tuesday: Matthew 3

Wednesday: Ezra 3

Thursday: Acts 3

Friday: Genesis 3, Matthew 3, Ezra 3, Acts 3

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 3: Upon reading these words, it feels easy to despair. I see so much of myself in Eve, tempted to mistrust God, tempted to ignore His goodness and take things into my own hands. “Why can’t you just trust Him? Why can’t you just do better?” I berate myself. I hate my sin nature. But I also realize, that if we do not know we are naked, we do not know we need to be clothed. And when I do not realize the depth of my own sin, I cannot recognize my need of Our Savior. Even in the garden, God in His mercy has a perfect plan to bring His people back to Himself, to restore them to their pre-fall sinlessness. Even now, His plan is to bring us into glory.

-Is there a past sin or mistake you are beating yourself up over, that you just won’t allow yourself to let go of? Repent! Seek forgiveness from our loving Father, and know that He forgives you in His Son.

-Spend some time reflecting on how your sins and imperfections bring you to the feet of Jesus, recognizing your need for Him.

Tuesday, Matthew 3: In Genesis 3, sin enters. In Matthew 3, John prepares the way for the Savior, calling people to repent of their sin and God proclaims His pleasure in His Son, who will take away the sin of the world! What glorious hope, what a joyful response to the fall of Adam and Eve. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” God declares about Jesus. And when we repent and put our full hope and trust in Him? These words become true of us too.We are His beloved children, in whom He is well pleased. As someone who is self-critical by nature, always over-examining my own failures, this one can be hard for me to truly grab ahold of and believe. How could He be well pleased with me after I have failed again? Because of Jesus, who fulfilled all righteousness, because of Jesus who took my place.

John says we bear fruit in keeping with repentance. How could you make true repentance (not the same as wallowing in guilt over your shortcominging!) and the true acceptance of His forgiveness part of your daily rhythm or routine?

Spend a moment in silence listening for His voice that assures you, “You are my beloved child, and I am well pleased with you.” Can you receive it? Can you believe it?

Wednesday, Ezra 3: I am amazed at the bravery of God’s people, continuing to build, continuing to sacrifice and praise even in the midst of their very real fear of the enemies all around them. And did you see that? It says that they offered sacrifices of praise because they were afraid. Sometimes, we offer praise in spite of our fear, but sometimes, it is our fear that pushes us closer to Him, causing us to cry out, to lift hands in praise. Even in the midst of their fear, the Isrealites keep offering. They keep building. They lay the foundation of the temple and they praise the Lord.

What are you afraid of right now? Can you praise Him in spite of it? Can you praise His because of it, believing that this thing may draw you closer to Him and transform you into His image?

What work has The Lord appointed you to do right now? Maybe it’s something big – raising your children, running a business, caring for a loved one, or maybe it’s something “small” (nothing is too small in His eyes) – remembering to lower your voice when you are frustrated instead of raising it, or making dinner (again!), or finishing a report. It is good and right to praise Him while we do the work He has appointed to us! For indeed He is good and His steadfast love endures forever!

Thursday, Acts 3: Here at the Gate called Beautiful, God restores. He makes all things beautiful in their time, and He makes our feet strong in His grace and mercy. I love that the people who saw Him praising God were amazed. Is our praise on display in a way that leaves people in awe? Are we quick to tell and to show and to testify of the ways that God has strengthened us and healed us and met us?

Friday Reflections:

There it is. The crafty hiss of the serpent, the same today as it was then, “Did God really say…” we know that thought, or at least I do, so well. “Would God really care if,” or “God must not care” or “If God cared and He saw me, He would never allow this.”

And Eve believed the lie, the one I believe too often, “God withholds good from me. God does not give me what I need.” I’ve thought it even when I didn’t dare say it, haven’t you? I’ve thought I must take matters into my own hands when God’s plans aren’t quite what I want, not quite as I had planned. I have been Eve and I haven’t trusted that He could truly love me and yet not give me exactly what I want. “God withholds good from you,” the serpent whispers, and we reach out to take a big, juicy bite of the lie.

The people God fashioned for Himself out of the very dust of the earth defy Him, and run to hide. And yet He comes looking, Him always coming for us gently, always reaching for us, always finding us. “Why are you hiding?” but He already knows, “You ate from the tree, didn’t you?”

Can you hear Him, speaking it straight to your heart? “Don’t hide, love. I already know.” And in His great loving kindness, He already has a plan to save and redeem even these who rebel against Him. And here in the garden He spares our lives for the first time, because those who He promised would surely die go on to live another day, and in His mercy He clothes their nakedness and still allows the breath in their lungs and the sun on their faces and the warm ground beneath their feet to grow food for their sustenance. If that’s not provision, I don’t know that is. And with it He gives a promise, that this will not be forever. He already has a plan to redeem His beloved children, even from the moment they rebel. He is a good Father, He is trustworthy.

In Matthew the clouds part and there it is – His promise fulfilled. God says He is well please with His beloved Son, the Son He sent to undo all that mess of the garden, the mess of my own heart that time and time again wants to believe the lie that God just might not see me, or just might not care.

I am just like Eve, her lustful heart distracted from the beauty of all God has given her by the one thing He hasn’t given her yet. I am just like the man at the temple gate, in need of Jesus to strengthen my feet and put His praise in my mouth. And it isn’t lost on me that the temple gate is called Beautiful, because of course, this is what our God makes all things.

We serve a God who makes all things beautiful, who redeems our fickle, disobedient hearts and clothes us in His mercy. Who urges us to repent from our sin so that He can wash us clean. Who strengthens our hearts to endure, our stature to persevere, and our lips to praise. Just as the Isrealites restore the altar and the temple, He restores our souls, He rebuild us, He makes us beautiful, and we can join Ezra and His people in their song, “He is good, and His love toward us endures forever!”

It is sobering to read the words of Peter in Acts, “You killed the author of life but God raised Him from the dead,” and yet I know I have killed Him in my heart a thousand times. But we do not despair! “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can see.”

Beloved, we are healed for our wicked, lustful nature in the name of Jesus. We are made strong. We are clothed in our nakedness, and by His grace we are given another day, breath in our lungs, sun on our faces, bread for sustenance. We are restored, rebuilt, renewed. Let us praise His name!

  • Are there are sins you have tried to hide from God by not openly repenting to Him? He sees, and He is merciful. Make a conscious effort to lay those at His feet and believe that Jesus was enough for even the worst of our trespasses.
  • Where does your faith need strengthening. Ask Him, and believe that He will do it!
  • Can you think of a time in your life when God has taken something broken and awful and made it beautiful? This is what He longs to do for His people!

Week 2: God Who Reveals Himself to His People

Monday: Genesis 2

Tuesday: Matthew 2

Wednesday: Ezra 2

Thursday: Acts 2

Friday: Genesis 2, Matthew 2, Ezra 2, Acts 2

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 2: God’s finished work in the garden is good. His finished work on the cross is good, and His finished work in eternity is good. If things aren’t good now, we can rest assured that that’s because God is not yet finished. The picture of the idyllic garden in Eden where God places the man and the woman is strikingly similar to a passage I read often in Revelation 22, but one phrase is added – “The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations.” Naked and unashamed before God, Adam and Eve needed no healing. But this side of Eden we cry out for it, and we rest assured that God will provide it. In the restored Eden, there will be no curse and there will be no night. God who formed us of dust and breathed life into us so desires us to be with Him that we will one day look upon His face forever. And His finished work will be good far beyond what we can imagine.

What areas of your life need His healing and restoration?

God is not finished with His healing work in your life, even in the areas where you cannot see it. Trust Him today that He is working for your good and restoration in His own perfect timing.

Tuesday, Matthew 2: I am struck that it is God’s delight to reveal Himself to His people. He gives His star as a sign to the magi, the appears to them in a dream, He appears to Joseph through an angel and in dreams, He protects His Son and thus His people and His plan to redeem them. Whether through dreams or angels, or, more often through quiet whispers of the Spirit within us, it is His desire to reveal Himself to us too. How beautiful to love a God who desires us to know Him!

In what areas of your life is God clearly revealing Himself to you?

In what areas of your life are you longing for God to reveal Himself to you?

Trust these areas to God, believing that it is His delight to speak to His people.

Wednesday, Ezra 2: Where again we may be temped to skip over what could appear to be a tedious list of names, I am reminded that this is a group of people who has just come out of 70 years of captivity. That’s a long time to wonder if you have been forgotten by God. But our loving, intentional Father knows and numbers His people, not one is forgotten by Him! They are seen, known, prepared for, and provided for – so are we!

Is there someone in your life who may need to be reminded that God sees and knows them, that He has not forgotten them? Reach out and remind them of this truth today.

Thursday, Acts 2: God, who provides everything that we need, sends His Holy Spirit on His people. There is so much lavish provision in this chapter – first, the lavish provision of God as He sends His Holy Spirit, then the astounding provision that all those gathered could hear of His mighty works in their very own languages. He provides Peter, who just days ago was adamantly denying that he even knew Jesus, the courage and strength to share the Gospel with the crowds surrounding him. And out of this abundant provision, God gives the fellowship of believers the grace to provide for one another, so that no one had lack and the body of believers grew.

Stand in awe of His provision in your life today.

Who can you bless today by meeting a physical or emotional need? Do you know someone in need of fellowship, in need of a financial provision, a meal or even just an encouraging phone call?

Friday Reflections:

It continually blows me away that God would desire to reveal Himself to us. In Genesis, God looks at all that He has made and it is good. All that He does, all that He makes, is pleasing to Him, but most of all His children, created in His image. God’s trustworthiness began even before the garden existed. As He tenderly planted it, as He breathed His life into Adam and Eve, He affectionately thought of us, of you and me and His faithful plan to bring us into glory with Him. He planned to be faithful and kind and merciful even then, even before we existed.

            I read the first chapters of Genesis and I imagine God preparing all of creation for the beloved children He is about to speak into life. I remember preparing for the birth of our first son, setting up the crib and arranging things just right. Washing and folding tiny onesies and arranging miniscule diapers with such great anticipation of who this little life kicking inside of me would be. And here in the beginning, our loving Father, creating every tree and plant, every bird and beast, the perfect home to bring His children into, the perfect way to point them back to His glory time and time again.

By the time God finally created man and woman in His own image, and blessed them and instructed them, He had already given them everything they would need for life with Him in the garden. Earth and sky and waters teeming with fish, fruits and plants in abundance, light to make the seasons and the days, to warm their skin and light their paths. Abundant provision in clear in just these few verses, and as He abundantly provides the tangible things that His creation needs, God already plans to provide the mercy they will soon need even more.

Imagine the great satisfaction of God, when He saw all the beauty He created and declared it so good. I imagine Him gazing on His very favorite part – His children.

Benji and I often put our kids to bed, only to sit in our own bed and tell stories of all the darling things they’ve done throughout the day, frequently pulling out photos and videos we have taken on our phones to show one another. “She is just so precious,” we will say and, “I can’t believe how fast he is learning!” We have spent the whole day with them and we have only just sent them to their own rooms so that we can be alone together and yet we sit and dote, amazed by these humans that we get to shepherd and shape. Sure, they are far from perfect, but I doubt you’d know it if you heard our late-night conversations or saw the delight in our eyes as we watched the video of the baby saying “bye-bye” for the hundredth time.

In this way I imagine God sits back and declares His creation good, His children beloved, His delight fully in them and theirs in Him. There they stand, naked and unashamed in front of their loving Father, just as He created them to be. Fully designed for relationship with Him, and fully designed for His glory.

This is the same tenderness with which God looks on his people as they come out of captivity from Babylon. He knows each one of them. Each one of them was hand selected by Him to be part of the remnant of His people brought out of captivity and back to Jerusalem to worship Him, to know Him and be known by Him. The same is true of the magi in Matthew and the crowds in Acts and they receive Peter’s testimony. We are seen and known by the Almighty God! We are precious, prepared for and provided for.

Back in the garden, Adam and Eve stood naked and they were not ashamed. Do we believe that we can come to our Heavenly Father like this? Do we believe that He looks on us tenderly, as individuals precious to Him, with a love for us and a desire to provide for us and protect us? We are His precious children and it is His delight to reveal Himself to us!

– It is often difficult for me to believe that God adores me unconditionally, regardless of my performance, my struggles and my sin. In what areas of your life are you having trouble believing that God adores you?

-What do you need to bring to God, “naked and unashamed”? Whether it is a dream or plan, a sin, a struggle, a past mistake, imagine laying it down at His feet. Imagine His eyes on you, still loving you, His precious son or daughter.

Week 1: The God of New Beginnings

Monday: Genesis 1

Tuesday: Matthew 1

Wednesday: Ezra 1

Thursday: Acts 1

Friday: Genesis 1, Matthew 1, Ezra 1, Acts 1

Reflections:

Monday, Genesis 1: Here, we begin. Darkness, chaos, formlessness, emptiness. And here God hovers. Here, He speaks. Here, He holds His wonderous plans, His desire for beauty and light and life. All that He does is good.

Where do you see His goodness right now? Make a habit of noticing God’s goodness, even on the not good days.

What areas of life feel dark, void, chaotic? Can you trust that God is right there, hovering near, in perfect timing making something beautiful?

Tuesday, Matthew 1: At first glance, I often skip right over genealogies. But here, it strikes me how Matthew starts. “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This is God fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament, all the promises His people had been waiting on for thousands of years. God is who He says He is, and Matthew writes to prove it. “You will call Him Jesus,” the angel says, “because He will save His people from their sins”

If God in His mercy can fulfill this promise, then we have certain hope that He will fulfill all His promises to us through His Son Jesus. Chose a promise from scripture today that feels hard to hold onto. Some examples might be  – 

  • God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28)
  • God who began a good work in ___________ (yourself, your child, your family member/friend/neighbor who is struggling) will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6)
  • I will live with God forever in eternity (John 10:27-28)
  • My light and momentary troubles are achieving eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17)
  • God is with me (even through the hard, even if I do not feel Him) (Matthew 28:20, Matthew 1:23)
  • God will never leave me (Hebrews 13:5)

Cling to this promise today. Write it down. Repeat it to yourself. Cling to His truth.

Wednesday, Ezra 1: We might need this reminder now more that ever: no king or ruler is beyond the ability of God to move in his or her heart. What may seem like a funny list of matching bowls at first glance, is in fact another show of God achieving His purposes and keeping His promises, even when He uses an unbelieving King to do so. This story really begins at the end of 2 Chronicles, where we read that God’s people mock Him, disobey His commands, and turn their backs on them. And yet, He loves them. And yet, He carries His remnant into exile (fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy) where one day He plans to move the heart of a Persian King for the good of His people.

Throughout all of Scripture, God declares His plan to bring His people back to Himself. His mercy is astounding. Isaiah 45:5-6 tells us that God intends for His people to know Him, no matter what it takes. Today, rest in a love that will do whatever it takes to get to you.

Thursday, Acts 1: Acts feels like a new beginning almost as much as Genesis or Matthew. In some ways, it must have felt like a sorrowful beginning, the beginning of the disciples’ ministry on earth without their Lord and Teacher. But Jesus had promised them a gift, one that He had said was “better” than Himself, The Holy Spirit. While they disciples wait, rather than let their grief overtake them, they “joined together constantly in prayer.”

Are there areas of life right now where you feel as if Jesus is “hidden from your sight”? Or areas where you are waiting for Him (and maybe feel as if you have been waiting for a very long time?

Spend some time today taking these circumstances to the Lord in prayer. Reach out to a friend or fellow believer who can join you in those prayers. Ask God to give you joy, even as you wait.

Friday Reflections: 

I always hated that dead, unsightly tree next to our front porch. It was there in it’s ugly blue plastic container when we moved in, and its roots had grown so far down into the cement foundation of our house that I couldn’t dig it up to move it. I made plans in my head to cut it down limb by limb, but with so much to do, that just never made it up very high on the priority list. Even worse was the fact that every one of my children and nearly every guest we had in and out of our home seemed to think that the plastic container holding the tree was actually a trash can. And so, for the first full year we lived here, that ugly dead tree sat in its ugly garbage-can container full of banana peels and candy wrappers and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches and drove me crazy.

I walked by it so often that I didn’t even notice when the leaves started turning green again. I didn’t notice as the branches started to come back to life, reaching for the sun. And then one morning I walked out and there was our dead tree – completely alive, and completely covered with little pink mulberries. I ran to get the kids and showed them excitedly. “This tree was totally dead!” I kept saying, shaking my head.

We waited patiently as the sour little berries turned into plump, juicy treats that stained our chins purple as we scarfed them by the handful. Now, several times a year, the tree fills completely with berries. At other times of the year it buds more slowly and our little ones search the trees for berry that is just right and squeal with delight when they have found this small, sour treat. The mulberry tree is still in its ugly blue plastic container, its roots still grown straight through the bottom and into the cement, but I have worked hard to teach our people to at least not throw trash into the pot. Usually, I don’t even really notice it, but sometimes I look at that tree for an extra minute as I run in and out of our house. I look at that tree and I remember the mercy of God.

This is who our God is: He turns our trash into treasure. He creates everything out of nothing. Order out of chaos. Light out of darkness. And from this, the very beginning, God has in mind this glorious plan – mercy. He will take my nothing, my chaos, my utter darkness, and He will send His Son. He breathes life into things long dead. He resurrected my mulberry tree, and He is resurrecting me – both daily in my dark and sinful heart, and one day in the life to come.

We see examples of this piece of God’s character all throughout scripture, even in places where it might seem unlikely. In Ezra, God’s people have been in exile in Babylon for 70 long years. It is their own doing – at the end of 2 Chronicles, God’s people mock Him and turn from Him. And yet, the Lord loves them! It is the desire of His heart to bring His people back to Himself. Years before the book of Ezra is written, both Jeremiah and Isaiah (Jeremiah 29, Isaiah 44 & 45) prophecy that God will indeed rescue His people, by softening the heart of an unlikely, unbelieving King Cyrus. God will have mercy on His people. God will accomplish His purposes.

From the moment God breathes the world into being in Genesis, through the repeated rescuing of His people in the Old testament, in the birth of His only Son sent as a human baby, to the promise of the Holy Spirit as Jesus is taken up to Heaven, God if faithful to fulfill His promises and God is merciful to use all things for His pleasure, for His people, for the glory of His name.

Genesis 1:2 says that God hovered over a formless and void earth, the surface of the deep waters. He came near to the darkness and the void and the chaos and He spoke Light. Throughout all of time, this is our God. Always coming near, always drawing close to the chaos and the brokenness and the darkness, bringing light, speaking life, growing shoots out of the black of the earth, breathing life into dry bones, making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert and ultimately raising life out of the death of the tomb. He takes our little and He makes it much. He takes our ashes and He makes them beautiful. He takes our not-good and makes it His very-good. This is who God is. Trustworthy.

As we look through His Word, as we look back over our own lives, and as we look to the promises He has made us for a future with Him, both here and in eternity, we can trust that He will take all our dark, dead, and dry places and resurrect them, use them to bear fruit in our lives that draws us to Himself and brings Him glory and praise.

That vast and formless Earth shone with light and teemed with life. That humble, dirty feeding trough held the Savior of the World. And right here on my front porch, my kids’ trash turned into new life for our beautiful, once-dead tree.

I read these words and I stare and my tree and I think – Look at us. Look where we have been. Look what He has made us, what He is making us. In His mercy, He is using all things to grow us to new life.

  • What places in your life and your heart feel dead and dry, in need of His resurrection?
  • What would it look like to surrender those things to Him today, trusting that He will make something out of nothing, as He did in Genesis, or provide what you need, the way He did with Ezra?
  • Read Jeremiah 29:10-14. We can trust Him to bring us out of our dark and hard places and to use all of it to give us hope for a future with Him!

His Word in the New Year

Well, I think I am not alone in feeling like that was a long year. And then in some ways, such a short year. And, let’s face it, probably for most of us a pretty bizarre year. But there is no question that it was also not without good. In the midst of chaos and division and even global pandemic, we serve a good God who is always giving good, if we can chose to see it.

Now it is a new year and I want to do something new, with you.

During our first lockdown in Uganda (in March), I was feeling unusually spiritually dry. I restlessly flipped through my Bible, hoping it might just fall open to something that jumped off the page at me. I picked multiple devotionals up off our bookshelves, only to tire of them after a few short days. I need you to speak to me I would whisper to God.

At my husband’s encouragement, our family started a new Bible reading plan. No commentaires, no bells and whistles, just the Word. We started with Genesis, Matthew, Ezra and Acts, reading a chapter of each every day. Some of the reading we did together around the table and some we did in our own quiet time. It only took me about a week to realize that this was what my heart had been craving. It didn’t come with extra commentaries, opinions or explanations. What my heart and been longing for was God’s Word, in much larger pieces than I had read in a long time. And, while I know it might sound cliché, the more I read, the more I wanted. At the end of what had felt like a particularly dry season, thumbing through a Bible I felt I had read a hundred times, asking God to please make it new and exciting to me again, I was suddenly hungry for these large chunks of time in His Word like I hadn’t been in a very long time. Because He hears the prayers of our weary hearts. Because He longs to be near His people, to remind us of His love for us.

As I read, I couldn’t get over the very obvious truth that the character and magnificence and love of God remained the same through Genesis, Ezra, Matthew and Acts. And then later through Exodus, Nehemiah, Mark and Romans, and so on. While these passages weren’t intentionally selected to “go together,” so often a theme or aspect of God’s character jumped out of each passage as if they had been hand-picked in some kind of topical index. There it was, the Word of God, and my loving Father the same, yesterday, today, and forever. God’s character seemed to jump off the page at me as if to say, “See! He loves you! He has always loved you! He will always love you!” or “Look! He is merciful, He has always been merciful, He will always be merciful.”

In the midst of a long and weary year, while I was looking for spiritual encouragement from reading about other people’s encounters with God and other people’s opinions or interpretations of His Word, my old, worn, falling apart Bible that I “already knew all the stories in” was waiting for me to come back to the basics, waiting to reveal new facets of God’s character to me. Morning  after morning I poured over the Word, filling pages of my garage sale College Ruled spiral notebook with all the evidences of God’s mercy and grace and gentleness and love that were the same to Abraham and to the Isrealites rebuilding the wall and to the Samaritan woman at the well and to Saul the Pharisee who became an apostle. And as if it was all new to me, I stood in awe.

And friends, He is just too good not to share.

So I am going to start over again, back at Genesis, and I would love you to join me.

I wish I could send you all a beautiful journal, but my encouragement would be to get one to keep next to you as your read, and jot down things that stand out to you.

Each Monday, I will post what we are reading for the week with a few encouragements that jump out to me and sometimes a few questions to challenge us. My prayer is that you would be filled with joy in His Word like never before, and stand with me in awe of His unchanging, unending love.

Katie