Sunday, October 30, 2016

When

The other morning I was reading in Deuteronomy.  Verse 1 from Chapter 20 caught my attention:

"When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you."

I read verses like this and often laugh out loud (probably not the typical reaction!).  Here is Israel, a rebellious lot at best.  Yet they are God's own possession. They are dearly loved.  The Lord is giving instructions for war.  I hear something like this:

So Israel, when you go to battle, you are going to see the odds stacked high, like really high against you. You are going to face your enemies, people that want to destroy you, there are going to be so many that you will not be able to begin to count them.  Oh and by the way, they will have horses and chariots...you can't win. My advice, my command, don't be afraid.

As I was thinking through this scenario I was reminded of some other "when" verses in the Bible. When you pass through the waters and through the rivers...when you walk through the fire, Isaiah 43:2.  When you hear of war, Luke 21.  When you meet trials of various kinds, James 1:2.

This life is so unpredictable, yet we do know we will face hardships.  
It is not a question of IF we will, but a command for WHEN we do.

Our human reaction often is fear, worry, doubt.  Fear draws us away, we run, hide, retreat.  We are paralyzed, consumed by the situation.  So if we are not to fear, what do we do?  How do we obey this command when we face the "whens" in our lives?  When your finances fail, when there is a terminal diagnosis, when a heart breaks, when God is silent....when.

I wonder if we are to do the opposite? Fear makes us want to give up. Faith causes us to draw near, be vulnerable, be honest, run to Him.  I looked up antonyms for fear and this is what I found: assurance, calmness, cheer, confidence, contentment, encouragement, faith, happiness, joy, trust, love, courage.

How do you want to live? Paralyzed? Fearful? Stressed?  I want to live in complete assurance of who I am in Christ, with confidence that He will keep His promises (He will never leave us!), encouraged by the family of God, trusting in the One who allowed me to be in this situation.

How about you?  Are you in a circumstance that seems overwhelming?  No way to win? No way out?  I have tried both paths.  Run, fear, hide, avoid, distract...anything but face the giant.  And I have asked God for help and have chosen the path of faith and courage. My hope is that when I face my next battle I will obey His command and choose the path of faith, not fear.  It is so much better. There is freedom found in the faith-filled life.  And I choose to live free.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Goodbyes


I'm not so great at goodbyes.  And I am not very fond of them.  I have had plenty of practice.  I said at least six goodbyes as we moved from houses, friends, and neighbors by the time I reached Junior High. I think it may have been easier being the one leaving. Now I am on the other end as the one staying.  Staying on this side of heaven.  Staying in my city.  Staying at our church.  So many goodbyes.  

I wonder if I could be better at this?  I don't think I'll ever like them. Maybe I can think a little more like Winnie the Pooh though.  Ponder how grateful I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so difficult. The answer for sure is not isolation, to run from ever having to say goodbye again. Though the thought has crossed my mind.

There has to be an antidote to the sadness of saying goodbye. I wonder if Pooh bear actually was right?  Maybe being thankful will take the sting away. I am beyond grateful that I had my mom for so many years, thankful that she created fond memories with my kids.  Thankful for her legacy and her prayers.  I am so glad to have worshiped and served with many military families at our church.  Thankful for their insights in bible studies and sweet conversations. How wonderful my life has been because of these fleeting friends.

I took a pause in this blog.  I started this yesterday and decided to walk away and  pray.  I asked God what was going on in my heart.  Have you ever felt something and didn't quite understand what was going on? What God was showing you?

This morning I woke up and I think God is showing me something about regret.  When someone leaves, we can start playing the regret game.  You know the one.  It's not a very fun game.  All the "if only"'s are drawn from the deck of regrets.  One of my life goals is to live life without regrets.  Pretty sure that is not possible! God definitely is growing me in this area as I desire to please Him above all others.  And that is a life without regrets.

So I am working on a new game. When I have to say goodbye, I will have two decks (not literal, who has time for that, virtual if you will...)  One deck will be thankful cards: I will consider all the ways I can be thankful for that person or family.  And the other deck (that I may actually make...) God's Word: Scriptures that set my eyes on Jesus, not the "if only"'s. My regrets are the enemy's way of distracting me from pressing on and going towards my goal of living a life pleasing God, one without regret.

So back to goodbyes.  Can we say goodbye without feeling any regret? (I should have taken more pictures, I should have spent more time, If only I had....) I really just don't know.  I do know that we can choose what thoughts to entertain. Forgetting what lies behind (those things that entangle us - like regrets), and strain forward to what lies ahead (gratitude, good memories, all we have in God Himself). As we say goodbye let's fill our hearts with thankfulness.  The more we can pour in, the more the regrets get pushed out.  And maybe the sting won't be so deep. Goodbyes are here to stay until Jesus returns, I guess we'd better figure out how to do them well.

Here are some verses we can add to our new way of saying goodbye:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (notice it says give thanks "in" all circumstances, not "for" all...hmmmmm)

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Psalm 34:4-5 I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Friday, May 6, 2016

To my retreat girls (part B)....

So this is the inside of my refrigerator.  I opened it up this morning and found my vitamins. (Yes, they are gummy.  No, you may not make any comments about the fact that I justify eating candy in the form of vitamins every morning, we all have our weaknesses!)

I had taken them about 30 minutes earlier and I have NO idea how they wound up in my fridge.  I have never put them there before.  Didn't I just say at the retreat how easily we are distracted?  I even said, "Do any of you ever put your phone in the fridge and try to plug in your milk?"

I was wondering why in the world I did this and then I realized I was distracted (and didn't even know it).  I asked the Lord why I was so "worried and bothered". He gently reminded me about yesterday.  I shared with you that I had a burden that I took to the feet of Jesus. Apparently I forgot to leave it there.  I had picked it back up, threw it over my shoulder, and marched on with my day.  Somehow to my surprise it was weighing me down this morning.

I went back to the Lord and gave it to Him again...with tears, this time lots more tears. Why do we so desperately want our own way?  I have some pretty great ideas and it baffles me that the Lord doesn't use them. (please hear the sarcasm!) In His gentle way He asked me how in the world He can make this beautiful if I keep taking it back from Him.  So I find myself back at His feet, giving Him this unmet expectation.  This unrealized dream.  I do believe I told you all that Drawing Near is not easy.  And now I am living it.  Please tell me you struggle too.  Somehow this is easier knowing we are not alone.

I love the truth that God gave us: Drawing Near is an invitation and lifelong pursuit.  It is not something to check off our to do list.  It is about humility and obedience and worship. It is about a relationship with the One who has all we need.  Who is all we need. So I will try this again and see how tomorrow goes.  His mercies are new every morning...good thing, I need them every day!

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen
Romans 11:36


Thursday, May 5, 2016

To my retreat girls...

My shelf of remembrance...
Last weekend the Lord saw fit to have me share His story at our annual Women's Retreat. It was my great joy to take on the "role" as retreat speaker.  Those of you that were there know why "role" is in quotation marks!

I so loved being able to share truth, the Truth. I have no regrets, God was faithful and answered every one of my prayers. However, I feel as if there is more to say.  I am thinking about saying it in the form of letters to you.  Oh, if you were not at the retreat, you can listen in also.  I do have to admit though, these girls stole my heart. They are beautiful, broken, sweet women that desire to Draw Near to the only One worthy of our affection.  I am buoyed by their faith and this weekend will always be a fond memory of mine.

Several of you shared that you could relate to Mary. Remember, we heard that one sister was named Martha and the other called Mary. And Mary means "bitter".  There was something that happened in Mary's life that caused others to call her bitter.  I want you to remember too though that she did not stay bitter and I think it was because she stayed at the feet of Jesus.  The Lord filled her as she drew near and she was able to worship Him for who He really was.  He changed her.

I came home from the retreat with an expectation that was unmet.  I shed a few tears today (not due to menopause - yet...but because He is tenderizing my heart). I think He shed a few tears with me as He comforted me.  I placed this burden at His feet and am trusting Him to do something beautiful.  I am able to worship, even in my disappointment because I can trust Him. And I think this is one way to guard against bitterness. Worship. One definition of worship is "adoring reverence".  This requires love and trust.  Do you love the Lord?  Do you trust Him?

Some of you feel bitterness is leaking out of your lives and not Jesus. Could it be that He is asking you to trust Him in the midst of your circumstances?  Could it be that by faith you will worship Him, give Him His rightful place in your life?  Remember the pitcher that I held up high, representing Him?  If He is not lifted high, how can He pour all that we need into us?  Please allow Him to complete the work He began in you at the retreat. Come just as you are. Stay at His feet and let worship replace any bitterness that is still leaking out.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6 



Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Valley of Deep Darkness

Why Lord?

Have you felt darkness closing in?  Maybe it crept in slowly, pulling the oxygen slowly out of the room.  Or maybe it came on so suddenly, it quickly took all of your breath away in an instant.

Either way, we find it hard to breathe through the pain and we ask God, why?

I could give several answers, all biblical, why this is allowed. But would that help?  Maybe. However, while we are walking through the "valley of the shadow of death", mini sermons or debates about God's Sovereignty may not offer the comfort we so desperately need.

For generations God's people have turned to Psalm 23 for relief from heartache.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
                               He makes me lie down in green pastures.
                                                                  He leads me besides still waters.

There is tenderness in this Psalm of David. He knew the importance of a shepherd's care over his sheep.  This is very personal for David.  I imagine he is writing this at a very dark time in his life, verse 4 says:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
                              I will fear no evil, for You are with me; 
                                                           Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The phrase "valley of the shadow of death" is also translated, "valley of deep darkness". Oh our wounded hearts, how so many of us have experienced deep darkness.  But wait, there is a treasure here in this verse that we just cannot miss.

Did you notice in verse 1 (also in 2 and 3), David is talking about the Lord. It's like he is reminding himself of the truth of who God is.  The LORD is  my shepherd.  He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.  And then we come to verse 4, David shares his burden with the Lord.  I am walking through deep darkness.  Please God, help me breathe again.

And then it happens.

David says, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.  He has gone from talking about the Lord to talking to the Lord.  It is ever so slight, but ever so powerful.  I feel like the movie score has transitioned from a sad melody into a song of triumph.  Like the first ray of the rising sun breaking the darkness of night.  Hope has come. The Lord's presence is so palpable, he talks to Him instead of about Him.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; 
                                          You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

I believe with all of who I am, that God is good.  And here is one more proof of His goodness.  In the original language, part of the translation for anoint, is "take away ashes from sacrifice".

The Lord takes the ashes of our sacrifice of brokenness and creates beauty.  Then He reaches back down and anoints us with the very same sacrifice. Our experience becomes our anointing. This burden will have purpose, it will not be wasted.

We may not be able to see the beauty right away, and walking through the valley of deep darkness may take longer than we desire. You may feel hopeless. Our feelings aren't always reliable though. God's Word is and so is verse 6:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
                                           and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The truth is that goodness and mercy are near and will be your companions all the days of your life.  And as a child of God our future is secure.

I imagine David being so distraught in his pain, his face in his hands, the tears streaming. Hopeless. He recounts what he knows is true of the Lord.  He pours out his heart, sharing his burden. Then slowly he lifts his face. Truth floods in and he sees that the Lord is near.

Turning darkness to light, hurt to hope, death to life.

Whatever your burden today, may you pour it out to the Lord. Recount what you know is true of Him. Then, like David, may you lift your face and see that the Shepherd is near. Your sorrow will not be wasted, He has purpose for you, an anointing.  This valley of deep darkness will end and He will restore your soul.

May you release your "why Lord?" as a sacrifice, trusting Him to bring beauty instead of ashes, in His time.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

40 Day Journey - (meant it for good)

Days 1-16 are behind me on this 40 Day Journey through Lent.  Almost each day I have given an hour of my "own" time to spend with the Lord in His Word. Genesis is checked off my list and I wanted to give a short synopsis of what God revealed.

I have read Genesis several times, so many of the people and the places were familiar.  Abraham was one of my favorites and continues to hold that spot.  

A few things bothered me and some still perplex me (Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt and Jacob wresting with an angel?).  I was thinking through from Chapter 1 verse 1 to chapter 50 verse 26.  What did God teach me in this time?

In Chapter 1, we read of the creation of the world.  It is remarkable.  A miracle.  Awesome really, like seriously, can you imagine watching those days unfold?  I recently had a great conversation with a friend.  We were talking about some serious things.  I asked her why we were created.  (Spoiler alert: I don't know...)  As I read through chapter one I noticed that almost every day after God created something these words are written: And God saw that is was good.

In fact Genesis 1:31 says that after God was done, He saw all that He had made, "...and behold, it was very good." (I want to start using that word again - behold - such anticipation!)

So can we deduce that God made us, because it was good?  We know He is good, it's who He is (as my pal Chris Tomlin says).  This is what He does, He does good.  Now if you've read through Genesis before, you know some pretty bad things happen.  People prove to be, well...not good.  There are liars, deceivers, murderers, adulterers, thieves.  In fact at one point, God wipes out the whole earth save a remnant in Noah and his family.

Despite our "badness", it doesn't change God's goodness.  Yes, He deals with sin, but it is because He is good. Genesis opened with God's goodness and we see it again at the close of Genesis.  Joseph is one of 12 brothers and the least liked.  There may be a few reasons why, but they don't justify his brothers selling him as a slave and telling their father he is dead.  Most of you know this story, this true story.  God was with Joseph for the 20 years that he was away from his family. He was a slave, he was put in prison, he was raised in a foreign land away from his family.  And yet when he is divinely reunited with his brothers, he says:

"And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." Genesis 50:20

Though Joseph was betrayed by his bothers and lived in some difficult circumstances, he was able to declare that God had meant all of this for good.  Do you see that word, "meant"?  The verse doesn't say God took the mess Joseph's brothers made and turned it into good.  It says God "meant it for good". That word "meant" literally means "to weave" in the original language.  God has been weaving His story together for thousands of years, and it is a good story.

If you are struggling, or if you need a morsel of truth today, God is good.  Cling to this truth.  What is happening in your life is part of a grander plan, a beautiful story that God is weaving together.  Even if you can't see goodness right now, it is there, because God is here.  He is our good, good Father. And He is perfect in all of His ways to us.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

40 Day Journey Days 7 & 8


I am definitely slowing down in my reading.  I was so excited to get going that I blazed through the first part of Genesis.  Maybe because it wasn't as complicated...but boy, now, these chapters.  We are a hot mess. It is a wonder God continues to put up with us. 

Day 7 I read Genesis 27-28. Isaac is now old and his eyes too "dim" to see.  Isaac knows his days are numbered and this may be the only chance to take care of some family business. He calls in Esau and makes a private plan to bless him.  

Back two chapters we read that the Lord told Rebekah she would have twins and that the older would serve the younger.  In the same chapter we see Esau sell his birthright to Jacob. We also see that Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game. And now here we are, Isaac isn't sure the time of his death and he wants to override Gods plan with a savory meal to boot. 

You know what happens next, Rebekah overhears this plan and comes up with her own act of deception. She tells Jacob to pretend to be Esau and receive the blessing that even God Himself said was his. Jacob doesn't think this is a good idea and is fearful of receiving a curse instead of the blessing. In Genesis 27:13 she says, "....Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice..."  

What I noticed in this chapter were all the opportunities for Isaac to figure out this was Jacob not Esau. Jacob comes into his dad's room and says, "My father" his dad answers, "Who is it?" Jacob of course lies and says he is Esau and he is here with the food and ready for the blessing.  

Isaac also wonders how the food was prepared so quickly.  He asks to touch his son's skin to make sure it is hairy - since Esau was so hairy and Jacob was not.  Isaac even says, the voice is not Esau. He asks him again directly, "Are you really my son Esau?".  And finally he asks for a kiss so he will lean in and Isaac can smell him.  He had all of these doubts, all of these signs that this was trickery. Yet I think Isaac was so caught up in trying to get the blessing secretly to Esau that he continued down his slippery slope.

The irony?  Isaac and Rebekah, even Esau and Jacob were secretive, deceitful, selfishly trying to get their own way. Yet God's plan was not thwarted.  

I am trying to figure out why they just didn't do it God's way.  Why did they allow in the sin crouching at their door?  Their joy was stolen and a web of lies was woven.  But then if I take a look at my own life, my own circumstances, maybe I am not so different.  

Is there a situation that I feel the need to control? Do I trust God with my future? Is fear directing my steps into deceit?  How easy it is to move our eyes away from God's beautiful, faithful promises and onto our less than desirable circumstances.  

God gave Isaac several chances to change his mind and repent.  Not only were his eyes dim, but his view of God was dim also.  And this is part of the legacy he was leaving to Jacob. We all sin, we all fall short, we all need a redeemer.  Thankfully One is on the way.

~~~~~~~~~

Day 8 I read and reread Chapter 28-29.  I think I was still reeling a little from all the grief from chapter 27. And now we see more bad choices. Jacob is sent away, Esau takes a 3rd wife.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel and is deceived (here we go again) and is given Leah as a wife instead.  See, I told you we are a hot mess! This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story.  My favorite verse is from Genesis 29:31

Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved and He opened her womb...

Can you imagine being Leah? The older sister, looked over for her younger sister.  Her dad had to deceive a man into marrying her and she was still unloved though married.  But the LORD saw...and then He did something beautiful.  He brought new life.  She conceived and would have a son.  

God brings new life to where there was once despair.  Hope in the midst of hurt.  He saw.  And then He did something.  Not only do we have a God who sees, but One who acts on our behalf.  Praise Him.




Wednesday, February 17, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 6 (repeat)


I'm a day behind on my blogging, but current on my reading...hope to catch up this week.  Yesterday I read Genesis 23-26.  Reading about Isaac's life and the choices he makes is like reading about Abraham all over again.  God could have put "ditto" in these chapters.  Here is a list of a few of the similarities I noticed:
  • They lived in Canaan
  • Both were rich
  • They built an altar and called on the name of the Lord
  • Told Abimelech (a title) that their wife was their sister to protect their own lives
  • Wives were both beautiful
  • God promised them that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars
  • There was a famine in the land
  • Abraham prayed for God to heal the women that were barren, Isaac prayed for his wife Rebekah because she was barren
  • God healed these women after they prayed
  • Abraham and Isaac's two firstborn children were sons that did not get along

Now some of this you could chalk up to the regular similarities in families: social class, location, marriage and kids.  But they both lied to the king of Gerar and said their wives were their sisters. They both did this for fear of losing their own lives, thinking the king would want their beautiful wives for himself.  Both times this is after God told them they would have as many descendants as the number of stars!

I am trying to wrap my head around this.  We just read a few sentences in context of the whole Bible and we think, why do these people struggle so much?  Why don't they get it?  God's got this.  But as we try to put ourselves in their circumstances we might realize how similar we are.

Isaac, while one of the Patriarchs, didn't have an easy life.  His dad bound him on an altar and lifted a sword to sacrifice him.  He had a difficult, at best, relationship with his older 1/2 brother.  Both of his parents had died. It took 20 years for his wife to get pregnant.  His twin boys did not get along.  And now there is a famine in the land.  Not an ideal life.

Instead of going to Egypt for food, God tells Isaac to stay in Gerar.  And he obeys. He is now living among the Philistines, who must be pretty horrible if Isaac fears for his life. I wonder if Isaac's eyes had drifted from looking up at the stars, remembering God and His promises.  And now they are on his difficult circumstances.  Had his dad warned him about Gerar,or the people there?  Did Isaac have fear already instilled in him?  I can't get over this generational sin...

No matter how they arrived there, we know that fear is not from God.  Are you fearful of someone or some circumstance?  Maybe you can look up into the night sky (or imagine it if it is cloudy where you are too) and see those same stars shown to Abraham and Isaac.  And remember Genesis 18:14 when Isaac is promised to Sarah and God says, "Is anything too difficult for the LORD?"

No, nothing is too difficult, even changing your legacy.  If you have some sin that keeps repeating in your family, ask God to intervene, acknowledge that you need His help. As we depend on Him, He can rewrite our story instead of us repeating past mistakes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 5 (We are invited)

Today I read Genesis 20-22.  Chapter 21 is the birth of Isaac, the long awaited promised son. Chapter 22 is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  This story is so rich, it is one of my favorites. God is revealed as Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider.

I can't get past Chapter 20 though, there is so much that makes me wonder in this chapter. We read about Abraham telling King Abimelech that Sarah is his sister, just like he did with Pharaoh 25 years earlier. Abraham once again asked Sarah to agree to this so that he would live.  He thought he would be killed so that Pharaoh could have Sarah, because she was so beautiful.  It didn't go so well, but Abraham was spared and so was Sarah. Here he is doing the same thing again. So King Abimelech of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

God comes to Abimelech in a dream and tells him what is going on. Abimelech is completely surprised, he had no idea Sarah was married.  He even confesses to God that he is a man of integrity and innocent.  He appeals to God to hold back His wrath. God says He knows the integrity of his heart and therefore kept him from sinning against God, "lest he touch her".

This isn't even to the part that wows me, but I have to stop here and make some notes. First, God knows our hearts.  He knew that Abimelech's heart was pure. Second, God was able to stop anything from happening between Abimelech and Sarah. There would be no question who the father of Isaac would be in the next chapter.  God's plans cannot be thwarted.  And the last thing, that breaks my heart, when we sin - it is against God. Genesis 20:6 says, "...I kept you from sinning against Me...".  When we sin, we hurt others and ourselves, but ultimately it is God we are offending.  Oh boy.

Back on track.  God tells Abimelech to restore Sarah to Abraham. And then he says Abraham will pray for the king and he will live (there is that "life" theme again).  This is the first mention of prayer that I have noticed. Some have "called on the name of the Lord", but we haven't seen anyone pray yet.

When the king follows through, Abraham did indeed pray for the king.  This is verse 17:
And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.

Did you notice the progression?  God said that Abraham would pray.  He prayed.  Then God healed. Why did God do this?  What would have happened if Abraham didn't pray? God doesn't need our prayers to heal others. (And another side note: the first mention of prayer, is for healing, this also interests me...)

1 Peter 3:12 says, "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer..."  Remember back in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness?  And here we are, the eyes of the Lord are on Abraham and He heard his prayer.  And God responded.

Abraham had just made the same mistake he has already made. He was trying to protect himself by saying Sarah was his sister and jeopardizes the lives of many people again. Then he makes excuses as to why he did this.

We are no different than Abraham, making excuses for our bad behavior.  We also are going to stumble along.  And yet God wants us to be a part of His story.  He invites us in.   He wants to hear from us and then He wants us to see Him at work.  Opening up the wombs of those women is only something God could do.  And as Abraham has a front row seat to see this miracle, He is on the verge of his very own.

Monday, February 15, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 4 (Hagar)

I'm speaking at a retreat in a couple of months, the theme is Draw Near.  As I read the Bible I am a little more aware of the idea of drawing near. What I am finding is there is not a simple equation, or 3 step process in order to Draw Near.  God's ways are mysterious.  And Genesis perplexes me.

I read through chapter 19 when Lot's wife turns into a pillar of salt.  A Pillar of Salt?  What in the world? All I can think about when I see this scene in my head, is a deer or a camel coming by and licking her toes.

The other mystery is Hagar. The woman seems caught between a rock and a hard place for sure.  She is an Egyptian maid to Sarai.  There may be a little pressure (self-imposed?), God has promised Abram to be made into a great nation.  His descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Yet, they have no children and they are past their child bearing years.  Sarai had to do something! (so she figured)

Her plan? Give her maid to Abram and through her, maybe they could start a family. Abram in all his wisdom agrees.  Of course Hagar becomes pregnant and Sarai gets mad.  It sounds like this may be a honeymoon baby...not much time passed,  Can you imagine how hurtful that would be to Sarai?  All these years of trying and yearning for a baby and Hagar becomes pregnant her first try?

In her anger, Sarai decides to treat Hagar harshly.  What does Hagar do?  She runs away.  Here she is a foreigner and a slave.  She is given to her mistress's husband to bear a child.  Not because of love, not because she is wanted, but because they need something from her. She gets pregnant and can hardly rejoice in this baby, who will he really belong to anyway?  On top of all this, Sarai now treats her horribly.  Can you blame her for running away?

But then God shows up.  Genesis 16:7 says, "Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness..."  As far as we know, Hagar just ran away.  We don't hear her calling to the Lord for help or mercy.  She was found as she was running away. God came near.

There is much more to the story, but one of my favorite parts is when Hagar gives God a name.  El Roi.  "Thou art a God who sees."  And that was enough for her to go back and do what God asked her to do.

And this is enough.  Though I don't always understand what God is doing in my life, or why He allows certain circumstances to take place, I know He sees me.  And if He sees me, He cannot be far off.  And when I least expect Him, like maybe when I am running away, He is probably poised ready to draw near to me.

There may not be a simple equation to drawing near to the Lord, but I'm pretty sure it is happening as I spend time in His Word, reading it expectantly, attentively, and humbly.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 3 (he believed)

I only made it through three chapters again today. There is so much packed in these chapters, I am overwhelmed a bit.

Before I read Genesis 13-15 today, I said my 3 words. Expectantly, attentively, humbly.  This is how I approach my time listening to God through His word. There really is a lot in those three chapters. How do I pick one theme/thought for today?

The one that is the most exciting is in Genesis 15:1

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great."

Up until this point the Bible reads, "God said", but this is the first mention of the "word of the Lord". We know from the gospel of John, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. So was this Jesus that came to Abram?

The Lord shows Abram the stars. If Abram were able to count the stars, that would be the number of his descendants.  At this point Abram has no children, and is a little old to be having children. This surely seems impossible. Abram's response?  Verse 6 says, "Then he believed in the Lord..."  Abram didn't believe in the words. He believed in The Word. Jesus. Then the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

We can only be made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet this is taking place thousands of years before Jesus is even born!  What does it mean to be made righteous?  We use that word as an insult sometimes in our culture.  "Oh he thinks he's so righteous.", we say of someone that irritates us.

God alone is righteous, We are counted as righteous through faith in Jesus alone. Our righteousness is based on what Christ did on the cross. Yet this was given to Abram before Christ was made flesh. Wow. I know this is overly simplistic, but I think it basically means we are "made right" before the Lord.  We are sinners and have no place before a Holy God.  But because of Jesus, we can be in His presence.

This makes me think of the theme of Day 1 - life and death. The hope of having children is dead for Abram and Sarai. (death) Yet the word of the Lord comes to Abram and says, "one from your own body, he shall be your heir." (life)

In the book of Romans, we read more insight into Abraham's life.  Romans 4:17 says that Abraham believed in the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist."  In that dark night as the Lord showed Abram the stars, Abram believed.  God's promise was clear. As clear as those stars.

Maybe that is what God is asking of us now.  In our dark moments, will we choose to believe that He can call into existence the things that do not exist? Our hopes, our dreams, our future are in His hands. May His truth shine clear to you today.




Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 2 (Go West)

I made it through Genesis 10-12 today.  I couldn't stop reading Chapter 11 though.  A few things caught my eye, so I reread it several times.

Genesis 10 lists the genealogies of Noah.  Chapter 11 opens up with these words:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

I am not sure, but from the sounds of it, it seems that all these families traveled together and basically stuck together.  That sounds nice, except back in Chapter 9 verse 1, God clearly gives a command after getting off the ark.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."

They got the fruitful and multiple part down, but had not filled the earth.  They just formed their own little club and stayed together.  You can know their hearts a little as you read further.  They say, "Come, let us build bricks..." and then again, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city...".  You know why they wanted to do this? Verse 4 continues, "...let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."  This is like the ultimate show of pride, we can all recognize this quickly can't we?

God had blessed Noah and gave him pretty clear instructions - to fill the earth.  And yet these sons of Noah decided they should stick together and make a name for themselves lest they actually do what God commanded?  This is not going to end well.

The only name that is to be made famous is the name of the Lord.  In fact Proverbs 18:10 says, The name of the Lord is strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.  But instead of obeying God, the One whose name is "Strong Tower", they try to build a tower of brick to make a name for themselves.

But God is sovereign, in control over all the earth. You know what He says?  "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another's speech."  Verse 8 says, "So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city."

They ended up filling the earth, but not through blessing and God's protection, but through God's discipline.  Another interesting theory to consider...going east in biblical times is often associated with going towards exile or captivity or away from the Lord's blessing.  These families intentionally headed east, they intentionally built a city and tower for their own fame.  They had a choice they could obey God and head straight into His blessing or they could head "east" and receive His discipline instead. They chose east.

What are you choosing?  Are you living inside of God's commands, being cared for and making His name famous?  Or are you making  your own plans and decisions, trying to make a name for yourself? Let me give some advice (learned the hard way). Go west young man (and woman)...straight into your Strong Tower and be safe.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

40 Day Journey 2016 - Day 1 (Life and Death)

Last year for Lent I decided to spend one hour each day listening to God.  No agenda, no Bible Study, or other distraction.  Just listening.  I ended up also blogging about that hour and what God revealed.  It was a rich time and I am forever changed by those sacred moments.  The intimacy with the Lord was what this parched soul needed.

I was nervous to do the same thing this year. What if He didn't show up (like that is an option, of course He would!).  Frankly, it was hard work also.  I had to carve out an hour of my already busy days, and then it took hours into the night to blog about the experience. And I am lazy...I wasn't sure it was in me to do again!  So I decided to pray. What did the Lord have for me this year?

I felt the Lord was asking me to get in His Word. I want to hear Him, and I know He speaks through His Word.  So I am beginning with Genesis, and then will go to John.  If I have time I hope to make it through Hosea also. And I committed to read the Bible expectantly, attentively, and humbly (thank you Richard Foster - this makes such a difference).

So today, Ash Wednesday, I began my 2nd 40 Day Journey leading  up to Easter.

I took notes as I read to see if a theme or thought emerged.  What I noticed was life and death. In the beginning the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep (death); and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface (life).  The Lord God formed man from dust (death) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (life).  We move ahead to Cain killing Abel (death) and then God giving Adam and Eve another son, Seth (life).  This cycle continues for generations. My take away?  God gives life.  God breathes life into us. God IS life!  Am I in despair over a situation?  Am I hopeless in any area of my life?  I can ask God and He will be pleased to breathe new life into the dead parts of my heart.  What good news.  But how can we as believers experience this?

I am still unearthing this truth, but there are some guys that give us a hint.  In Genesis 5:22 we read that, "Enoch walked with God".  And in Genesis 6:9, "...Noah walked with God."  I might be more in tune to this since we just studied this in our Tuesday morning Bible Study.  We discussed the word "walk", why that word is used.  We decided it was an action word, it was steady, when walking "with" God it may have a sense of keeping in step with Him, going where He goes.

Back up in Genesis 4:26, after Adam's grandson Enosh was born the Bible says, "then men began to call upon the name of the Lord."  But we don't see anyone walking with God until Enoch, generations later.  I am taking some liberty here, but I wonder if God was pretty excited about Enoch.  Before him, men called on the name of the Lord, but Enoch walked with God! There is a definite difference.  I imagine shoulder to shoulder (figuratively), a nearness, having conversations both speaking and listening.  This is a relationship.

I love Genesis 5:24.  The NIV says, "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." The verses leading up to this share how his ancestors "died".  Enoch was "no more", because God took him away.  Wow.

I imagine Enoch walking so closely with the Lord that one day God just leaned over and scooped him right up.  People were like, "Where's Enoch?  He was just right here?" That is not death, that is LIFE!  That is God.  He offers life to all of us, and abundantly as we walk with Him.

Do you just call on the name of the Lord, do you lift a prayer when you have a need or do you walk faithfully with the Lord?  Is it an active relationship, or is it dead?  Ask God to breathe life into your relationship with Him.  Oh I want to live in such a way, that one day, I am no more.



Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year - New Season

I have always loved the changing of seasons, spring to summer, summer to fall.  There is something about entering into a new season that brings a hint of hope.  This weekend at church a video played with inspirational quotes to set our hearts right for the New Year.  This one I had to look up and read again:


I love word pictures.  They cause me to pause and wonder for awhile.  I don't know that I fully understand this quote, but something about it makes me want to sit awhile and think on last year and consider 2016.  

It is as if January 1st is a switch waiting to be flipped.  Out with the old and in with the new.  I sometimes wish this were true of May 18 or October 23 or any other random day of the year when I desire a new beginning.  

This is a new season, 2016.  I feel like I have this big eraser to wipe off last year's disappointments and failures and I can write down fresh hopes for the tomorrows of this year. What will be written on the pages of this year, what voice will emerge?

As I linger a little longer over 2015, past those regrets, I see God.  He is in the funerals and in the weddings. He is in the sicknesses and in the good health. He is in the lean times and in the times of abundance. He has answered thousands of prayers. I see Him more clearly than the year before.

I want to embrace all that the Lord has planned for this coming year. I am guessing He has planned some hard times sprinkled in among the mundane days and happy moments. It is all for our good and for His glory.  So this year, 2016, I commit to Hosea 6:3:

Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth. 

When life gets hard, instead of flailing about, I will choose to press on.  And not in the "spin your wheels to exhaustion" pressing on, but by leaning in closer to know the Lord in the midst of my circumstances. All else will be worthless, rubbish, meaningless unless this is first. 

When January 1, 2017 rolls around I will rejoice once again in seeing the Lord even more clearly.  As the NIV translation of Hosea 6:3 says, "as surely as the sun rises, He will appear".  This is my promise, He will not fail me.  Here is to great expectations and renewed hope for 2016!