Together We Follow: An Interruptible Life (Genesis 12:1-9)

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Genesis 12:1-9

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord.  Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

This is what I love about the call of Abram: God didn’t call him because of his background or his qualifications. We aren’t even told that Abram was particularly upright in the way he lived or trying to find the God of his forefathers. All we know for sure is that his father had not worshiped the one true God (Joshua 24:2). There, in the crowded city of Ur, they did not remember God.

But God remembered mankind. He remembered His promise of blessing to Adam, to Noah, to Shem. He still wanted a relationship with the people He’d created. He wanted to restore the communion that had been lost.

So He chose a descendant of Shem – not because of who Abram was in that moment, but because of His own faithfulness, His own enduring compassion for the men and women on this planet He’d shaped.

God spoke something new into Abram’s life – a calling, a command, a commitment. He reached out and initiated a relationship that would bring Abram and his descendants into covenant with Him…in this way, God would reveal Himself, again, to the world. Through an on-going relationship with Abram and his family, there would be a revelation of God’s character and His heart. He could communicate what He wanted for their lives. He could be their God and they could be His people — this would be the restoration of communion for all the world to witness.

And as for Abram?

God didn’t force him to obey. God didn’t coerce him into leaving Haran.

Abram heard God’s voice and he chose to respond in faith. Abram chose to believe Him.

He chose to lay down all of his old expectations, his former life, who he thought he was and what he thought was in store for the future…he allowed God to create something different and totally new in him. When God invited him into this transformed life, turning everything topsy-turvy, Abram said – yes.

I want that kind of faith, the faith that says yes to the journey before the destination is revealed…just because God has asked me to go. I want to stay yielded…interruptible. I don’t want to hold on so tightly to what I know and what I plan that I leave no room for God to make something new out of me, to re-direct me to His purposes.

Because just like He revealed His heart to the world through Abram’s obedience, He still reveals His love through His people, through the surrendered lives of His sons and daughters.

Lord, help us to hear You when You call us.  Help us to leave space for Your Spirit to work within us, to transform us. Help us to trust You enough to surrender what has been when You are ready to do something new in our lives. Help us to boldly live out a yes when You ask us to act, to move, to follow You.

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Together We Follow: Sunday Scripture & a Prayer for Our New Week (Gen. 4:1-2)

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I’ve had a quiet Sunday, which is unusual for our family. Since we’ve all been struggling to shake off colds and respiratory issues, we took today off from our normal Sunday routines. These hours to rest have also brought time to think over the scriptures we’ve read this week and, of course, on this day that marks the anniversary of 9/11, memories of that heartrending day.

Here’s what brings my heart peace — in these first chapters of Genesis, there is a clear truth. God was there before Adam and Eve walked in the garden, He was there while they lived unashamed in Eden, He was there as they chose to go their own way, and He was there after they left their first home. We know this from the very next verse after their exile:

Genesis 4:1-2: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel.

After their disobedience, after their sin, after their consequences were explained, after they lost the Garden of Eden…they still knew that the beautiful gift of a baby boy was given by the Lord.

Their perfect communion with God had been broken, but His love for them was not severed…and so, He was still present and active in their lives.

This is true for us, too. God is the One who knows us before our first breath on this earth — He formed us in our mothers’ womb. He knows our steps, our thoughts, our words, our hearts, the number of hairs on our heads and the number of tears that we cry. He is with us on every ordinary day, He is with us on the days that bring delight – and He is with us on the days that break us, these  days like 9/11 that come with shock and fear, days that bring the loss of relationship, the ending of dreams we have held dear, or loved ones saying goodbye. He is with us when our hearts are tuned to His song, our ears to His voice – and even when we are choosing to sin and find ourselves hiding in shame, He is there waiting for us to come Home to Him.

In every unpredictable and hard season, He stays. In every peaceful and glad season, He stays.

In every season, He stays.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”-Hebrews 13:5

Father, help us to remember that You are with us. Always, always, always – You are the One who stays. Help us to recognize Your presence in our lives, to understand that Your steadfast grace is sufficient for us. Help us to know, as this new week begins, that we can trust Your faithfulness. Help us to know that Your strong arms are holding us – and even if our world shakes, You do not let us go. 

 

 

 

 

Simple Reminders (For When We Begin to Forget What Matters)

It can be easy to get caught up in details and easy to get tangled in technicalities. We get snagged and tied up in the noise and the pace of life, our vision filling up with this and that and the other until we lose sight of what matters.

Today, my heart is saying: time-out.

I read Luke 10, feeling Jesus’ response to Martha’s distraction and distress (caused by her busy-ness and her sister’s non-busy-ness) to my core — And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.

I want to be like Mary. I want to choose that good, needed thing…His presence.

I want to keep my eyes on Jesus, my Savior whose love is my comfort and peace. I want to lean into His words with no other conversations crowding out His still, small voice.

Will you join me in taking these moments to savor His simple-but-extraordinary truths?

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Jesus came into our world to bring good news and to help us.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. –Luke 4 :18-19

He has compassion for us.

When the widow was weeping over her dead son, when He saw a crowd of confused and helpless people – lost like sheep without a shepherd–, when He saw the sick and the broken…He had compassion on them. (Luke 7:13, Matt.9:36, Matt.14:14) He brought life, He healed sickness, He met the needs of their hearts. This compassionate heart of our Savior has not changed. The love of the Father that sent Him to our rescue has not changed. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s care…and so Jesus says to us- Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt.10:31) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt.11:28)

We can trust Him to provide what we need. The words of Jesus free us from the heavy weight of worry.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. –Matthew 6:31-33

He is a trust-worthy foundation, in all situations. The whole world can shift, people can change, our situation can turn-upside down…but Jesus does not change. He is steady and sure. We can depend on Him and He will not let us fall.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. -Matthew 7:24-25

He doesn’t condemn you or turn you away – He welcomes you.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. -John 3:17

When Jesus steps in, we become subject to Him, our Lord of mercy and grace – and we are no longer subject to shame, sin, or fear.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. –John 8:36

He does ask us for our everything when we follow Him…but not without giving His everything first.

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.–Matt.16:24

 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. –John 10:14-15

At the end of the day, so many things can try to distract and deter us from the point of it all, from the plain and simple truth – God loves us enough that He sent Jesus to die on the cross, so that through Him we can be made righteous – forgiven of all sin.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should not perish but have everlasting life. –John 3:16

And through His death, through His resurrection power – we can come into the presence of God and dwell with Him forever…while here, on this earth, the Holy Spirit within us – we abide in His love. This, friends, is the needed, good part…and it is the peace to our souls when we are troubled and worried about many things.

May we lean in, hear His voice, and live His Words…

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.-John 15:9-17

May we hold our hope steady, no matter the noise and the always-changing world. May God make firm our feet on the foundation of His truth, our hearts overflowing in fullness of His joy and love, our ears open to His Spirit’s leading, our hands open to give as we have received, our mouths obedient in speaking His gospel.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone – Mark 16:15

When Your Heart & Head are Bowed Low (Encouragement for this Weekend)

As I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school yesterday, a refrain kept circling in my head – Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me…my glory and the lifter of my head…

I went through my cd collection until I found the song that taught me these verses from Psalms by heart and let it play. It is still on my mind today…maybe because that phrase gets to the core of my heart – Thou, O Lord, are the lifter of my head…because so many times we have shoulders slumped in worry, eyes downcast in shame, feeling like it isn’t even worth the effort to hold ourselves straight, to look ahead in courage…

I see this movement – this eyes looking down at the floor, the defeated posture – in my own kids sometimes. When they’re in trouble, when they’re sad, when they tried something and it didn’t go exactly how they expected it to go – they look away from me. Sometimes they try to hide somewhere in the house, alone, and I have to search them out. And then I have to, quite literally, lift their chins toward me so that I can wipe away those tears and reassure them that they are okay….that they are loved in all times, in all things.

I have been there, so many times. I have been the one who didn’t want to look up because I was certain I would only see condemnation. I have been the one who couldn’t lift up my head because my heart was broken, my hope for the future gone. I have felt small in my shame. I have felt afraid in my pain. I have tried to hide away, sure there was no good thing in me.

Have you ever felt this way? Do you, even now, feel too tired to hold yourself up, too worried to look into the future with confidence or hope, too broken down to lift your eyes?

If that answer is a yes, can we take a few minutes to remember the story of John 8?

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There is no hiding the wrong she has done and the price is already set – she will pay for her guilt with her life. As their long strides and firm grips drag her into the temple courts, she does not need to look up to know that all eyes are on her. They all see her shame.

There is a crowd there, gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees make the woman stand before the group and say it loud and clear, making sure everyone hears her crime – she has been caught, yes, with their own eyes. She has sinned in the act of adultery and the law demands that she should be stoned. They want to know if Jesus agrees with their verdict.

Her life is laid bare before this crowd and though I can’t know for sure, I can imagine that she is gulping down tears of humiliation and fear. I can imagine that she is hopeless.

Perhaps she expects this man, who is obviously much-esteemed, to nod his consent and reach down for a stone.

And He reaches down, yes, but does not pick up a stone. He begins to write on the ground.

Maybe you know the rest of this story already…how they keep after Him, asking again and again what He believes her rightful punishment should be. With every accusation, every re-play of her dark moments, does she sink deeper into shame? Does she become more certain that her life is over?

In this moment, she hears the Teacher say – Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

I don’t know if the courts go silent. I don’t know if these men continue to mutter, to condemn. But I do know that they begin to leave.

And, so, after every accuser is gone and it is just this woman, just this woman rooted to the ground in her misery, and Jesus. He stands up and asks her – woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

Again, I can’t know for sure – but I imagine that her shoulders have been slumped in defeat, her head hanging down as their words piled upon her.

And at His voice – at this question – she must lift her head. She must look up to see her deliverance – and this last One standing – what will He say to her?

Neither have I condemned you. Go and sin no more.

In His eyes, she sees another chance. In Him, she sees hope.

He sees her sin, yes – but He also sees her. He sees a heart that can be changed. He sees a heart that can be free from darkness.

He sees a daughter, redeemed.

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A few more moments come to my mind…I think of the parents and children, rebuked by the disciples – after their reprimands, feeling too unimportant to come into the presence of Jesus – but looking up to see His welcome, too see His care for them….to see that they matter to Him. Come to Me, He says. And He brings the little ones close, blesses them.

I think of the woman we meet in Luke 8. She knows miracles happen when He is near. So, silently and unseen, she reaches for just the hem of His garment. Unclean and broken, she doesn’t call for His attention. She wouldn’t want His eyes on her. For so long she has been in pain, for so long she has been alone.

But this one touch – and the disease that held her captive falls away. But this touch does not go unnoticed as she had hoped – His voice calls out – Who touched Me?

She falls trembling at His feet, ready for whatever chastisement may come, explanation limping out of her mouth.

But He says – Daughter – and she looks up to see compassion.

We could reach back into the Old Testament and walk through the New…always finding the same thing. When the broken-hearted and broken-bodied come to God, they find Love. He lifts their heads to Hope.

And each time eyes lift to His, they meet mercy.

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Sometimes all we can see is what we have done wrong. Sometimes we pull burdens of worry onto our backs and find ourselves bent beneath them. Sometimes we are just plain heartbroken over the hard things of this life and the weariness of it hangs our heads low.

If your head is bowed low, your eyes downcast – I pray that you will feel His eternal hands gently cup your face and lift it toward His.

Can I offer this from my own life? Every time I have cried out to Him, He has heard me. He has lifted my head, over and over again, bringing hope and restoring my heart in ways I thought were impossible. Don’t be afraid to look to Him.

You will see compassion in His eyes. If you have made mistakes and chosen sin, you will find forgiveness and redemption in His grace. He was lifted onto the cross for our deliverance.

You will see the One who saves us when we are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) You will see the One who comforts all who mourn…the One who gives a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, beauty where there was once only ashes. (Isaiah 61) The One sent to bind up the brokenhearted…to give us strength…to sustain us, day by day, is here with us now.

Lift up your head, friend. Look up to the One who fights our battles for us. The enemy, our accuser, can tell us that there is nothing to be done for our shame, for our problem, for our fears – but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Stand and be strong in the power of His might…there is nothing impossible for our God, who supplies all our needs according to His great riches…who heals every disease…who speaks peace to the storms and life into death. Lift up your head, for you are free from condemnation. He has given us His own righteousness. Lift up your head, for in days of trouble we know that He is coming soon to make all things new. In His own words – Take heart, for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

Let Him be the lifter of your head, the Father who loves you, in all times, in all things.

Who Do You Think You Are?

It happens when the sun beams through the rain and my fingers clutch a pen to jot down the poetry of the moment, a remembrance of the way light always disperses darkness.

It happens when a verse of His Word holds me close and I sit in front of an open blog post, cursor blinking on the blank page, hoping to send out hope.

It happens when Facebook reveals someone’s hurting heart and I think of sending a message to let them know they’re not alone.

It happens when Christian asks me what it means to be baptized and my words feel too feeble to explain the mystery of new life, the invitation to be like Jesus.

It can happen when I lift my hands in worship, when I sit in the early-morning quiet and begin to pray, when I update twitter, when someone talks to me about their pain…

It can happen any time, any where…this question, slithering into my ear, a voice insistent and encroaching.

Who do you think you are?

The familiar refrain of my failures and flaws begins to flow through my mind.  And I repeat the question to myself – who do I think I am? I’m just a girl, a girl who falls short so often. I have no credentials, no titles, no real reason anyone should listen to a word that comes out of my mouth. I hear every reason to stay silent, to refrain from reaching out…and so I close my mouth. Take my hands from the keyboard. Walk away from someone’s need. The litany of accusation continues — how can I attempt to represent the Holy God? Who do I think I am, trying to lift someone up when I’ve had so many days filled with despair? Who do I think I am, teaching my children the ways of God when I can have such difficulty following His instruction?

And I ache from the inside out, feeling unworthy and unable to do any good thing, any good work for my Father.

But one day the question is followed by another.

This second question is in a voice that is quiet…gentle…loving. It is my Shepherd’s voice and He says this:

The real question is this – who do you say I am? 

Because who you are depends entirely upon Me.

In the presence of the Lord, my ears and eyes are opened. I understand that it was my enemy who posed the question so condemning and hopeless, in effort to get me all twisted up with who I have been instead of who my Savior is. And, instead of declaring the Word to send him packing (because James 4:7 says that if we resist him, that roaring lion will flee!), I listened and focused my attention on myself, partaking in his accusations and re-hashing the past without remembering my present…

The words of Jesus echo in my heart…who do you say I am?

I consider the Word and the answer rushes in…

You are the Lamb who sits on a throne, surrounded by angels who sing out Your praise. You are holy, holy, holy, perfect in all Your ways, set apart from everything I can comprehend. You were there before the sun burst from nothing into the sky, before the waters of the deep made way for land. You were there as the Father breathed stars into the night, as man first opened his eyes. You were there and You knew, You knew already, that You would come from Your heights, Your glory we could never reach, to walk with us. You knew a cross waited…a tomb waited…and You said yes, yes to the Father’s will, because You loved us too much to leave us broken…right from the start, You loved us too much to leave us alone in our darkness. You are Love, unchanging. Unending. Eternal. You are the living Son of God, the Exalted One, the King of Kings. You knew me before I was born, You marked my days. You are my High Priest, who knows how I feel because You have been here, You have felt every pain. You are my Redeemer, my Rescuer from sin and death. You are my Beloved, who never turns me away, who has loved me always, who has compassion every time my tears fall. You have engraved my name on the palm of Your hand. You are my Savior.

Yes, He is…He is all this, and He is infinitely more. Words can never adequately describe the splendor and grace of our Savior…and in His light, in the knowledge of who He is and what He has done for me and for you, I have a new answer when the enemy tries to steal my purpose, to destroy my faith. And I hope that, if you ever hear this question…Who do you think you are?….you can answer with bold confidence–

I know who I am because I know who Jesus is. And the two cannot be separated, because I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I am loved by the Alpha and Omega and nothing can separate me from Him. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

I was created on purpose, with purpose. The Lord God Almighty thinks good thoughts toward me…plans life everlasting for me! You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it…For You formed my inward parts;You covered me in my mother’s womb…I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (from Psalm 139)

I am forgiven. I am washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11). 

Those mistakes and guilt-ridden memories the enemy brings up – those things are no more!

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new! (1 Cor. 5:17)

Yes, I am a new creature in Christ, reconciled to God! (2 Cor. 5:17)

I am a child of the Most High God…and He has set me free! I am free from sin and shame. I am free from fear. I am free from despair. I am free to love, to rejoice, to serve. 

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Rom. 8:15-17)

I am significant. I am important in the body of Christ. I am called…and I will not allow satan to deceive me (by pulling me into shame, inferiority, or envy) into giving up my purpose! I am not a ‘nobody’, for I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, ransomed by a King!…Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

For we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service.  I have a job to fulfill with the strength of the Holy Spirit, so I will not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of my mind, that I may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (from Romans 12)

I am to follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved childrenand walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.(from Ephesians 5)

Friends, we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do! (Eph. 2:10) It does not take credentials, degrees, or titles to testify of Jesus Christ. Every single follower of Jesus has the privilege of sharing His good news! 

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (from Romans 10)

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, A sight to take your breath away!  Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to. (from Romans 10)

Scripture tells the story of who He is from Genesis to Revelation…and from start to finish, we find ourselves in Him.  And these promises are for every one of us – me, you, and anyone who will call upon His name. And each one of us can say:

Who do I think I am? 

 I know who I am.

I am His

(My weekend prayer/reminder for you! ~~

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!  (from Romans 15) )