Following Close Behind

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It has been a noisy week. As I sit down to write this post, I still have all of these words scrambling around in my mind…words I’ve heard, words I’ve read, words I’ve spoken, words I’m trying to figure out how to express.

And as I come into this space…I’m yearning for quiet. I’m yearning for stillness. I’m yearning for less of me. I’m tired of my words.

It’s a sure sign that I need to hear His.

As we move into the weekend, maybe you (like me) are feeling that your brain is over-crowded and your heart is feeling a little weary.

We all need Sabbath-rest, friends.

So I’ll leave words here from the Psalmist, words to help my eyes re-focus on Him…and maybe take a walk, let everything else fade away for a little while, and leave room for the Father’s still, small voice.

May you find some room for quiet this weekend, some rest for your heart, some time to let everything around you fall to a hush for even just a little while…let’s leave space for His words, room for His presence.

My heart is confident in you, O God;
    my heart is confident.
    No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.    

 I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
    I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
    Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
    May Your glory shine over all the earth. – Psalm 57:7-11

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy…

Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me. -Psalm 63:3-5,7-8

 

A Morning Story

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Confession: I woke up cranky today. I was impatient with my kids, griping about what they had or hadn’t done and short-tempered with inanimate objects like a box of cookies that wouldn’t easily open while I was packing lunches. I was stomping around and sighing deep and bitter sighs over an accidental apple juice spill when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it wasn’t my kids’ fault I stayed up too late and then overslept as a result of it. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I was feeling anxious about spending most of today in a dentist’s chair (). It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hadn’t gotten my ideal morning routines done, but it certainly was MY fault that I was behaving badly and starting their day off with Grumpy-Mom. He reminded me of gentleness, patience, and self-control. He reminded me that it is my job to teach them what it looks like to reflect Jesus even when emotions don’t measure up and circumstances aren’t perfect.

I stopped fighting with the uncooperative box of Oreos and apologized to my children. Without hesitation, they forgave me. They were sorry I was having a hard day and they wished me a better morning. They loved me so well in their compassion. Their kindness humbled me — and showed me a glimpse of God.

This is His way, to not only forgive – but to forgive with abounding love and mercy, encouraging us to move forward in His grace without condemnation lingering on our hearts. His forgiveness is whole and His redemption power fully covers our sin.

So, all that to say- if you happen to have started today or this week (or even this year!) on the wrong foot — stop. Take a breath. Make the apologies you might need to make, to your people and to the Father. And then move forward in His grace and in the unfailing kindness of His love. Know you are forgiven and it’s the next moment that matters. Leave behind what has been and press on, trusting that He is ever-transforming us into His image if we keep surrendering our hearts, our minds, and even our crankiest of mornings into His keeping.

I am grateful today for mercy. I am thankful for love that keeps on loving, never giving up on us.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3:22-23

Together We Follow: Genesis 16

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Genesis 16 is a heartbreaking twist in the lives of Abram and Sarai. Although God had shown His faithfulness already to them, there was a promise — the promise Sarai had been waiting to see fulfilled — not yet made reality. After years and years of waiting, her arms were still empty. It isn’t hard to understand how fear, doubt, and grief filled her heart. More than anything, a child was what she wanted. More than anything, she wanted to be a mother. She wanted to see Abram hold his son, an heir to all of their love.

With the promise of God to Abram of a great number of descendants, hope was sparked in her soul after, most likely, she had nearly (if not completely) given up on the idea of motherhood. But the years kept passing by and still there was no child…and she let the spark die into ashes.

She began to doubt that this promise was meant for her. In an attempt to fix the situation, looking for a solution of her own making, she sent her maid into Abram’s arms. It was not long before Hagar had something that Sarai did not have: life growing in her womb.

Sarai was unhappy, Hagar was unhappy, and although we aren’t told how Abram felt at that moment — it seems safe enough to guess that he was unhappily in the middle of this conflict. Because Abram and Sarai made this choice, together, to ‘fix’ their problem instead of waiting on God to fulfill His word to them, everything became more complicated.

I can put myself, at least a little bit, in each of their shoes and understand how hard it must have been in that season of their lives. I have tried so many times to make things happen in my own power and ended up in a mess of regret and shame…I have doubted God’s timing…I have wondered if it was too late for me to see His purposes fulfilled in my life…I have been on the other side of someone else’s mistake, living with the hard consequences of decisions I didn’t make for myself.

But in the middle of all these doubts, bad choices, and fears…we find a beautiful moment.

Hagar ran away from Sarai’s presence, ending up in the wilderness. She was alone, pregnant, and scared…but not for long. An angel met her there because the Lord heard her affliction. In her moment of need, in her time of despair, God reached out to her and let her know that there was a plan for her, there was hope for her future.

God saw her anguish and cared about her pain…and that’s what Hagar called Him: “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees”.

Wherever you are today – He is still the God who sees. He sees me. He sees you. He is the God who hears our cries and meets us in our wilderness.  He is the God who draws near to the broken-hearted, the God who bears our burdens on His own shoulders. He is the God who knows you by name, your life of immeasurable worth to Him. He is the God who redeems us. We might have sparks of hope and faith that we’ve left to fade into a pile of ashes  — but He is the One who blows fresh life into us, making even what was dead live again.

Friends, whatever your situation might be – He knows your affliction and He isn’t leaving you alone in it…He is our ‘very present help in time of need’.

Hagar still had a hard road ahead of her…and, sometimes, so do we. But from that day, she could walk with the knowledge that God knew her and that He cared for her…she knew that He was making a way for her life…and that’s the truth we hold, too. We are loved – and He will walk through every wilderness, every hard-to-understand season with us. On the other side, we will be able to say with certainty: The God-Who-Sees works all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Hold onto your hope.

You are not forgotten.

You are not discarded.

You are not useless.

You are not abandoned.

You are never, ever alone.

Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her:

“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
 He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”  Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

“Catch the Wind”

 

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These are strange days. Do you feel it? Do you feel the uncertainty of this season, the cacophony of voices constantly clashing around us? Do you feel the opinions flying fast and furious, fear tightening its grip, discord having its day?

But deeper than all of that – beneath the surface of frenzy and friction – do you see the hearts longing to know that they are seen and safe, that the future is secure, that someone is for them? Do you see hearts looking for hope?

It can be hard to know the right thing to say or the right actions to take because, in a time when it seems like everyone is choosing sides over something, we are still called to be peacemakers. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. We are called to love as we have been loved.

I think this brings one conclusion — we need wisdom greater than our own. We need vision that sees further, deeper, and clearer than our own. We need a love that is wider, deeper, longer, and higher than our emotions or opinions. We need ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Over these strange days, our God is still sovereign. His are still the words that are not returned void. His purposes still stand. His heart is still set on kindness that brings repentance. He is still looking for every lost sheep…His love is not wavering, His mercy has not run dry.

We know that His kingdom is unshakeable. We know that our Savior still meets every heart that longs for rescue and calls out to Him. We know that there is love that never fails.

So you and I, we are hope-bearers and we must not be distracted or deterred from this calling.

When we aren’t sure how to proceed, what to say, how to act — this is when we press in to His presence.  We open His Word and let our roots deepen in Truth that endures…we open our hearts in prayer and let Him change us until our lives flourish in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We abide in Him and He abides in us — this Holy Spirit, comforter and teacher, lives within us. And this is what my heart is yearning for, what I know I desperately need – to  walk in step with Him, finding my source of help in His sustaining grace.

In and out of changing times, the victorious light and love of Jesus remain unshaken. Secure in His faithfulness, we are to take this life day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We lean in and we listen for His voice…we wait on the Lord when we are unsure of our next step. We live interruptible lives, open to changing course and trusting that He will lead us when we ask Him to order our steps, to show us His way.

Maybe it won’t always look logical. Maybe it won’t always make sense. But this is faith — walking in the Spirit instead of our own reasoning.

May our part in these strange days be one of remarkable, bold grace. Let it be our part to share peace that surpasses understanding, compassion that reflects our Jesus who gave Himself to bear the pain and sorrow of all people. Let it be our part to hear the cries of the hurting, not turning away, but drawing close in the power of God that works in us to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to proclaim liberty for the captives. Let it be our part to act in fearless and unintimidated obedience when God leads us into action. Let it be our part to share unwavering truth in love. Let it be our part to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to care for those who are forgotten and lonely. Let it be our part to intercede in prayer, knowing that God honors and responds to the prayer of His people. Let it be our part, above all, to never stop sharing the good news of a Savior who gave His life so that we can find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Let us be brave. Let us be strong in the power of His might.

We have been given the freedom that comes with redemption, the abundant joy of God’s presence, His strength in our weakness — so let it be that our lives are living epistles of His hope. In these strange days, may it be said of us that we have loved like we were first loved…whole-heartedly, holding nothing back, freely giving what has been given to us.

“…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”-John 3:6-8

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.-Galatians 5:25

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.-2 Cor. 3:17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.-2 Timothy 1:7

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.-1 John 4:6-19

 

Together We Follow (Genesis 15)

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Genesis 15

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

There’s a lot going on in this chapter of Genesis. The covenant between God and Abram sets a story into motion that is still happening even now, so it’s an important moment in for us to understand. (You can find a reminder of what the word covenant really means when it comes to humanity and God here). We will come back to this chapter again, zooming in on a few details, but for now I want to focus on this: God initiated this relationship. He offered His presence and His promise for the future to Abram – and Abram didn’t have to accomplish some feat of valor to receive God’s blessings. He didn’t have to become worthy in his own goodness or strength.

What did he do?

He believed.

He took God at His word — and this faith of Abram’s was ‘accounted to him for righteousness’. It pleased God that Abram chose to trust Him.

Upon this foundation of faith, God made a covenant with Abram: his descendants would be given land, a home, a place to belong.

In the time of Abram, covenants or agreements were made legally binding in this way: the two involved parties would “slaughter some animals, carve them up, and arrange the pieces in two lines. Then both parties would join hands and solemnly walk together down the middle of the path. By so doing they would pledge in the presence of blood and suffering and death, their intention to keep the terms of the contract.” (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible)

You read today that Abram did, in fact, follow God’s instructions to set up this formation to confirm their covenant. But afterwards, Abram did not walk down the middle of the two lines. Instead, God – His presence represented by fire – passed through alone.

God was both extending the covenant terms AND taking it upon Himself to fulfill it.

The promise of Home for the descendants of Abraham became an unconditional covenant sealed by God Himself.

This stream of grace is the same that flowed from the garden and continues to flow into the salvation we are freely given — the salvation extended by the Father and accomplished by Jesus for us.

And just like Abram, we receive this gift by choosing to believe. Just like Abram, we put our faith in the Father and find ourselves at Home. His grace invites us into His heart, gives us a place to belong.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.-Ephesians 1:7

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.-Ephesians 2:8

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.-Titus 2:11

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 14:17-24

We last saw Abram in a moment of victory. With improbable odds, he took on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot, from kings who had conquered and kidnapped the people of Sodom.

Despite the greater number of men, weapons, and experience that his men faced, Abram was victorious in the battle.

We pick up after the victory, when Abram meets Melchizedek – priest of the Most High God, King of Salem (a place later to be called Jerusalem).

 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

As I’ve thought about this moment in time, I tried to put myself in Abram’s shoes. This is not a period of time in which many know the Most High God. Abram came from a family and a place that worshiped idols…. we aren’t told that he encountered anyone else on his journey so far who professed a relationship with the God he had come to know.

What encouragement, then, it must have been for Melchizedek to come to him. What unexpected grace and confirmation of God’s faithfulness it was to have this priest of the Most High minister to him.

We can’t know what Abram was feeling or what, exactly, his heart was in need of after facing such a battle to win back his family.

But even while Abram was still in the fierce fight, God was already moving to spread a table before him…God was already guiding Melchizedek to prepare for Abram’s visit…God was already providing what Abram would need.

Melchizedek gave nourishment for body and soul — bread and wine, blessing, reminder of the One who had given Abram the victory.

And so when the king of Sodom offered Abram the spoils of battle, Abram said no. He knew the One who was making a way for him in this strange new land. He was seeing, day by day, the power and goodness of his God…and he wanted no confusion about the source of his strength.

I believe that our Father takes delight in preparing good things for us, in being the One we look to for what we need. Whether we are in the heat of battle, in a place of peace, in a moment of victory, in the day-to-day paths we walk — God is the One who nourishes us, who knows what we need before we can even realize it ourselves.

God sent Melchizedek to meet Abram, to refresh and encourage him…as I thought about how loving this was, it dawned on me — for you and I, God came Himself. Through the work of Christ on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have an ever-abiding comfort and sustaining power. The Father looked ahead and saw our needs…and for us, He prepared an open invitation to His table, to His Word, to His presence, to the throne of Grace.

This is the love of our God toward us — He Himself became our bread and wine, our living water that satisfies every thirst, our blessing, our portion.

It’s my hope that we will center our trust and our dependence upon Him so that we will understand, more and more, His faithfulness to sustain us…and when anyone looks at our lives, they will know – everything we have and everything we are has come from our Father.

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You Came

It’s not labeled as a Christmas song, but the words of this song are Christmas to me…

He came. Jesus came when I needed Him. He woke up my heart and breathed life into my soul. I couldn’t walk out of the tomb of sin and shame on my own, I couldn’t unbind the fear that kept me from moving, that kept me stuck in the darkness…

He unwound the fear with perfect love, set me free.

He sang over my life and loved me with whole and perfect love until I began to believe what He said about me: that I was wanted. Cherished. A daughter of God, beloved. He loved me into days like this one, days when I can dance through my house with joy, wild and uncaring about awkward limbs because it is my heart that is leaping without worry, without shame….because it is His song that moves my feet and my voice.

The Light, the glory, the holiness of the Father…it’s given to us, revealed through this Savior whose selfless, all-encompassing love led Him into Bethlehem…to the cross where He took my pain, my sin, my death and gave me righteousness, strength, and life  — life overflowing and never — never, ever, ever — ending.

Can we know how deep, how wide, how long, how high His love is?

Didn’t He begin to show us when the virgin glowed with expectation, when a baby leapt in the womb of the old, when the wedding feast was saved, when the net was filled with fish, when the bellies where filled with lunch, when the blind eyes opened clear and full of wonder, when the deaf ears heard music in the wind, when limbs helpless and frail strengthened to running, when demons ran back to where they belonged, when life was called from death, when He carried the cross in our place, when the tomb stood empty and the upper room was filled with Spirit?

He comes to our need, our miracle-working, beyond-expectation, mightiest, nothing-is-too-hard God.

Turn our fear into faith, God — help us to see who You are again – again and again, let our hearts burn within us until we know that we stand in Your presence.

He has life enough, love enough, joy enough, peace enough, grace enough, healing enough, power enough — for me, for you, for every one who will ask for Him to come….for every one who will believe Him.

We begin in rags, we begin broken, we begin alone and orphaned, we begin hiding in shame, dead in our sin, slaves to our fear.

But Jesus came.

And we come out of the grave, blinking in His brilliant light, washed white and purified…we come out of the grave, free and unfettered, wearing beauty for ashes. We come out of the grave, a child of the Most High God. We come out of the grave, made whole. We come out of the grave, loved. We come out of the grave, alive.

And what can separate us now from the love of Christ?

... I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8: 38-39