Week 37: God, Our Constant

Monday: Genesis 38

Tuesday: Mark 10

Wednesday: Psalm 5

Thursday: Romans 9

Friday: Genesis 38, Mark 10, Psalm 5, Romans 9

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 38

There is nothing, nothing, that our God will not forgive, nothing that he cannot use for good. Even in Judah’s atrocious sin, God has planned to bring the lineage of Jesus through him. This doesn’t excuse Judah’s sin but rather reminds us that no one, not one of us, is too far gone for God to use us. In Matthew 1:3, Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. This is our God – He can take even the worst of sinners, even the most terrible sin, and turn it around, even using it for His own glory. Nothing is outside of His reach.

It’s easy for me, even after I have repented of my sin, to believe that I have made such a mess of things, that I have messed everything up, that God could never use or fix or redeem this. Do you ever feel this way? But when I believe this, I am limiting who God is, limiting His power and sovereignty and ability to use anything. God can, and does, use anything He chooses to, even our very worst mess ups. Our God takes the very worst sinners and says, “You are mine. I can use even you.”

Where have you messed up recently?

Is there a certain sin or mistake that haunts you, that causes you to feel like a failure?

Spend some time asking the Lord’s forgiveness for that and then leave it with Him. You are not too far gone for forgiveness. You are not too far gone for redemption. You cannot mess everything up because we serve a God who can use even our mistakes. Rest in that.

Tuesday, Mark 10

In thinking through our passage yesterday and God’s ability to use anyone, even people who have messed up tremendously, verse 27 jumped right out at me – “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Remember that when you feel like you may have fallen too far.

There is so much in this chapter – an encouragement to receive the Kingdom with childlike faith – looking for God to provide everything we need without doubt the way a toddler looks to a loving parent.

And then, my favorite part, verse 21 – “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

Jesus looks at us and loves us.

Jesus knew this man was going to walk away. He knows when and how we are going to make mistakes. But He looks at us and He loves us!

Yes, it can feel impossible to throw off the things of the world, to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel, but Jesus can make it possible. We can trust with childlike faith that He gives us all we need. And all we lose, anything we give up to follow Him, will be restored to us in eternity. What an amazing promise! Look closely – persecutions are part of this promise. Persecutions in the midst of a list of good rewards? Yes, because even our suffering and hardship can be used by a good God to draw us to Himself. Again, what is impossible in this world, maybe even impossible for us to comprehend, is possible for God.

Like blind Bartimaeus, we need Jesus to give us eyes to see!

What feels impossible to you right now?

Spend some time in prayer, believing that what is impossible with man is possible for God. Spend some time telling God that you believe He will give you all you need (sometimes I have to say it until I believe it).

Let’s ask God to give us eyes to see His impossible work, here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Wednesday, Psalm 5

We can rest deeply knowing the King of the universe hears our voices. We can wait expectantly because He will always answer. He is our shield and our refuge. Hallelujah! 

Commit verses 11 and 12 to memory this week and repeat them to yourself when you are in need of encouragement. Let all those who love His name rejoice!

Thursday, Romans 9

It’s not as though the word of God has failed. This passage is so full of the Gospel and God’s mercy. When we feel weak and defeated, we can rest in knowing God holds us, forgives us, saves us, and nothing can separate us from His love.

While it is completely opposite of the way anything works in this world, God’s grace and our salvation isn’t something we can earn, isn’t something we can be good enough for. It’s uncomfortable to say, but I know that if left to my own devices, I would not choose God or the things of God. It is a humbling realization, but it is also one that moves me to praise Him for His completely undeserved and unmerited favor. This is great news for all of us who fall short, who mess up again and again. God’s love for us isn’t dependent on us. His mercy and grace are who He is regardless of who we are.

It’s not as if the Word of God has failed. How often do I approach my day, my life, or my current situation as if God’s word may not hold up, may not be enough, may not be true. And how would I live differently if I truly believed His Word hasn’t failed and will never fail? He is always trustworthy, always gracious, always good. We can rest in His kindness and grace.

Friday Reflections

A familiar worship song plays in an unfamiliar church and I let the tears fall. I may not know anyone here yet, but I know all the words and for a few minutes, though we are all different, we are united in singing the same words to the same God. The same words that I sing in my kitchen in Uganda. The same words I sing along on the way to drop off kids at school. The same words I repeat over and over to myself in the middle of the night when my anxious thoughts won’t allow me to sleep.

The Pastor is reading from Romans and I know the words. God’s Word. Words I have memorized for years and prayed to Him in agony and in rejoicing.

And when everything around me is so different, I take great comfort in the realization that My Father is exactly the same. I may not know much about how things work around here and I may not know many people, but I know Him and He hasn’t changed one bit. He never will.

I find myself often longing for a “normal” day, to settle into some sort of familiar rhythm that feels easy and predictable. But if I am honest, I am not just missing our normal rhythm because we have been traveling. As I look back over the last year and a half I am astounded at just how many times our rhythm has been disrupted – whether it be COVID quarantine or online school or hybrid school, a medical emergency or friends moving away or trying to redirect ministry while still keeping everyone safe in a pandemic. “Normal” days have eluded me for quite some time, and I think it is safe to say that I am not alone in this.

The whole world has experienced some amount of upheaval in the recent season. Most of us, probably even all of us, are staring out at an unpredictable future wondering what might come next, how we will have to pivot and change directions. I don’t know about you, but I can get so stuck feeling anxious about everything that is changing that I forget that we have a constant, the best constant, our unchanging Father.

And even when I can’t see it, He can. And even when I don’t know what is next, He does. Even as everything is changing, He isn’t.

We watch as He holds Judah, even as he makes a terrible mess of things. We watch as He teaches His disciples, warning them of suffering even when they don’t fully understand. It’s easy for me to remember as I read that God has their best in mind, that He will keep them safe. Maybe because I have read it before and I already know the ending.

Maybe you need to hear it as much as I do, so let me pull you in close and speak it over you – 

He holds you and will carry you through whatever comes next. Even when you don’t know what’s next. Especially when you don’t know what’s next. He holds you, even when you have made a terrible mess of things. He can use even our mistakes, He can put us back on the right path. He looks at us and loves us. He holds you, even as you face suffering and hardship. Even when you don’t understand. Especially when you don’t understand.

I don’t have many answers. I don’t know when life might go back to “normal” or even if it will. But I know our unchanging God who is my constant even now. I pray in the midst of uncertainty, when you cannot see what is next, you would know His constant, unchanging love and feel Him holding you close.

Week 36: God Who Purposes Our Suffering

Monday: Genesis 37

Tuesday: Mark 9

Wednesday: Psalm 4

Thursday: Romans 8

Friday: Genesis 37, Mark 9, Psalm 4, Romans 8

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 37

Joseph – hated by his brothers, sold into slavery as a “good alternative” to being murdered. I can’t help but think of how easy it would have been for him to despair. Joseph has heard from the Lord in two different dreams that seem to suggest that his family will one day bow to him, but I would be willing to bet that it is pretty hard to  hold onto that promise as Joseph is chained and led away by slave traders to a foreign land. And Joseph may not have known it at the time, but as readers we know that it only gets worse. He will be chained, enslaved, and later even imprisoned long before what the Lord has spoken to him comes to pass.

It is clear that only God in His providence could use such terrible circumstances to bring about His good purposes and plan. But He will. Time and time again this is who God is, this is what He does. He will bring good, rich blessing to Joseph and eventually save his whole family (and thus the lineage of Jesus), out of Joseph’s suffering. God is active and working, even in our hardship and distress, even when the plan doesn’t look good. Even when we can’t see what He is doing.

When things seem to not make sense this week, when you cannot see how He is going to use your hardship, remind yourself of His promises. He is working all things for your good. He always fulfills His promises. We can always trust Him.

Tuesday, Mark 9

Jesus has started speaking often about the cross, His death, and resurrection. I wonder if He allows Peter, James, and John to come up the mountain with Him because He knows they are anxious and fearful, or if He knows they will need to look back on this after His death to more fully understand. God is always revealing himself to us if we choose to see Him.

I resonate so deeply with the heart of the possessed little boy’s father who cries out to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” As I think of God purposing everything, even suffering, I so want to look at the hardships in my life and in the lives of my friends and fully believe God will use it for good, that God will bring about His good purposes and my own sanctification through it. I cry out with the Father, “Lord, help me believe!”

What truths about God are you struggling to believe today?

I encourage you to name those things, and search for Scripture that specifically addresses those promises.

I am so encouraged that we can serve a Living God who is not upset with us when we are anxious, afraid, or struggling to believe but instead invites us to pray, “Lord! Help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, Psalm 4

What a gracious Father, who answers us when we call, who has mercy on us and hears our prayers.

Spend time with God in prayer today and rest in knowing that He hears you.

Thursday, Romans 8

Romans 8 has to be one of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible (am I allowed to say that?) It is so full of rich promises that I have been sitting here staring at my screen, completely unable to summarize. Instead, I want to highlight some of these promises and invite us to memorize them, write them down, and pray them back to God this week. His word is so powerful, and I am so grateful for these truths –

  • There is no condemnation for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus
  • Jesus has set us free from sin and the eternal death that comes as a result!
  • Jesus took the sin we deserved, bore the punishment, and now we are free from punishment and inherit only eternal life with Him
  • The Spirit of God is living in us!
  • We are God’s children, and we are heirs of His Kingdom and eternal blessing!
  • Our present sufferings pale in comparison to the glory promised us in eternity
  • One day, this world will be completely liberated from suffering, completely redeemed
  • The Holy Spirit cries out to God for us, even when we don’t know what to pray
  • God works all things for our good
  • God predestined us – chose us in advance to do good work for His Kingdom
  • God justified us – made us righteous though on our own we are not
  • God will glorify us – we will live with Him forever in eternity
  • God gives us all that we need
  • NOTHING can separate us from the love of God! Hallelujah. 

Friday Reflections

As I sit here, my mind is wandering back to a morning a few years ago. Will you go back with me? 

It is the rainy season in Uganda. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between, and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each other’s homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God?”

It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.

We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend suddenly and unexpectedly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. As we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis, someone else’s daughter was assaulted, and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we all know the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. How do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. My friends’ hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.

I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me and in front of our Father. Her hurt is different from mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.

We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.

I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.

Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.

A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.

Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from burns, but it is clear she’s been drinking as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time, but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.

It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.

How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?

“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.

I remember the words of Romans 8 – we consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We hope for what we do not see. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose… We are more than conquerors because of all this sin? This death? This rampant addiction and disease and suffering? He conquered it for us, and He promises, He promises, that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us will also give us all things that we need.

Not all things that we want. Not the life free from suffering that I am thinking back to today. But all things that we need. All things that will draw us to Himself. All things that will glorify His name.

And in His grace, nothing will ever separate us from His love. Thank you Jesus.

I trudge back up the hill, my mind still mulling over questions. God where are you in all of this mess? How will you use this for glory? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course, I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”

My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it, but I know it is true. He is at work here. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – yes, indeed, He gives us all things we need and will use even messy, hard things to cause us to search harder for Him.

Maggie walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Maggie, who just months ago, I thought would die. Maggie who at 19-years-old held her 4-year-old and her dead newborn and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Maggie who moved into our guest room as frail and sick as other women who died there. Maggie who lived. She walks up the hill, her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”

Of course I do. I read the words again. I read that neither death or life or the angels or the demons or the present or the future or height or depth or anything in all creation would be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I read that all of it is purposeful. That we will conquer, because He has conquered.

For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.

What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy?

It is hard to believe sometimes, but we can know God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”

Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised to us, and eternal life awaits us!

Week 35: God Who Knows My Name

Monday: Genesis 36

Tuesday: Mark 8

Wednesday: Psalm 3

Thursday: Romans 7

Friday: Genesis 36, Mark 8, Psalm 3, Romans 7

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 36

At first glance, this is simply another list of names that we might be tempted to skip over. But spend a few minutes in this scripture and we will realize some greater truths about God and His character. We have seen from previous passages in Genesis that Esau or “Edom” as he is called here, is not the chosen brother, he is not the son through whom the lineage of the Messiah will go forward. In fact, the Edomites will become enemies of Israel, refusing them passage through their territory on their way to the promised land and coming against them with an army. We see Esau has chosen to marry unbelieving women, something the Lord and Esau’s own father commanded him not to do. And yet, the Lord still sees fit that Esau’s family line is recorded, that his name and the names of his family members are written down for many to read for years to come. Our Father deeply cares about every single person He created, even those stuck in sin and walking away from Him. He knows our names. He knows their names. The names of those seeking after Him and the names of those turning their backs. And He purposes to use every single one of us to accomplish His purposes. 

Are there people in your life who you have deemed as unworthy of Gospel love? 

What would it look like to believe God knows their names and they are precious to Him?

Do you ever find yourself feeling insignificant and unworthy?

Spend some time today reminding yourself of your preciousness to God. Rest in knowing that He sees you and He knows your name. He has it recorded in the book of Life for all eternity!

Tuesday, Mark 8

Again and again and again, the Lord has compassion on His people. When He is surrounded by a hungry crowd, He gives thanks and breaks bread. They do not know, but later He will give thanks and let His body be broken for us, our Bread of Life. He breaks the bread for the crowd and the text says they were satisfied. His body breaks for us and we can be most satisfied in Him. It is so easy to shift our eyes and look to other things to satisfy, but none of them will. He alone is enough to satisfy our souls. And even as He satisfies us, He calls us to lay down our lives for Him. So minute by minute, little tiny decision by little tiny decision, each time we surrender our desires and choose Him instead, our satisfaction grows and our joy increases.

How are you finding your satisfaction in Him?

What does it look like in your life today, even in the small, to lay down your life for His sake?

Wednesday, Psalm 3

I read Psalm 3 several times before I noticed the little note under the title, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.” Wow, I think I have problems. David’s son is literally trying to kill him. I cannot even imagine how painful that would be. And yet in the midst of it all, David turns his eyes to praise God. He remembers who God is and he sings it aloud for all to hear, “You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord and He answers me from His Holy mountain.” God is the lifter of our heads even in the darkest valleys, even in the most unthinkable circumstances. When we call out to Him, He always answers us.

Can you praise Him today even in the midst of your own heartache?

Remember who He is, dear one! The lifter of your head, the God who answers you!

Thursday, Romans 7

Some of Paul’s language here can be a little hard for me to understand. But as I have mulled over it this week, I think what it boils down to is this – God’s law is not the problem. Our sin is the problem! And God’s perfect law makes it very clear to us just how sinful we are. And I SO relate to what Paul says later in the chapter – the good he wants to do he finds himself incapable of, and the evil he wants to flee from he finds himself drawn to. “What a wretched man that I am!” But we can recognize our sinful nature without despair because this is exactly what Christ came for. He knew exactly just how wretched we were and exactly how much we needed Him. Relying on Him is the only way to the good we long to do, the only way to abundant life!

How are you actively battling sin and temptation in your own life?

Spend some time today repenting for your sin and then praising Jesus who took it all on the cross!

Friday Reflections

I smiled with pride as I watched my kids walk into new schools this week. But at the same time I felt so proud of them in their new adventures, so in awe of their courage to do something so new and unknown, I felt anxious for them, probably even more anxious than they were feeling for themselves.

For the last five years, they’ve attended a school where everyone not only knows their names, but their parents’ and siblings’ names, their birthdays, and often even the most intimate details of their lives. They’ve been in classes with their sisters and a small handful of other children that they have basically grown up with. Their dad’s close friend is their Chemistry teacher. Their good friend’s mom is their math teacher. We have thrived for years in a tiny, intentional, intimate community.

So my breath catches in my throat a bit as I watch one bob away from me down the sidewalk of the crowded college campus. My eyes fill with tears as the high schoolers push their way toward me through the hallway after a long first day. I shake my head and try not to let the thought that has been nagging me all day take root, “We don’t know anyone here.”

But as I read through this list of names in Genesis one, as I think of Jesus having compassion on and distributing food to thousands upon thousands of individuals, wanting each one of them to be safe and well fed, I am reminded that God knows my name and the names of each of my children. He knows their parents and their siblings, their birthdays and the very most intimate details of their lives. He knows what we are walking into and why He has us here, even when we are still a bit uncertain.

I am tempted to shake my head a bit at the disciples in Mark 8. It’s nearly the exact same scenario that they lived through weeks or months before, with different numbers of people and a different number of fish. They had seen Jesus do this before. And yet, when Jesus suggests to the disciples that the people need something to eat, their response is the same.

            “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

Seriously? How can they ask Jesus this? They had just watched Jesus feed a crowd even larger than this, basically conjuring up a feast from just a few bites. A feast with twelve baskets left over, abundance, far more than they started with. Don’t the disciples know that Jesus will do this again? And He does. Once again, He takes nothing and makes it something, He takes lack and makes it abundance, He takes the starving and He satisfies.

Jesus, who knows our names, will satisfy the starving again. He will take our lack and make it abundant again. This is who He is. This is what He does.

So we walk through a town full of people we have never seen before. We smile at strangers. We don’t know the names of the baristas or the grocers, and they don’t know our coffee orders or let us pay later like they do at home. But a waitress chases me down the street out of the restaurant with the water bottle and toy truck that we left behind and I feel like God is reminding me – we will be known again. We will find intentional and intimate community because this is what He designed us for. But in the meantime, He knows our names and He knows us more intimately than anyone on this earth ever will.

I don’t know where you are today? I don’t know if you are surrounded by your people and praising God for them or if you are more like us, feeling displaced and lonely. It’s easy to feel like the disciples looking at a couple loaves of bread and thinking, “How are you going to do this, Lord?” God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is going to keep working now like He did before. God who has taken our nothing and made it into something before is going to do that again. And here in our lonely seasons, He knows our names. He knows each hair on our heads and every ache and dream in our hearts.

He sees you, love. I pray you hear Him call your name today.

Week 34: God of Undeserved Grace

Monday: Genesis 34-35

Tuesday: Mark 7

Wednesday: Psalm 2

Thursday: Romans 6

Friday: Genesis 34-35, Mark 7, Psalm 2, Romans 6

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 34-35

Even in the midst of hardship and suffering, Jacob remembers God as “God who answered me in the day of my distress, and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Can we? I am reminded as I read that remembering can be an act of worship. God takes Jacob back to the place He first revealed Himself, and so often He takes us back, to remember the places He revealed Himself to us, the places He carried us through, the battles He fought on our behalf. And Jacob names the place where God first spoke to him, the place where God now speaks to him again, Bethel or “House of God.” 

There is suffering for Jacob on the journey and there will be for us. But everywhere we remember Him can be a House of God, too. There are places where we will doubt, where we will wrestle, where we may momentarily lose our way. Can you hear our Father whisper, “Remember? Remember how I sustained you before? Now let me sustain you again.” When we trust in His promises, any place can become a House of God.

What parts of your journey feel unexpectedly hard?

What are you wrestling with?

Can you spend some time today remembering ways God has shown up for you in the past, ways that He has sustained you through hard times before?

How might that give you the courage to face whatever is in front of you today?

Tuesday, Mark 7

Following the rules without relationship with Jesus means nothing. The Pharisees are arrogant, believing that their own righteousness will somehow save them, somehow bring them to God. I fall into this trap too. But the Phoenician woman is full of humility, acknowledging her place before Jesus and thus, Jesus heals her daughter. We will finally be healed, finally be set free from our sin, when we stop striving, quit pretending that we can make ourselves righteous, and instead surrender to Jesus who owes us nothing but gives us everything. It is those who come humbly to Jesus longing only for Him who will receive His blessing.

And I got stuck repeating it over and over to myself, that one thing everyone was saying about Jesus in verse 37. Even as I say it out loud it feels like an exhale, “He has done everything well.” Say it. Say it again. Say it until you believe it, until you know it to be true in the very core of your being because it is. 

“He has done all things well.” Do you feel a weight lifted?

I don’t do all things well. I have not done all things well. The weight of that could swallow me if I spend long enough thinking about it. But our promise and our hope is that Jesus already knows that and He comes and He does indeed do all things perfectly. I can come with my need and my lack, my empty hands and my empty cup and I can trust He will still do all things well.

Are there places where you are carrying the weight or burden of doing things well all by yourself? Work? Parenting? Marriage? Ministry? You won’t always do everything right and that is ok. Allow yourself some space today to feel and rest in the grace of God that makes up for your lack.

Let He has done all things well be your mantra, your prayer for this week. Repeat it to yourself when things seem to be spinning out of control, when things aren’t going as planned, and believe it. Nothing is outside of His reach.

Wednesday, Psalm 2

Blessed are we who take refuge in Him.

The evidence of human rebellion against God is everywhere. Turn on the news, take a quick scroll, you will see death and destruction seemingly around every corner. People are hurt, and hurting others. We have been wronged, and we have done wrong to others.

And yet, amidst all the hurt, we can take refuge in Jesus, the coming King who will destroy  death, mourning, and suffering. This broken world is simply a stepping stone to the Kingdom where we will live with Him forever.

Blessed are we who take refuge in Him.

Thursday, Romans 6

We who were once dead in sin are now raised to new life in Christ! Now, we must die to sin, which for me is not a one time death but a daily, intentional turning of my heart from the things of this world to the things of God.

We will be resurrected! And yet, how often do we forget to live as those who have been given new life in Christ? We will have a resurrection like His! This is an incredible promise. So how do we offer ourselves to God – every part of us, in every thing surrendered and offered up to Him? His grace alone enables us to live like this. Daily, hourly, minute by minute. When we remember our life isn’t just the here and now but is forever, we fix our eyes on Jesus and everything else falls away.

How are you surrendering to God today?

How are you dying to sin today?

How might you live in the gift of God – eternal life – here and now?

Friday Reflections

The world feels heavy this week, friends, and I am finding it hard to type words that have meaning while so many around the globe face unspeakable horrors. My heart has been heavy for those in Afghanistan and Haiti, for my dear friends and neighbors in Uganda who find themselves jobless and unable to attend school for yet another year due to the pandemic, and it has led to a heaviness for others around the world facing oppression, persecution, and disaster.  

The stories of the Bible, even the stories of the Lord’s servants who He loves and favors, are full of sin, pain, suffering, and brokenness. You might feel yours is too, and there is good news for us – Our God runs toward pain and suffering, not away from it. And He comes with undeserved grace and favor for all who put their trust in Him. And so as we sit in the heaviness this week, as we feel the weight of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world and maybe the weight of our own pain or our own sin, I am thankful we are not without hope. We can carry the weight of the sadness, yes, but we also carry a hope that far outweighs this burden. The hope that the same God who spoke with Jacob and met with Him, the God of compassion who healed the daughter of the Phoenician woman, is here with us now and intends to come back, making all things new. 

He didn’t make Jacob, Israel, many nations, because of Jacob’s lack of doubt. Jacob, the God-wrestler, the deceiver by his very name, was chosen by God because God loved him, because he would return to God and put his trust in Him again and again.

“Come let us go…” Jacob says, “I will build an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” This is still who God is today, and this is still our reminder – wherever we are, whatever hurt we are facing or weight we are carrying, we can return to the God of grace who answered us before and will be with us again.

Jesus didn’t heal the Phoenician woman’s daughter because she deserved it, but rather because she came to Him humbly and put her trust in Him. He didn’t heal the deaf and mute man because of anything the man did, but rather to display His glory so that the man and those around him might know Jesus does all things well. As Jesus comes to these individuals, and as He comes to us, we are no longer limited by ourselves, the weights that we can carry alone or the battles we can fight solo. His grace is too good, too big to comprehend, and when we let it, it does indeed make our burdens light.

I am often tempted to believe that my good works, my own faithfulness, my well constructed plans will lead me closer to Jesus. We all are. We stumble over our own feet chasing after what we think might get us closer. And yet, our God runs toward us with lavish grace. Our God purposes to use our lives and ordains our steps even in the middle of all our sins and our mistakes.

I think of God who spoke to Jacob at the place where they had met before. I think of Jesus who goes to those who can’t speak well or listen well, can’t get there on their own. We need God to meet us like this. We need Jesus to give us wise words, to make us quick to listen and slow to speak. We need Him to come and right all this suffering and we have hope that He will.

We can’t earn it. We can’t muster it up or work our way there. So we surrender. He knows we can’t and He knows it is too heavy and He comes. He comes into our limitations, our defeat, our real life circumstances with grace that saves us and makes us whole. 

God, You are the God of undeserved grace, and you do all things well. We trust You.

Amen.

Week 33: God Who Meets Us in Our Need

Monday: Genesis 33

Tuesday: Mark 6

Wednesday: Psalm 1

Thursday: Romans 5

Friday: Genesis 33, Mark 6, Psalm 1, Romans 5

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 33

I can hardly read this story without crying. I can imagine the fear and anxiety Jacob felt as he prepared to meet the brother he deceived, betrayed, and ultimately ran away from. What will he do? What will he say? Will Esau try to kill Jacob and his family? Is he still angry? Jacob prepares gifts for his brother. He is ready to bow down, to grovel, to somehow try to find favor and as he lowers himself to the ground, silently begging God to spare him from the worst… Esau runs to him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

Unmerited, undeserved forgiveness. It is what Jacob finds in the arms of his brother and it is what we find in Christ, and hopefully in the arms of each other. We can forgive each other freely because of how He has freely forgiven us. And when Jacob realizes the grace of being forgiven like this, he says to his brother, “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” Yes! As we forgive one another as Christ forgave us, we will see the face of God in our brothers and our sisters. As we love and forgive like Him, we will reflect His face, His love, to the world.

Is there someone you need to forgive today? Can you look at the example of Esau and find the courage to forgive, no matter how big the mistake or how deep the betrayal?

Is there someone who you need to seek forgiveness from? Approach them humbly like Jacob. Pray to be received. See the face of God in the one you have wronged and strive to make right the relationship.

No matter where you have been, what you have done or how badly you have messed up, the arms of Christ are open wide in forgiveness. I pray today that you could receive His mercy and forgiveness!

Tuesday, Mark 6

The disciples must be so tired. They’ve been on the road for weeks, driving out demons, healing the sick, staying in the homes of strangers. When they returned they got word that John the Baptist had been killed, and just as they are about to get away with Jesus in a quiet place and rest, thousands of people run after them to hear Jesus. In true Jesus fashion He has compassion on them, teaching them and even feeding them. The disciples have been so faithful in their ministry, and still, they are exhausted. We’ve all been there.

Later, in the boat without Jesus, the disciples are stuck, straining against the wind and the waves, utterly defeated. And do you see what Jesus does? He comes to them. He joins them in their struggle. He speaks courage.

Are you feeling exhausted? Weary? Stuck?

Jesus got in the boat with His disciples and He does the same for us, joining us in our struggles, speaking to us – Take courage! Do not be afraid.

Wednesday, Psalm 1

I imagine this tree, planted by streams of water, steady and strong, spreading out shade and yielding fruit. I long to be like this tree, to delight in the law of the Lord and walk with Him every day, now and in eternity!

Let’s commit this Psalm to memory this week.

Thursday, Romans 5

Having Romans 5:1-11 memorized has carried me through some dark seasons. Especially this – we also rejoice in our sufferings. What a truth we have to hold onto, that He is using everything, even our suffering, to make us into the people of perseverance, character, and hope that He wants us to be.

While we were dead in our sin, He came for us. While we were still guilty, His enemies, He died for us. What love! What grace! Because of Him we have peace with God, that which we do not deserve, freely given to us. And we have the hope of eternity with Him, the hope that His glory will always prevail, and that can pull us through any suffering.

Are you experiencing hardship or suffering?

How is this developing perseverance, character, and hope in your life?

How does focusing on the hope of eternity make hardship and suffering feel lighter?

Spend some time today receiving and marveling at the free, undeserved gift of the grace and mercy of Christ. Stand in awe! And be filled with hope.

Friday Reflections

I know, I know, I skipped right over Job. Since we only have 20 weeks left and I think Job works best as a full story, we are going to start there at the beginning of next year and I can’t wait. For now, though, we will remind ourselves of the truth of God’s promises through Psalms on Wednesdays. I love the raw honesty of the Psalms. So often I am tempted to mask my emotions when I come to God. Somewhere along the line I have been taught to think that a “good” Christian doesn’t allow all their real hurt, turmoil, and confusion to be seen and known, that I have to “clean it up a little” before I bring it to the Lord.

The Psalms show us how untrue that is. I can lament to God and allow all my raw emotions to pour out before Him without questioning His character. I can believe who God is and still wonder “Why?”, still feel disappointed, confused, even abandoned. There is no emotion that my God cannot handle, and when we look at the life of Jesus, we see there is no emotion our God has not also felt. When we are feeling most desperate, most forgotten, most misunderstood, Jesus has walked there, felt those things, suffered in those same ways.

The Psalms teach us to cry out to God in both raw desperation and unbridled joy. Jesus knows we are needy. He expects us to be needy. We can come to Him with our needs. I don’t know about you, but sometimes this is so hard for me. Both in front of Jesus and in my own community.

I love holding space for other people’s suffering. I love to be the person who opens her home and her heart to the hurting, who drops off a home cooked meal, who sits long into the night to listen and to catch the tears.

I love to be the strong one, the one who helps, the one who gives.

It’s been the work of many years and much wrestling with my own selfishness to cultivate a lifestyle of giving generously and opening our doors and our hearts to the hurting. At times it has been uncomfortable and stretching, but it has always been worth it. A few months ago, I would have told you that living intentionally, giving of myself intentionally, cultivating a lifestyle of inviting in the broken, the stranger, the outcast, has been the hardest, most worth-it work of my life.

Until God placed me here. Due to an emergency that we didn’t see coming, a health scare that nearly left us flat on our faces, we packed up our family in less than 48 hours and headed to the other side of the world with nothing but the clothes in our suitcases and a strong conviction that this was God’s next right step for our family and He would provide. I resonated with Jacob this week as he walked toward the unknown with everything he owned, everything he had built and worked for at stake, headed toward a brother who may or may not still be angry at him, not sure what would happen next.

We have spent eight weeks of this year so far living in a stranger’s home, on an unfamiliar, smooth, paved road, in a community we know nothing about. I’ve felt like the disciples, weary from ministry, desiring to rest, but tossed by the wind and waves instead. But then the next door neighbor told us we could come over any time and use their playground. And a woman I had never met, the sister of a friend of a friend, dropped off dinner.

A stranger lent us her car, packed full of all the necessities and lots of treats. Friends and family members stocked us up on groceries and did our laundry and sat with us in the long silence after hospital visits where there was no good update to give.

And in these slow and disorganized days I am seeing maybe the harder part of the equation is being the one who receives. The one who asks for help. The one who shows up vulnerable and empty-handed and says, “Yes, I am in need.”

Maybe one of Jacob’s greatest blessings on this long journey will be receiving the forgiveness of his brother. Surely one of the disciples’ greatest blessings was having Jesus look them in the eyes and say take courage. It is what He says to us as we come to Him honestly in prayer, giving Him our need and being willing to receive what He gives – Mercy. Grace. Courage. Salvation. Peace.

I’m learning to be needy, friends.

I am learning that maybe in all my work cultivating a space where people could come and be vulnerable I built up a pride and identity of being the one with something to offer – a safe place to land, a glass of cold water on a hot day, a listening ear and a hand to wipe away the tears.

But to have true and lasting community, we need to be both. We need to be the helper and we need to be the one in need of help. We need to be the giver and we need to learn to receive. Real relationships and true community happen when we can also be the person who doesn’t have a place to go and cannot afford her groceries. We have to start coming to Jesus, and then to each other, as needy people ready to receive.

I’ve cried bitter tears in the last six weeks in front of more strangers and casual acquaintances than I care to count. But God is slowly taking away my embarrassment and showing me the beauty here. Because I realize I never would have been able to learn to listen and lean in to someone’s suffering unless that someone had shown up vulnerable and allowed me to. I never would have had to do the hard work of opening up my home to a stranger in need if that person hadn’t been brave enough to show up needy. Jacob never could have received that amazing forgiveness of Esau if he hadn’t first needed to be forgiven. The hungry five thousand would have missed the miracle if they hadn’t been in need. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we are still needy, still messy, still broken, Christ wants to meet with us.

There is no learning to serve others or to give generously unless someone has the courage to show their brokenness and lack and allow me to serve. There are no tears to wipe away unless someone has the courage to cry them in my presence. There is no honest relationship with our Savior unless we show up with our need, ready to receive.

I don’t yet like being the needy one, but I am leaning into this place God has us and believing that maybe my need will become someone else’s place of ministry. Maybe God will teach them the beautiful wrestling He taught me if I allow myself to receive instead of pretending I am not in need.

“Can I bring you groceries?”

“What do you need from Target?”

“I put cash in the center console.”

“We are coming for dinner – and bringing dinner.”

“What if you take a break and I’ll go to the hospital tonight.”

“Thought you guys might like some pizza.”

I can’t even list all the messages I have gotten like these. And honestly, at first, my gut reaction is to say, “No, we are ok!” or “Oh my goodness, you shouldn’t have done that!”

But when people have shown up needy in my life, it has given me an opportunity to know the Father’s heart in giving. And now I get to learn His heart for me in receiving. I get to learn the courage it takes to show up in need, the courage it takes to cry real tears in front of another human being, the courage it takes to be ok with not having the answers. And it is teaching me more about the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Father who gives good gifts to His children and is delighted when they freely receive them.

So I am learning to believe He calls us to both giving and receiving in ministry. Paul needed healing and was able to heal. He had to receive the Gospel message before he could share it. He both was ministered to and ministered to others. Peter needed his feet washed before he could go and do likewise. Jacob needed the forgiveness of Esau before he could move on to all God was calling him to. The disciples needed the refreshment of Jesus before they could go minister again.

And above all, all of us need to receive from the Lord. While we are still powerless. While we are still uncertain. When we are broken and things are messy and we do not know what is next, God invites us to come to Him in our need and receive His goodness.

This is hard work, vulnerability. Maybe the hardest, most worth-it work of my life.

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.