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.

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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Together We Follow (Genesis 14:1-16)

When we enter today’s passage of Scripture, we find ourselves in the middle of a war in Canaan. There’s rebellion, kings joining forces against other kings, conquests, and invasions.

For Abram, this war brings devastating news: his nephew, Lot, has been taken as a prisoner by the conquering army.

Abram doesn’t seem to hesitate. He mobilizes 318 men and sets off to rescue his family. They pursue and attack King Kedorlaomer’s men, causing this army – this army that has just conquered and plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – to flee.

To me, this is an amazing story. We’re not told how many men make up the army that Abram is chasing, but we know that this is a trained and victorious group of men. Abram does not let that stop him…it seems so improbable that Abram’s small troop would be able to conquer an actual army – and, yet, he leads them to recover all that had been taken.

Abram is learning — through his faith-fueled action — that there’s nothing too hard for God. He’s learning that impossible odds are overcome when God is in control of the situation. He’s seeing that God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. (Psalm 47:8) 

It’s a truth he will need, again and again, as he continues his journey.

Isn’t it a truth we all need?

When chaos is all around, when the bad news comes, when it seems that we are powerless – our God is still King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. (1 Tim. 1:17) Nothing can change who He is. Nothing can change His purpose. His love and His dominion endure through all generations.

When things are difficult, when we have no answers -we cry out to Him because He is the only one who can make a way. This is when – like Abram – we let our faith fuel our actions and we follow Him, even in improbable odds and through impossible obstacles.

I know what it is to worry about all of the things that will be. Right now it seems like we are looking at our nation and seeing a collapse of what is good, a wreckage of discord and hate. In some ways, no matter how the election turns out, it feels like defeat. This could cause us to give in to frustration and fear, throwing our hands up because the wrong-called-right and right-called-wrong is reigning in our land. The world seems scarier and scarier to me. Sometimes I want to take my kids, my family, and hide away from it all.

Abram could’ve thrown up his hands, letting Lot go. He could have said that it was too late. He could’ve feared the risk of losing what was his. He could have said the kings were too strong, the damage was done, it was all too far gone.

But he didn’t do that. He went after his family, believing that the power of God would enable him to take a stand against the enemy.

I have been reminding myself of this over and over again throughout this entire year: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

In a time that is difficult and confusion seems to carry the day, I’m watching as even members of the body of Christ turn against each other and followers of Christ turn against people in the world who don’t agree with them — people that are loved by God, people that are our neighbors, people we are supposed to love as we love ourselves.

And I’m wondering – are our eyes on the wrong things here? Are we looking so much at the events of this present world that we are forgetting Who we belong to and why we are here? Are we forgetting who the real enemy is? Are we forgetting those authorities of the unseen world that are wreaking havoc in our nation? Are we forgetting the weapons that God has given us for the purpose of bringing down strongholds? Are we forgetting the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth and armor of righteousness? Are we forgetting the peace of the gospel, the preparation to share the good news? Are we forgetting the fruit of the spirit, the long-suffering and the joy? Are we forgetting to pray for those who persecute us? Are we forgetting to speak up for the voiceless? Are we forgetting our great commission? Are we letting our fear silence us, control us, wring our hands with worry about the future?

Are we forgetting who we are in Him?

I don’t want to forget anymore, not even for a moment.

We are not hopeless and we are not helpless. We are the People of the Cross, the Redeemed who can boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. We are the citizens of a Kingdom that is not shaking and will not fall. We are the sons and daughters of a King whose reign is unquestionable and whose power enables us to overcome the darkness. We are a people of unity and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Remember – there’s nothing too hard for Him! Remember – all things are possible to those who will believe!

Therefore – WE WILL NOT ACCEPT DEFEAT and we will NOT FEAR when we stand against the schemes of satan. We will NOT cower, but carry our cross with the strength He gives us. We will not timidly shine our light into the world. We will not compromise in love or in truth. We WILL continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is still the power of God that brings salvation.

For those that we know are caught up in the chains and the traps of the enemy –it is the power of Jesus Christ that will release the captives and set the prisoners free. It is the power of Jesus Christ that opens blinded eyes and brings life from death. It is the power of Jesus Christ brings anyone that will believe into the family of God.

The election will come and the election will go, but GOD REMAINS. Whatever the outcome, we will trust Him in it. We will know that His purpose will endure. Our calling to work and build the Kingdom of God does not change…our calling to love does not change…our calling to be peacemakers does not change…our calling to live in grace, mercy, justice, holiness…none of these things are changing.

We are the bearers of the gospel, the sons and daughters of God with open hands overflowing with HOPE. His victory that is eternal – spanning far behind and beyond what we can see with our eyes – reigns in us. The Kingdom of Heaven –  that is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – reigns in us. We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

He is still Emmanuel – God WITH us.  

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?-Psalm 113:4-6

Therefore, whom shall we fear and why should we be afraid?  The Lord is our light and salvation. The Lord is our stronghold. (from Psalm 27)

Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.-Ephesians 6:10

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Genesis 14:1-16

About this time war broke out in the region. King Amraphel of Babylonia, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim  fought against King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar).

This second group of kings joined forces in Siddim Valley (that is, the valley of the Dead Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to King Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled against him.

One year later Kedorlaomer and his allies arrived and defeated the Rephaites at Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzites at Ham, the Emites at Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites at Mount Seir, as far as El-paran at the edge of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (now called Kadesh) and conquered all the territory of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (also called Zoar) prepared for battle in the valley of the Dead Sea. They fought against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Babylonia, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five. As it happened, the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned.

But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies.

When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives.

Together We Follow: Genesis 13

When we last read together, we saw how Abram made a decision motivated by fear and self-preservation. We saw that God was merciful and brought him through a situation that could have ended in disaster…today, we will read about his journey back into Canaan.

Genesis 13

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)

Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”

Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.

After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

So Abram moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. There he built another altar to the Lord.

This is what makes an impact on me in this chapter: we see Abram offer Lot the first choice of land. This decision – unlike his actions in Egypt – are not ignited by looking out for his own best interests. I believe that Abram trusts that God will provide and protect his family in whatever portion is left for him — and so he can willingly open his hands, letting go of his control. He must believe that the outcome will be okay, no matter what Lot decides, because of God’s faithfulness to him.

Seeing Abram surrender the control of his future so fully stops me in my tracks, even as I type this – because the letting go of control thing? It is hard. I struggle with it on the day-to-day level of my life. I think that the only way we can truly surrender ourselves and all that our lives hold (our dreams, our plans, our futures) is to make the choice that Abram made.

He chose to believe that his portion, if blessed by God, would be enough to sustain and satisfy him.

Whatever we have – little or much in the eyes of the world…maybe even in our own eyes…it’s His presence that makes it worthwhile. It’s His pleasure in us that holds our heads up high. It’s His joy and His love that infuses our lives with gladness, with strength, with contentment. It’s the wondrous name – child of God – that we wear. This is the title that we will keep forever. This is the identity that cannot be taken away from us.

I feel like I have said this over and over again lately…but maybe, in a world that tells us such a different story, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the truth. It’s His presence that fulfills us. It’s following Him that brings peace – even when it looks like giving things up, even when it feels difficult, even when it’s a faith-step that doesn’t make sense. What God entrusts to us in this life…whatever He puts in our hands or in our paths…it is enough, because He is in it. And He is always, always enough. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

 

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 12: 11-20

fullsizerender-16There have been moments in my life when I feared that my past sin would alter God’s willingness to use me for His purposes. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever worried that your past would change God’s mind about you or render His plans for you null and void?

If you’ve ever felt this way, then I hope that today’s reading will help to reassure you of your place in God’s heart…

As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Today we see Abram, the man who surrendered his future to God, in an act of deception. Seeing the power of Pharaoh, he allowed fear to motivate his actions. He allowed this new circumstance to intimidate him. Fearing that the Egyptians would take his life in order to take Sarai into the house of Pharaoh, Abram called her his sister – withholding the full truth of her identity as his wife.

Not trusting that God would protect both he and his wife, Abram chose the wrong path to control the situation himself. His short-sighted decision led to Sarai being taken to the palace – it was God, in His mercy, that protected Sarai and brought her back to Abram’s side.

This was a moment for Abram to understand the faithfulness of God…this was a moment for Abram to see the grace of God.

Instead of ending in catastrophe under the wrath of Pharaoh, this incident leads to Abram and Sarai leaving Egypt to go on with their journey into the future God had promised them. God’s faithfulness did not change when Abram’s focus faltered. His promises did not disappear because Abram chose deceit.

This is grace.

When we don’t deserve it, God comes to rescue us. It’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross. It isn’t our righteousness that prepares us for God’s purpose, but His redemption power in our lives.

If we decide to sin and go on without repentance, without turning from our wrong, then we are the ones to walk away from our place in God’s plan for us…we can, in our continued disobedience, miss out on the abundant life God would intend for us. Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians sorrow without repentance leads to spiritual death…but Godly sorrow that leads to repentance results in salvation.

When we didn’t deserve it, when we didn’t earn it – we received rescue from our sin… and this grace that God has given out of His great love continues to affect every aspect of our lives.

Don’t let regret about the past keep you from His promises for today. 

Our past sin? Our sin that has been forgiven? Our sin that has been removed from us, as far as the east is from the west? (Psalm 103:12) Those wrongs may have changed us, may have taught us, may have taken us the long way around our dreams, may have brought the discipline of the Father to us…but those sins no longer define us. His mercy does. His redemption power is stronger than our sin – and so, YES – He will still use you for His glory. YES, He still has a purpose for you. YES, He will be true to His promises.

Our lives become a story not of our sin, not of our losses, but of His grace and victory in us. Our lives become a story of transformation, of a new creation made in us. Our lives become a story of hope – knowing what He has done for Abram, for Sarai, for you and for me…He can do for anyone who will believe.

 

 

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith. I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.-from Philippians 3 

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.

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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.

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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