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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A Purpose & A Promise

 

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Around the year 568 BC,  Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people of God were living a life of exile in Babylon. But God had promised restoration and He began to bring His people back to their homeland. Under the leadership of  Zerubbabel, they returned to Jerusalem…and they set their hearts on rebuilding the temple of God.

But their city had been demolished – to rebuild meant starting over. And the men of Judah were vulnerable, facing opposition from the people who had settled in the area during their long absence. Their enemies did everything they could to discourage them as they worked to build the temple, even convincing King Artaxerxes to put a stop to their progress. It was a start-and-stop process, a long and difficult journey from the days of laying a foundation to the day of completion. At times, it must have seemed that it would never be done. On the worst days, it must have felt impossible.

Maybe that’s why, along the way,  the Lord spoke a word for Zerubbabel to the prophet Zechariah:

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. ‘What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’

Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple;  his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?‘”

Stone by stone, step by step, day by day – the temple would be completed. It was a promise for Zerubbabel and the people of Judah – God was with them and He was still in control. Their part was to listen and obey…He would take care of the rest. They were not strong enough in power or resources to accomplish what God had called them to do — but His Spirit was greater than any obstacle they faced.

*****

I’ve been thinking about Zerubbabel and this work given to him.  I can imagine that wondering whispers of ‘is it even possible?’ and ‘I don’t have what it takes!’ probably ran through his mind.

Sometimes those same kinds of thoughts run through mine and I am willing to guess that you’ve heard them in your own life.

Maybe Zerubbabel’s enemies told the laborers that their work was useless, unimportant, going nowhere. Perhaps they tried to convince them that they were mistaken in believing that their city would be rebuilt. I would guess they did everything that they could do to convince the men and women of Judah to give up and to retreat, to let that territory remain in the hands of those who had stolen it, to let the rubble of the temple remain as the testimony to destruction.

But as the temple was being built, every stone set upon another stone – however small it seemed in that moment- mattered. Every meal cooked for the men who labored in the building mattered. Every word of encouragement mattered. Every person who stood firm on the promise of God mattered.

Every act done in obedience to God’s command mattered, for He empowered those acts to fulfill His purpose for His people.

In all things…it was not by their might and not by their power, but by His Spirit.

And the temple, restored, stood as a testimony of God’s power and glory.

 The same promise given to them is given to you and I.

In all things…it is not by our might and not by our power, but by His Spirit. 

Yes, we too have a vision and a work to do. Fulfilling the purpose of the Lord and building the Kingdom of God will look different for each of us – but you can be sure that you do have a purpose. We are each called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and we were each created with good works to accomplish…we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Jesus said that we are chosen as children of God to ‘go and bear fruit’…He said that we are to ‘go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ (John 15:16 and Mark 16:15)

As we set out to follow Jesus, to fulfill His command, we can expect opposition. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy…to discourage and undermine as we are serving the purpose of God.

He tells us that our gifts and abilities aren’t enough. He wants us to be discouraged by waiting-days and small steps that don’t look as if they are taking us very far. He wants us to grasp the control of ‘figuring out’ the best ways to accomplish the work of our hands…He knows that our labor that isn’t done in obedience is in vain. (Psalm 127:1) He wants us to believe that it’s impossible so that we will give up, retreat, and leave the dark and rubble-filled territory of this world to him.

But friends – in all things…it is not by our might and not by our power, but by His Spirit. By His Spirit, we live out the love of Christ. By His Spirit, we shine His light and darkness flees.

Corrie ten Boom explains it like this: “We are Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador is send forth in an official capacity by a nation’s government to represent that government in the territory of another nation. His authority is not measured by his own personal abilities, but is in direct proportion to the authority of the government he represents.”

Oh, how I love that truth! We do not base our lives out of confidence in what we can do, but in the assurance of who He is…and John reminds us that we have overcome because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world! (1 John 4:4)

Do not retreat and do not give up because the work God has given to you matters. We who know this grace and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…we know that He alone restores, He alone brings light and life, He alone is the hope of the world. This is the Gospel, this is the good news that we are called to share in whatever ways God has planned for us…and this is the truth which satan would keep from those who need it.

When the opposition comes, let us be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Eph. 6:10) for our God who is greater, stronger, wiser, and true — He Himself will empower you to fulfill His purposes! He has given you His own authority, His own strength, His own Spirit so that the expectation of ‘doing it all’ and being ‘good enough’ in our own eyes is not a burden we must bear. We can trust in the Lord with all our heart, leaning not unto our own understanding. When we in all our ways acknowledge him, He shall direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In every small or big moment, in every resource, in every gift, in every talent, in every relationship, in every job, in every single facet of our lives — when we are led by the Spirit and trust in God instead of ourselves, we bear witness to the salvation we have been given. 

May our lives — our lives that the enemy would leave  broken in testimony to his destructive deceit —  instead be testimonies to God’s glory and redemptive power, we ourselves God’s temple built upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, His Spirit dwelling in our midst. (1 Cor. 3:16)

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth. – Psalm 115:1 

Music Monday {No Longer Slaves}

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.” -Romans 8:15

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

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…from 1 John 4:18

On Watching My Daughter Stand Alone Outside of Her Classroom

At my daughter’s school, it’s a bit of a walk from the drop-off point to her first grade building. Although teachers are posted along the sidewalk from one place to the other, I still have the habit of pulling into a spot near Kailey’s building where I can see her walk up the ramp, across the porch, and through the door into the safety of her classroom. She can’t see me – and doesn’t know that I pull over to watch her little trek – but I can see her. It gives me peace of mind to know that she is where she is supposed to be.

It has been a hard transition for her to go from Christmas break back to the every-day of school. Although she quickly adjusts and enjoys her days at school, the actual separation from home is difficult for her on some days. Yesterday, I had to actually walk her into the classroom – crying – because she didn’t want to get out of the car by herself and she didn’t want to stay at school. She was unhappy about leaving home again this morning, but she made her way out of the car when the time came.

When I pulled around, it took longer than usual for her to make it to the ramp leading to her building. She was walking slowly and when she reached the door, she just stopped. Instead of opening it, she took a step to the side, her head bowed and shoulders slumped. From across the field and the parking lot, this mama’s heart broke. My girl was sad and, for whatever reason, could not find the courage or will to go through that door. She stood there, alone, and didn’t make a move.

I contemplated my options. I knew full well that what was best for her in the long run was giving her the space to make the decision to walk through that door, but I still just wanted to leap from the car in a wild dash to her side so that I could scoop her up and keep her by my side all day long.

But then something wonderful happened. Another little first-grader made their way up the ramp and onto the porch. Instead of rushing by Kailey, that child stopped at her side and began talking to her. I guess I’ll never know what words were said, but after a few moments…Kailey’s classmate opened the door and they went through it, together.

**********

On Monday, when I was reading about Simeon in the second chapter of Luke, a phrase caught my attention. Luke tells us that Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel. I did a little digging and found that consolation comes from the Greek word of paraklesis.

I already knew that the idea of consolation was one of comfort, but I loved finding out that its root can be described in the simple Greek phrase of para-kletos: a call to one’s side.

When Simeon was waiting on the consolation of Israel, he was waiting for the Messiah to be called to their side, to aid and encourage…to support them and to be their advocate.

The words of Zechariah’s song over his son (and Jesus’ cousin) – bold and passionate John – seem to light up on the page while I am thinking about this Consolation – you will prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

My daughter needed a consolation this morning. She needed someone to come to her side, to encourage her to take the steps she needed to take so that she could make it to the place she belonged. At a moment when she could not make her own way, someone did come along to help her through that door.

And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. We were standing outside of God’s presence, unable to make it through to where we really belonged.

The Father, there all the time, knew we needed help. He knew we were alone, broken, and home-sick. And although I didn’t have the ability to send someone to Kailey’s aid this morning, God knew exactly who to send to our sides – His own Son. And while He gives us the free will to take those steps toward Him…we have the chance to choose Him because He could not bear to see us remain in our darkness, in our sorrow. He could not bear to see us alone, our hearts home-sick for Him. So He spoke the word and Love leapt down from Heaven in a wild dash to rescue us.

Jesus came to us, “personally alongside us”*. He stopped where we were. He spoke words of encouragement, words of truth about God and about us. He not only held open the door – He became our Door, our Way to the place we were meant to be. He “guided our feet into the path of peace”. He became, in every sense of the wonderful word, our consolation.

And although Jesus is not here, today, in flesh and blood to be by our sides, He told the disciples it was expedient – needed and best – for Him to go away so that He could send the Comforter to them. (John 16:7) Just as the Father sent Jesus to us when we needed Him most, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we would have an advocate to help us and to be with us forever. (John 14:16) This word- Comforter – for the Holy Spirit has the same background as Consolation – again, it is parakletos. The Holy Spirit is with us, always, as our comfort and our teacher. (John 14:17)

In other words, we are never without the love of our Father, whose tender mercy saw us far away – even when we couldn’t see Him- and brought us close through the blood of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

Whatever you are going through today – if you feel like you are alone and unsure, standing in front of an obstacle that you can’t quite face – please know that you are not standing there alone. You have a Friend right there at your side and He will wait with you. He will strengthen your heart and help you take your next steps. He will go through every door – every circumstance – with you.

Yes, Jesus came to be the consolation of Israel…and today – right now – He is ours, yours and mine – He is the consolation of our hearts. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. –Deut. 31:8

(*this phrase is from a word study on parakletos, found on beyondthepulpit.org)

Exhibit of Hope (It’s Time to Make Your Own!)

Over the summer, my mom and I took the kids to the sea-side aquarium in Kure Beach. We saw bizarre fish, adorable turtles, and even intimidating alligators. The kids posed in the jaw-bone of a Megalodon and learned about all kinds of sea-creatures. It was an amazing afternoon.

But out of all the exhibits, only one has really stuck with me…one that didn’t have any animals in it at all. If we had gone another way as we left the museum, we wouldn’t have seen it at all.  But I’m glad we did. It was this:

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I know. It doesn’t look all that interesting. But it has stayed on my mind.

Here’s what it is: a record of hurricanes and the height of their storm-surges. This particular exhibit records surges more than twenty feet over sea-level…I can barely imagine what that actually looks like.

I do know, however, what the consequences of those levels looks like. We’ve all seen the pictures or maybe lived through the effects of a hurricane. Houses, roads, and sometimes even entire towns are destroyed. Lives are, sometimes, lost.

This exhibit shows – yes, the storms came. The water rose. Damage was, inevitably, done in the process.

But this skinny grey column is an exhibit of hope, at least in the way I see it

The water-marks say – yes, there were storms. We were shaken. We were flooded.

But, still, here we are.  After the storms, we don’t give up. Towns re-build. The debris is taken away. The beaches are cleaned. We move on and are maybe more prepared for the next round. We do all we can to protect the lives of those in the path of the storm.

And if we remember how we made it through the storms that have come before, we can know how to handle the storms of the future. We know when to move to higher ground. We stock up on canned food and water. We have flashlights and batteries. We are quick to board up the windows and to stay alert for warnings from the weather channel.

And this exhibit is another reminder of the need to do all of those things…it’s a reminder that storms have come and storms will come again.

Maybe you’re asking this question now – what does all of this have to do with us and our quest for hope?

Let’s find out (it’s an imperfect metaphor, but it has done me good to think about it in this way).

So this is what I want you to do: find a pen and two sheets of paper. Think about your past. Think about the storms that came through and how they threatened your heart and your life. On one sheet of paper, jot these storms down.

Now take a look at each storm and remember how God brought you through it. Remember how He was faithful. Remember how He forgave. Remember how He provided. Remember how He sent a word of hope just when you needed it. Remember how He healed, how He set you free, how His grace was sufficient — even to just keep your feet moving through the hardest days.

Remember the peace that came when your situation was anything but peaceful. Remember how He restored what was lost. Remember how He rebuilt your heart and your family. Remember how He took on the debris that needed to be removed. Remember how He calmed your fear and put your feet on the Rock that is Higher than any storm-surge can reach.

Remember how He has stepped into your life, Emmanuel and Savior, and rescued you. Kept you from harm that could have come your way. Kept you from the roads that you didn’t need to travel down.  Remember how He strengthened your faith, fortified your trust, and blessed you with grace.

Remember how He has loved you through it all…remember the beauty for ashes, the joy that came in the morning. Remember that even when you couldn’t see through the rain and you couldn’t see beyond the next wave, He was still there. Remember Him!

Now write all of those testimonies down next to the storms….don’t let yourself forget what God has done in your life! Write it down, say it out loud — give Him the praise for every mercy He has shown and every miracle you have been given.

Look at what you have before you – an exhibit of hope!

Yes, the storm surge came this high in your life – but it did not destroy you. It did not send you careening out to sea without hope.  Instead, you learned the truth of this promise God gives to us in Isaiah 43:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!”

I have to take a second here and rejoice in that simple phrase that is our everything – “I will be with you.” There, in that phrase, in that five word promise  – we have hope. 

Here’s where the second sheet of paper comes in. At the top of it, write that verse from Isaiah 43 and I hope that it hides away in your heart at the same time.

Beneath that promise,  write down the storms you are going through right now. Whatever the worry, whatever the fear, whatever the difficulty – write it down.

These storms are no less under His control than the ones He has already brought you through. He is still the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior! He still says “Do not fear!” You are His – He knows you, He loves you, and He is with you!

The God who brought you through every storm on that first list has not changed.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is still able to take what is intended for evil and use it for our good. He is still able to part the seas when we face depths we can’t cross in our own strength. He is still our peace-speaker. He is still with us, though the mountains shake and the oceans roar.

He is still able to comfort, to strengthen, and to hold us when we’ve been knocked down by the winds and can’t get ourselves back up. He is still able to re-build what has been destroyed. He still brings life. He is our hope that will never fail.

So, in the storm, we run to Him with everything within us, even if it feels like He is a million miles away. We choose to trust Him instead of our emotions or our circumstances.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” ~Psalm 61:2

We go to His Word. I love how the Message puts it in Psalm 119  – Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word.”

We pray and we obey in whatever way He has asked of us, putting on that full armor of God from Ephesians 6 – and then, ‘when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.’ (Ephesians 6:13)

No, life is not easy and trouble will come. Storms will blow through and sometimes they will linger longer than we think we can survive.

But we have a supernatural strength to depend upon. We can call out to our Father and know that we can trust Him to help us! When all we can do is stand, we are standing on that High Rock. We are trusting in the One who has overcome every storm, every darkness, every battle.

We have the promise and the hope of victory in Jesus. Sometimes victory over a situation might not even happen in this lifetime, not that we can see with our physical here-and-now vision — but our hope is not bound by time.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Even if our flesh does falter, we can declare this with faith: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever! (Psalm 73:26)

And victory over the fear, the depression, the anxiety….all of the side-effects that can drag us under the waves — that victory is now because of our hope in God, our Savior!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~Phil. 4:6-7

We praise Him and we have His life shining forth from us even in the pain, even in the sorrow, even in the storm — because this is the grace He gives to us and this is how we are exhibits of hope to everyone in our lives.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-1

So, today, surrender those storms on that second sheet to the One who is our very present help in time of trouble…and keep the first list handy so you can add to it. Because in His time and in His way, we know that all things are working together for our good (Romans 8:28).  We can be confident in our hope that today’s trouble will one day be another testimony of His faithfulness!

God is our mighty fortress,
always ready to help
in times of trouble.

And so, we won’t be afraid!
Let the earth tremble
and the mountains tumble
into the deepest sea.

Let the ocean roar and foam,
and its raging waves
shake the mountains…

Nations rage! Kingdoms fall!
But at the voice of God
the earth itself melts.

The Lord All-Powerful
is with us.
The God of Jacob
is our fortress. 

(from Psalm 46)

How To See God (Matthew 5:8)

I want to see God.

Then again, want might be the wrong word.  “Want” implies that I’ll be able to go on with life without the desire fulfilled, doesn’t it?  I want a pumpkin spice latte, for instance, but will I survive without it?  Sure. I’ll settle for what’s at hand and keep that particular want in the back of my mind until autumn when pumpkin spice lattes are again in abundance.  It’ll keep.

As good as my favorite coffee may be, it’s not like a drink I do need: water.  Water is necessary.  I couldn’t wait until October for my next drink of water.  It’s essential to my well-being… to my life.  I, quite literally, would not survive until October without it.  If I couldn’t find it in my own home today, I can assure you that I’d go out and search for it… I’d do whatever it took to obtain it.

So, no, it’s not only a want I’m feeling when it comes to God.

Although I long to see Him, the Father who formed and loved me from the beginning, this runs even deeper than an emotion of desire.

I need His comfort and His wisdom.  I need His peace that transcends my situations and His presence that brings deepest gladness to my soul.  I need Him to be with my children, with His church, with me.

need Him.  I need to hear His voice.  I need to see Him.

Because this world, it is under attack by an enemy who has no scruples, no conscious, no kindness.

We live in a culture which says yes to lust, to greed, to seducing our children into a raging appetite that begs for more pleasure and is never satisfied.  There are violent uprisings, threats of nuclear attack, the unknown-but-certain next environmental disaster… there are diseases rampant and families hungry and so many without a place to safely lay their heads at night.

There are the personal, daily sorrows like a child pushed around on a playground, his head hanging low in shame, the frustration of another bill to pay, husbands and wives going to bed angry with each other… every day there are both small and large hopes deflated by harsh words and difficult situations.

There are days that can begin with wonder and delight in meteors dancing across the early morning sky and end with the images of murdered children flashing across the news.

So, yes, in this world where joy and despair can be only a second… a breath apart… I need to see my Father at work, to know that He is bringing all things together according to His purpose.

Yet this is what I’ve been wondering: do we look for the light of Jesus as often as we take notice of the darkness?

I’m sure you’ll agree ~ it is easy to point out the consequences of sin around us. We see them every day.

For us, the children of God, shouldn’t His handiwork outshine all else in our lives?

Is it possible that, without us even taking notice of it, satan has bound us up in a chain of disbelief, distraction, or apathy?  Have we allowed our expectations to be lowered, our hearts trying to find satisfaction in the things around us?  Have we forgotten that our God is alive and able to do exceedingly above what we could ask or imagine?

The question isn’t whether or not God is at work ~ He is the Author of life from beginning to end.  The question is this: are we looking for Him? Have we prepared our hearts… our spirit-eyes… to see Him?

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus promises this ~ “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

I thrill at the word shall.  It does not allow any room for ‘if’, ‘maybe’, or ‘if you’re lucky’.  It is a promise ~ it is a certain, unwavering truth that we will see Him if our hearts are pure before Him.

If you’re like me, maybe you draw back, a little alarmed at the word ‘pure’.  Maybe you, like me, wonder if that means our hearts must be perfect to see Him… and fear that we won’t be holy enough to qualify.

If that’s the case, here is step one: Jesus Christ gave His life and bore our sin so that we can be righteous before God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

By His grace, our hearts are made new and holy before God.

It is nothing we achieve in our own attempts to be ‘good’.  It is freely given to us, the gift of hearts made right with the Father.  Receiving this gift is, of course, the first piece of living in this blessing promised to us by Jesus.

Step two is digging into the word “pure” and understanding what it means here in this Sermon on the Mount.  The Greek word translated into pure is actually “katharos”.  Katharos is defined as ‘unmixed, unadulterated.’  In other words? One hundred percent.  Purely committed.

To see God, our hearts ~ the center of our being, out of which everything we do flows ~ must be wholly surrendered to Him.

We must be undivided, full of only one thing ~ His Spirit.  We must be focused, dedicated, given over to the pursuit of obedience to His Word.  If we want to see Him, we have to be looking with one hundred percent of our lives.  The first and greatest commandment, Jesus said in Matthew 22, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Even in this, we are not left in our own strength. In Ezekiel 11:19, God promises “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

This tells me that God will put the right spirit and the right motivations into my heart if I ask Him to do so.  David did ask Him to do this very thing in Psalm 86 ~  “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided (pure) heart, that I may fear your name.”

I’ll never get over the marvel of His grace ~ our Father gives us what we need in order to please Him!

But, oh, we need to make the choice to keep our hearts wholly His.  We make choices every day ~ this is why we are told in Proverbs to guard our hearts and in Ephesians to put on a breastplate of righteousness.

We can, whether it is a conscious choice or the danger of non-choices (that ever-dangerous current of complacency) find pieces of our hearts given over to other things.  Anxiety, perhaps, or people.  Pleasure, maybe, or ambition.  The enemy is, always, trying to steal our hearts away… and, sometimes, for me?  It has been by simple distractions… small choices that put up little dividers in my heart.  Easily removed, I would think… and not a big deal… but walls are made brick by brick and not all at once.

Every choice matters.  Little choices set the precedents for bigger choices.

Plain and simple, heart-space cannot be shared by my fleshly desires and the Spirit of God.

We cannot serve the things of this world and the Creator of this world.  We cannot serve two masters.  A double-minded, double-hearted man or woman is unstable in all their ways.  Joshua said to the Israelites ~ “Choose, this day, who you will serve.”  It is a choice we must make.

The question is this: do I need God ~ do I need to see Him ~ more than I want the things of this world?  Do I love Him more than I love what I have in this life?

Will I choose to pursue His presence instead of the new episode of my favorite show?  Will I talk my problems out to Him before I call my mom or my friends?  Will I give my time to Him instead of to that new book of poetry sitting on my nightstand?  First thing in the morning, do I open His Word to renew my mind in Him or do I check Facebook and my blog reader?

God does give us good things in this world… friends, hobbies, music, art ~ I am not saying that these things are wrong.  However, we have to make sure that our first love is the Giver of these gifts and that we seek Him before all else.  Paul wrote this in Colossians 3:17 ~ “Let every detail in your lives ~ words, actions, whatever ~ be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (MSG)

So at the end of the day, have I consciously done everything like I am doing it all for Him?  Do I obey Him or my own will?  Do I surrender all of me to His purpose?

When my actions speak, are they saying that I choose Him with an undivided heart?

Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m being a little extreme about this giving up of self.  I know that it seems like a hard thing to do.  I can only tell you what Jesus taught:

If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34)

Again, in Luke 14:33, He speaks about the cost of following Him: “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.”

But with the cost comes the promises!

Listen to these words of Jesus in John 10:10 ~ “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

And remember His invitation in Matthew 11 ~ “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We find that when we take up our cross, when we deny ourselves to follow Him, He is already there before us ~ bearing the weight, filling us with His own life and the power of His resurrection.  Jesus, giving us a ‘better life than we ever dreamed of’, gives us rest for our souls!  We find that when we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm 37:4)  When we are weak, His Spirit gives us power. (2 Tim. 1:7, 2 Cor. 12:9 ) When we fall short, His grace still reaches us. (Rom. 3:22-24)  When we face temptation, we find that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us! (Phil. 4:13)

Remember that He chose ~ with no shadow of turning or change – to love and redeem us, giving His all.  He does not leave us wanting, when we have an undivided heart seeking after Him.  He gives us Himself, just like He did so many years ago on a Roman cross.

It is with awe that I consider this, how He did not hold back from the cross… and He gave Himself fully because He cherishes my heart.  It’s a miracle any way I look at it, that I can offer my heart and bring Him delight… that the God of parted seas and chains broken will reveal Himself to me when I look for Him with my everything.

Can we even grasp the magnitude of it, the blessing of seeing Him?

When Jesus said that we would see God, He said the Greek word ‘optanomai’… which means to not only see with the physical eyes, but to also grasp, comprehend, understand, and to be aware of what one sees.

This means that we will be able to discern His hand at work in our lives. With hearts pure ~ seeking Him wholly ~ we will see His glory declared in the heavens, His grace in the good and perfect gifts in our lives, His comfort in all the personal ways He uses to communicate His presence to us.

For me, it can be as small as spotting the first flowers of spring.  It can be a kind email from a friend.  It can be a verse on the page that speaks boldly into my heart… joy-giving words that I need to hear.  It is the knowledge that when I open His word and speak to Him, He is there with me.  I can keep company with Christ, the King of Glory, and He is my friend.

My hope, my ability to hold onto joy, to gratitude, to freedom from chains of depression and anxiety?  It is all only due to Him… to knowing who He is and my faith in His proactive work in my life and in this world.

For my heart to stay open and beating in abundant life, His presence is essential.  His love is necessary for my heart’s survival… because sometimes He guards us from the pain around us, but sometimes the cup doesn’t pass.  Sometimes we will suffer.  In this world, Jesus said, we will have many troubles.  So, yes, it is non~negotiable.  I need Him in the good times and I need to know, in the pain, that He is with me.

He said that He is with us always ~ so don’t be discouraged if you are in a season when, even with your heart wholly His, you don’t feel His presence or immediately see Him at work exactly as you might hope.  Remember that we are still in this world in which we see as through a glass darkly… and remember that we will have seasons in which He does require us to walk by faith and not by sight. Sometimes we must wait on the Lord and be of good courage, knowing He will strengthen our hearts as we patiently trust Him (Psalm 27:14).  He is faithful to every promise and so we willsee Him when our hearts are pure ~ but in His perfect timing, as He works to make us more like Him and works all things for our good.  No matter how we feel, we can trust His plan for us… and we can believe, with hope, that He will reveal Himself to us when and in the way that He knows is best for us and for His kingdom… “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)

This promise, this beatitude, it is breathtaking in its hope. We will see Him, the God of all, in our lives… because, yes, He is with us.  He is Emmanuel.  We can’t see Him with our physical eyes, but we see Him with our spirit-eyes.  The miracle of Easter isn’t only that Jesus came in a body of flesh, to die for us, and rise again… but that He stays… alive in us.

He abides in us and we in Him. He is the vine and our branches need His life~source to blossom, to thrive.  In this way, we become image-bearers of our Savior.  In this way, our life becomes His.  We are salt.  We are light.  We are the disciples, taking the blessed Bread of Life, broken for us, and feeding the world around us.

Just like on a crowded hill-side long ago, we find that there is more than enough to fill every need.  There is more than enough to satisfy.

Having seen Him in our lives and being witness to His mercy calls us to another side of this story ~ others seeing the love of Christ in us.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (2 Cor. 2:14)

Jesus commanded us to share our good news, to make disciples from one end of the earth to the other… because He is preparing a place for His bride. (John 14:1-3) And He would have all men and women drawn to Him, leaving none to face eternity without Him.

Do you remember that Greek word for ‘shall see’ ~ optanomai?  It is used many, many times in the New Testament… for the day when Jesus shall return for His own.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

This is the other half of the meaning of ‘see’… because we will, one day, have faith turned into tangible-as-the-computer-in-front-of-me sight. There will be no “dark glass” between us and the Lord. We will be literally made new, whole, and our vision perfected. We will be with Jesus. We will be with the Father.

I yearn for that day now like I never before imagined that I could.

Something in me ~ in all of us ~ cries out for reconciliation between reality and the peace we long to see… for justice… for assurance that things will not always be like this.  We want to know that wrongs will be righted… that light will prevail over darkness so fully that darkness will have no more place in the world. We understand, instinctively, that there is another way… that we weren’t meant for darkness and death.

In the turmoil, I think of Job and I echo his words. “I know my Redeemer lives and I shall see Him face to face.” I say it and say it again, digging my feet firm into the foundation of His truth… that He is victorious over satan… and His Kingdom is the only one that shall stand.

The Word warns us of turbulent days.  Scripture says plainly that what is right will be said to be wrong and what is wrong will be called right.  Scripture says that people will be deceived, the Word twisted around for selfish purposes… that the earth itself will shake and disasters will befall it.  These words are reality in our world today.

But Jesus also says that when all of these things come to pass, look up ~ for our redemption draws near.  And He, who has overcome the world, is our redemption!

Please hear this plea from my heart ~ don’t take it lightly, this Beatitude of pure heart and eyes to see.  It is everything to us, to our eternities.

We must see Him now, we must give Him our hearts wholly, so that we will have a place in His Kingdom.  It is no fickle want; we need to see God.  He is our Living Water, essential to our very being.  He satisfies the true desires of our hearts.  He is necessary for our soul’s survival.

Closing our eyes and refusing to let Him have Lordship over our hearts means an eternity without Him.

He came to the earth so that we would not perish, but be reconciled to God through His blood. He came so that we could abide in Him, living free and forgiven, while on this earth… and so that we can be forever in His presence, at home in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (Phil. 3:20~4:1)

Now is the day to choose… and will you choose Him?  Will you choose life… life abundant and eternal?  It is not a choice that you will stand alone in ~ for Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me (Psalm 54:4) and we know that He who began this good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus! (Phil. 1:6)

It is not in our own strength that we follow Him, but in the power of our Lord.  As Paul said, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57)

He will, in unfailing love, lead the people He has redeemed.  In His strength, He will guide them to His holy dwelling. (adapted from Exodus 15:13).

For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.  But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.  I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:9-20)

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,but that which is through faith in Christ ~ the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ ~ yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death,and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, 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 toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”(Phil. 3: 7-14)

(For other thoughts on the Beatitudes, please check out the following links: The (Non)Pursuit of Happiness, Eternal Perspective, To the Heavy-Hearted, Giving Up, “You Gotta’ Have What I Have!”, and To Love Mercy.)

 

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) )