Together We Follow: Genesis 12:10

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Into the unknown, Abram followed God. Not knowing where the road would lead, he set off into the future. He believed the promise of blessing. He believed the promise of a homeland. He believed the promise of family and purpose. He believed God – so, with Sarai at his side, he left behind what was familiar…he chose the uncertain path, staking his life in the One who would go before him.

They entered into Canaan. They traveled through parts of the land, getting to know this new place. They made altars. They made camps. They began to settle in, with worship in their hearts.

And then?

Genesis 12:10:  At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.

Famine.

How could this be?

In this place of promise, there was need. In this place where God had led them, there was barrenness. Where they expected blessing, hardship showed up.

Abram had another choice to make — would he keep Canaan as his goal? Would he hold onto what had been promised or  would he give up hope? Would he still accept what God had given, even when the gift held such a difficult season?

I don’t know about you – but if I’d been there with Abram and Sarai, I’m quite certain this turn of events would have unraveled my confidence in our decisions. I might have tried to turn back for the familiar home I’d left behind.

But Abram didn’t do that. Instead, he went into Egypt. And Genesis doesn’t say that Abram abandoned Canaan, finding a new home in that neighboring nation…no, he lived as a foreigner there. He wasn’t settling there, but only staying for a while.

Did they wonder why God allowed famine to come to Canaan at this time? I don’t know if Abram questioned it, but I do wonder at the timing. Knowing that God is good and His purpose was to reveal Himself to Abram and all of his descendants, I wonder what this famine was used to accomplish in the heart of Abram.

Perhaps He knew the time had come to show Abram that it wasn’t the blessing that was most important, but the Giver of the gifts. Perhaps God wanted Abram to learn that no matter the circumstances, He would remain with him.Perhaps He wanted to teach Abram that each step – when taken in obedience  – leads us closer to His full purpose. Situations may not look like what we imagined they would…but He uses each circumstance to strengthen, discipline, and deepen us.

This is how Abram kept his course – by looking to the One who had laid out the road before him. In times like these, we have to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The enemy could have used this famine as a tactic to distract, discourage, and deter Abram from his relationship with God…I feel it’s pretty likely that he would have been working, all the while, to undermine Abram’s trust in God. I can almost hear his voice, whispering – go back. Go home. It’s safer there. It’s easier there. He brought you this far and for what? For famine? For failure? 

And they could have gone back…but they had set their hearts on the promises of God. They were no longer looking for what had been, but for what would be. A life fashioned from their own hands was no longer enough to satisfy their hearts — now that they had seen Him, now that they had heard His voice – they were looking for a home built by God.

Nothing else would satisfy.

*******

Have you ever been in a spot like this? Have you obeyed God, walked in His way, and found obstacles in your path? Have you listened and planted, worked and waited – only to have a field barren of harvest?

When He is silent…when the answers aren’t immediate…when the answers are not what we would have chosen…do we still trust Him?

What if we never see the reality of God’s promise or the harvest of our labor in this life-time?

Can we trust that His eternal vision sees the outcome we cannot? Can we trust that He is using our lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for this present time and the age to come? Can we hold onto what is yet unseen, trusting the reality of our eternal home that we will one day call our own?

Can we trust in His faithfulness, even when it feels like we have taken a detour that makes no sense, a circumstance that feels like setback, a fall that feels like failure?

I think we have to re-define our definition of success when it comes to our lives. Merriam Webster’s first explanation is this:  the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

But what if success is actually, simply, the delight of our Father?

What if success is being content in all circumstances because of His presence?

What if success is laying ourselves down and picking up a cross, following Him?

What if success is seeking first the Kingdom of God, putting His name above our own?

What if success is finding joy and beauty in even the smallest moments of our lives?

What if success is being transformed more and more into His image?

What if success is the overflow of His love into the people He has placed on our path?

What if success is giving all – whole-hearted, whole-soul, whole-life to Him, with only the aim of pleasing Him?

What if success is walking with Him, not for what we will gain, but because we love Him?

What if success is developing faith that believes Him, chooses Him, reveals Him through our lives?

What if success is one day hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, as we enter into the City of God?

Isn’t this the kind of success in which a heart can still sing in the midnight, in the storm, or in the famine?  Isn’t this the kind of success that brings real life?

I believe, with all my heart, that this is the only kind of success that satisfies our souls in every season of our lives.

We won’t understand every road we take, every turn or stop…but it isn’t our role to control the outcome of all that we do – that is the work of God and only He can do it in a way that will be both for our good and for His glory. It’s our role to keep trusting, to keep following, to keep obeying the One who loves us.

*****

If this is where we are right now — earnestly seeking to follow God and finding ourselves, still, in famine or fire, storm or desert, disaster or silence – I hope that we will remember that the One who called us to this place hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us, even when it feels like we are walking away from what we thought would be our future…in the waiting and in the wandering, He is here.

So let’s learn this from Abram: don’t give up and don’t go back.

Don’t let the enemy dissuade or deter you. Don’t let anything talk you into going back to the way things were before…set your eyes on the One who will complete the work He has begun in you. No matter what – His promises are sure. He will do what He says He will do.

Hold onto tightly to your hope. Hang on, with all your heart, to your faith. Famine or plenty, Egypt or promised land, calm or storm, darkness or day – He remains. He stays the same…and He is the satisfaction of our souls.

 

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.-1 Peter 1:6

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.-Hebrews 11: 13-16

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.-2 Corinthians 3:8-10, 16-18


 

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Against All Hope

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Everything we see, everything we hear, everything we feel – it can all tell us that it’s time to quit trying, to give up our dream and our calling, to give into despair.

And, sometimes, it would be easier to slide right into believing all of these things that are right in front of us. It would be easier to stop expecting better things. It would be less disappointing and less heart-breaking to just accept what is and to throw away that vision of what could be.

If this is where you are right now,  pleasehold on. Don’t give up.

If your heart is breaking, if your faith is fragile, if you are afraid – don’t give up.

It may be an outright battle to keep hope in your hands, but it is a fight you can win through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have an enemy and he is going to fight you to the finish – John 10:10 tells us plainly that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. He wants to devour your God-given purpose and your calling to speak out the name of Jesus into this world. He wants to take your faith and your hope in the promises of our Father.

When everything seems to be going wrong, when things don’t work out – there’s his voice, bearer of hopelessness. It might sound a little like Job’s wife – why don’t you just curse God and die? It might sound like the voice of the Israelites – did God bring us here to hunger, to thirst, to fall by the sword? We would have been better off as slaves in Egypt! It might sound like the voice of a giant – Are you fighting me with little sticks? Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals! It might sound like the voice of a king ready to attack – on what are you basing your confidence, that you remain under siege? Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your God deliver you from my hand?

It might sound like the voices of the elders, scornful at the foot of the cross – He saved others, but He can’t save Himself!

It sounds like a stone is rolling into place – like it is pushing your purpose, your relationship, your hope of a life full and free into an airless and dark tomb.

It sounds like all is lost. It sounds like you have failed – maybe it even sounds like God has failed.

But listen –your expectations…your promises…your hope is in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. “

Romans 4 goes on to say that “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead- since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.”

Abraham saw the facts and it looked hopeless. That voice was loud and clear – it was over.

There was no reason to think that he and Sarah could have a child, not when their youth was gone and the spark of life taken from their bodies. There was no reason to think that they’d ever have the joy they’d wanted for so long.

No reason – but God. God had promised. God had spoken to Abraham and said – Yes, this is going to be your blessing and through it all men shall be blessed. Yes, you will be the father of nations and Sarah will be their mother.

Yes- the years, they passed. The perfect timing and the perfect circumstances passed.

But still Abraham in hope believed, against all hope – against all the facts and all the fears – that God had the power to do what He had promised.

When he least expected it, when the odds were fully against it – a baby boy came kicking and laughing into this world. God fulfilled His promise in the better way, in the miraculous way that no other could accomplish.

It’s His way, to bring salvation in the strangest of ways. It’s His way to show up in the can’t-be-done and the it’s-too-late now. It’s His way to leave no doubt that He and He alone is Lord over all – because who else could do what our God has done?

Who else could part a sea to make way for escape from an enemy? Who else could bring down a city with a march and a shout? Who else could knock down a giant with a single stone? Who else could shut the lion’s mouth? Who else could bring men out of a fire, without the slightest singe? Who else could make an army flee from Jerusalem without a single man of Israel lifting a sword against them? Who else could use a giant fish to save a drowning man? Who else could feed thousands with one basket of food?  Who else could speak to the days-dead in their grave and watch life walk out?

Who else could defeat death by sacrificing His own life?

No, your facts might not be what you want them to be. Your situation may be far from the promise for which you’ve been waiting.

But, friend, dig your heels in. Raise your hands in victory. Because your hope is in the God of the impossible. Nothing is too hard for our God and He will not abandon you to that dark tomb. The thief may be trying to steal, kill, and destroy you but here’s the end of that verse in John 10 – Jesus came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

He knows exactly where you are. He knows exactly what is going on. He knows your need. He knows how long you have waited.

He also knows the best way, the better way – the glory-only-to-the-God-of-the-Impossible way to fulfill His promises for you.

I love what He says in Isaiah 55: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”

We can’t always understand how He is working. We usually don’t understand why we are in a season of waiting.

But trust in Him because you know who He is: mighty, merciful, faithful to His every Word. He will accomplish what He desires for your life – He will bring you that beautiful place of peace and so much joy that creation itself cannot help but burst into song!

He has saved you and called you because of His unending love for you – and He is not going to leave you alone. Even as you wait, even as you hold onto your hope – His divine power has given us everything we need for a Godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3).

Never, ever give up your hope that is in His name.

When you hear the voice of the enemy telling you to abandon your purpose, that your prayers are pointless – do not be discouraged and do not be afraid. Instead, ‘be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Pick up your sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and stand your ground. ‘Press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus too hold of’ for you. Hope in His promises!

I am confident – because He never changes! – that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. This (all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-gracious!) God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.   (from Phil. 1:6 & Psalm 48:14)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. –Hebrews 10:23

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. –Romans 5:5

…but He will bind up our wounds…He will revive us, He will restore us that we may live in His presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth. -from Hosea 6

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.-Psalm 138:8

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On Falling…

Poor Vinny, my dish-soap-dispensing waiter, had an unfortunate sprawl earlier this evening.  

It has been that kind of a day. I had my own trip and fall this morning, albeit a less literal one than poor Vinny’s.

I have no one to blame but myself. For a moment, I ignored the whisper of the Holy Spirit and put all my focus on me. What followed? Bitter words that sparked and flew, tainting the hours with their acrid smoke and scars. Even stamped out, these words still leave the soot of regret. There is still pain from the heat and shame of the too-quick surrender to that fleshly desire to prove I was right.  

I wasn’t right (and I knew it!)…but instead of humbly admitting my mistakes, my pride went raging into battle…proving nothing but the truth of James’ declaration that the tongue is a ‘restless evil, full of deadly poison.’

And so I failed to show grace and I neglected the cause of mercy…and found myself in desperate need of both.

Shame tries to send us into hiding (remember that first couple diving for the first bushes after their disobedience?) and so I really wanted to grab the bag of powdered donuts off the shelf, put on comfy pjs, and put all of my attention into an Iron Chef marathon. After all the hope I had for this week, all the good intentions…how could I slip up so easily?

Yes. Hiding sounded great.

But then…a still small voice reminded me of words I typed only a few days ago…”But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…

I looked around my house, at my kiddos, at the bag of donuts. Succumbing to a day of wallowing in regret and prideful self-pity would not get me out of this mess. It would only compound the problem in my heart, keeping the focus all on me.

I needed to offer a good, old-fashioned ‘I’m sorry’ to my Father and to the one I’d hurt with my outburst. And then I needed to ask Him to redirect my heart, my feet, and my day.

So I looked away from myself and up to Him. Knocked off my feet, this time in sorrow and humble crying out for help…and, out of His great (unfathomable!) love, He heard me.

“God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered; He’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is His love to those who fear Him. And as far as sunrise is …

…from sunset, He has separated us from our sins.”~Psalm 103:8-12 (MSG)

The truth is that every single on of us will have a falling-flat-on-our-face day. Because we have not yet reached the end of our journey, when this battle with sin is forever done. We can have victory in the here and the now, through the help of the Holy Spirit, but we will not find perfection in this life-time…so what relief and gratefulness in knowing that the righteousness of my Savior covers me! What undeserved blessing to know that He is faithful…even when I am not.

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies…”~Psalm 36:5

 So if your step wasn’t so steady today, please know that you are not alone and that your new day can begin now. He is faithful to forgive and to put our feet back on His path…so don’t hide and don’t run anywhere except into His presence and into His Word. When we fall and reach out to Him, He will pick us up again.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
      from sunrise to sunset,
   Melting ice, scorching deserts,
      warming hearts to faith.

 The revelation of God is whole
      and pulls our lives together.
   The signposts of God are clear
      and point out the right road.
   The life-maps of God are right,
      showing the way to joy.
   The directions of God are plain
      and easy on the eyes.
   God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
      with a lifetime guarantee.
   The decisions of God are accurate
      down to the nth degree.

  God’s Word is better than a diamond,
      better than a diamond set between emeralds.
   You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring,
      better than red, ripe strawberries.

  There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
      and directs us to hidden treasure.
   Otherwise how will we find our way?
      Or know when we play the fool?
   Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
      Keep me from stupid sins,
      from thinking I can take over your work;
   Then I can start this day sun-washed,
      scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

…May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” ~from Psalm 19 (MSG&NIV)