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 

Set Free to Live as His Workmanship {a guest post by Jacquie Wagner}

 I am so grateful to have Jacquie Wagner sharing with us today. Although we have never met face to face, Jacquie’s words and prayers have been a source of encouragement in my life for years. The love of Jesus shines so clearly through her – and I see such a beautiful reflection of our Savior in her love for God and for the body of Christ. {You can read more of Jacquie’s words and see her editorial handiwork over at Christian Women Online.}  

I am particularly grateful for Jacquie’s testimony today…because sometimes the most difficult battles we fight are within ourselves and we can lose sight of the victory that is already ours through Jesus. Sometimes we hold onto our pasts, hold onto our sins, hold onto the chains that have already been broken by our Savior’s power. I am thankful for this truth that Jacquie is reminding us of today…submitting to Christ’s authority and receiving His grace over our lives brings freedom and peace, hope and purpose. He overcomes the darkness around us and within us….loving us all the while.

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.-Col. 1:13

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Because Jesus is Alive… I’m not stuck with myself and less likely to be stuck on myself!

We all have them ~those days where we run face to face into who we are in our flesh, with our failings ~ our ugly parts that surface and show themselves to, at, and over others, or our own personal load of sin that shows itself to us: fear, doubt, gossip, laziness, unkindness, meanness, our… Maybe it would be faster to just quote the love part of 1 Corinthians 13 ~ only as the opposite of all those good things. Or maybe snag one or more of Paul’s deadly accurate lists of sins, the makeup of our Self ~ ugh! Apart from the work of God in our lives, we are none of us very pretty on the inside ~ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Praise be to God who does not leave us in our filth!  Praise be to God who gave us Jesus, His only Son, who died to pay for our transgressions, and who rose again and lives at the right hand of the Father interceding for us!  Praise God for the reality of the Blood which cleanses us from ALL sin!  I don’t know about you, but one of the realities of the cross that is hard for me to grasp with any kind of a firm hold is the truth that ALL of our sins ~ our personal “whoops-ities” and “grossities” ~were FUTURE sins at the cross.  We tend ~ in moods of introspection and/or when we’re forced to see it ~ to get hung up on our sin and failures like they somehow make us lesser in that moment or season.  The truth is, though, that our present sins are no more degrading/depressing/dehumanizing/deinflating etc. than our first sin or whatever our last sin will be.  Sin is sin and it was all paid for BEFORE we ever committed them!  We are no less the beloved children of God when we sin than before.

God loves us right where we are now ~ in the midst of a mess or on the high way with Him ~ because the truth is we’re always on the high way with Him. God’s not any more enamored of our times of sin than we are, but He’s FAR less interested in stirring them around than we are. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 Then He drops them in the sea of forgetfulness and would like us to do the same because:

~ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… Romans 8:1

~ For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

~ I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

~  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Which verse brings us to the other half of a “problem” in our lives that Jesus delivers us from daily because He is alive ~

If I’m not unduly wrestling with remorse over my sin (and there is a time and place for that, but not everyday, all day where it paralyzes us in our walk with the Lord), then I’m wrestling with the flip side of things ~ glorying in what an awesome Christian I am for whatever awesome thing the Lord is doing in me and through me.  Whatever good is occurring in my life has zero to do  with me and everything to do with what the Lord is working in my life.  The  verse is so good and so full of truth, let’s do it again ~

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (emphasis mine)

We can follow this up with these good Words of Life ~

…it is God Who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image of glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Not much room in there for me, or you, to be taking any glory for the good! Likewise, there’s not much room to be stuck mourning our sins, for we really don’t have time ~

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:37-28

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What to Remember When You Feel Forgotten

Milky Way @ Joshua Tree National Park

His eyes were filled with regret as he told her that their time together was over. But what good did his sympathy do for her? His affection was not deep enough to keep her there, to keep their son safe – shame turned her skin hot, each breath seemed too loud and too long. For hadn’t she thought that he had chosen them? Hadn’t she thought their child important?

She’d been wrong. “I never asked for this,” she said to him. “You came to me. Everything I did was to please you.”

She remembered those first months, her Ishmael growing within. Perhaps she had been wrong to so resent this man’s first woman, but never had she expected to bear a child that would not truly belong to her. Never had she felt the loneliness of belonging to a man whose heart was fully enthralled with someone else.

She had fled this place, all those years ago, chosen to leave the unkindness of her mistress. She would’ve kept away, would’ve made a new life for herself — but who would argue with an angel of the Lord? Who would expect this banishment when the Lord had stopped her, had seen her as she ran — when He saw her trouble and promised her descendants too many to count?

She’d thought that meant He would guard Ishmael’s life – even if the promise did come with warning of Ishmael’s wild spirit.  There must be hope for his future.

What would become of them if He had changed His mind?

“I am sorry. You must go.” Abraham looked away from her, toward Sarah’s tent.

Her words had no weight. She had no power to change this. No power to protect her son. She knew he had shown no kindness to Isaac, but was there no mercy? Had all of their chances ran out?

“How will I take care of him?” She threw her pride to the ground, clasped his robe. “Please, let him stay. I will go. Keep him here.”

“The Lord has spoken. He will take care of my son.”

Nothing was fair, nothing was right. The woman who had brought them together, the woman who had willed her Ishmael into existence – she was now forcing them into exile, blaming Ishmael for his place in the camp.

Abraham gave her food and a skin of water, placed it all on her shoulders.

Her son dug his feet into the ground as they took the first steps away. He crossed his arms. “Why are we going? It isn’t fair. It’s because of him, because of Isaac.”

He was leaving his friends, his bed, his father. His home.

“We have to go,” she said. “Please,” she whispered, desperation making her fingers weak as she grasped for his arm. “Please. I can’t stand being here anymore.”

“Where will we go?” he asked. “What will we do?”

And she with no answers, except to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Did the Lord see her now?

It felt like He had closed His eyes.

********************

Keeping track of their days in the desert soon became impossible. She didn’t care how many hours had passed, not anymore. There was too much barren ground, too much heat, too little rest from the anxiety cramping in her stomach. They sweated out any of the water they drank by day and shivered side-by-side at night. She had no idea if they were any closer to finding a place to survive than the early morning when they had left home. She had no idea how to find more food for Ishmael’s growling stomach once their rations ran out.

He had stopped asking questions. He had been walking these last days without complaint. She had stumbled and he helped her back to her feet, gently brushing sand from her hands.

“I need to sit.” With the breaking of their silence, he swayed and she steadied him as best she could. “Water?” he asked, his hoarse voice cracking on the word.

She took the skin out and held it to his lips. A few drops fell out.

The last drops.

“Sit,” she said, guiding him to a patch of prickly bushes. “Stay here.”

There was no more water in the skin and none to be found in this forsaken place. She looked into the cloudless sky and down at her boy. Her strong boy, her almost-man, had tears running down his dusty face. Leaning close, she kissed his dark cheek and turned. I love you. She couldn’t bear to look at him again. He needed water. And she had none to give.

I cannot watch the boy die, she thought. I cannot. It is more than I can take.

No thought to her direction, she moved away from him, far enough that he could not hear her wail, and fell to the ground. The tears she’d tried to hold back all came, now that there was nothing left to lose.

What is the matter, Hagar?

She coughed on the tears suddenly caught in her throat. She knew this voice. She held her breath, afraid to miss a word coming from the heavens.

Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.

Her vision was suddenly clear of the salt-stinging tears and the sun’s glare abated as she stood, hope giving her legs the strength that had been lost. Her eyes opened wide.

There, there not such a distance away – a well! 

She ran, laughter trailing behind her. “Ishmael!” she shouted with renewed energy, renewed hope. “I am coming!”

Her son would live.

The Lord still had His eyes on her.

She would never again have Abraham in her life or a place in his tent, but his God had not forsaken her. He had not pushed aside His promise to her son.

They had not been forgotten.

************

Maybe you are in your own desert, unsure of why you’re stuck there and desperate for a way out.

Maybe you feel unimportant and cast aside. Maybe you feel forgotten.

Maybe you are heart-sick because there is pain on every side and no easy solutions are in sight.

Maybe you are asking this question: God, do You even see me?  

I imagine that Hagar felt all of these things. It’s easy to wonder how Sarah could have been cruel enough to send this woman and her child away, but then – in those years while she waited for a child, didn’t Sarah wonder why Hagar had been given what she so desired for herself? She, too, probably felt unimportant. Cast aside. Not worthy enough to have a place.

Sarah and Hagar could not understand what was happening in their lives. Sarah heard God’s promise and thought it would never come to pass, at least not if she was involved. She was too old and so this covenant-child would belong to someone else…Abraham’s future would surely leave her behind.

Hagar knew the Lord had spoken of a future for her son and yet there was nowhere to go, no place for them. She gave up hope and prepared to die.

Yes, these women had more in common than they probably would have admitted. And we have a lot in common with them, too.

Sarah and Hagar felt alone and forgotten.

But they were never actually alone or forgotten, not for one moment.

Neither are you.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t see God…like we can’t quite hear or feel Him.

But that emotion doesn’t change the truth that His eyes are always open to us. His ears always hear the cries of one who seeks Him. He never, ever leaves us alone.

We know that these are the promises God has given in His Word – and yet, sometimes, we let ourselves get caught up in the trouble we see and the pain we feel. We forget to trust in the One who knows us best, the One who is the Author of our faith and our life-story.

He has a plan for us — just like He had a plan for Sarah and Hagar. He has a plan for the people we love, just like He had a plan for Isaac and for Ishmael. Sometimes His long-term vision requires a desert or a circumstance that we just cannot understand. In this life, we cannot explain all of the ways and whys of God…there is no way to capture and unfold every mystery on this side of eternity.

But we know that He will complete the good work He began in us. (Phil. 1:6) We know that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  And we know Who He is – our Provider, our Comforter, our King. When our world and our hearts are shaken, we have to remember this: we serve a God whose Word endures forever. We serve a God “who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens…who has held the dust of the earth in a basket and weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance.  Our God will “bring out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing”.  (from Isaiah 40)

Not one of them is missing.

Every single star is named. Every star is in its place.

I can’t help but think of God’s promise to Abraham: Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.

That’s us, friends. We are spiritual children of Abraham, blessed because of his faith.

And the God who is the intimate caretaker of the stars (when we can’t even begin to see or count each one) knows you by name, too.

Isaiah 40 goes on with a question from The Lord to his people – “why do you complain? Why do you say that your way is hidden from Me? Why do you say that your cause is disregarded by your God?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,

and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

You are not hidden from God. He hears you. He sees you. He has compassion for you.

You are named, friend, by this God of great power and mighty strength. Not one star is missing, not one is forgotten.  And neither are you.

We may not be able to understand it all – the closed doors, the deserts, the pain-because His grace will always outdo our imaginations. But some day we will see how He kept us, refined us, ordered our steps exactly as they needed to be to bring us to His heart.

Hagar and Ishmael’s story goes on to say this: God was with the boy as he grew up. (Genesis 21:20)  God was faithful to all He had promised.

I think there’s a lot to glean from the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael…but what I want to remember on this day is, simply, the love God has for His people. He is a Father who makes springs in the desert and provides all that we need. He covers our sin with His own righteousness and His grace is our forever-hope.

He hears us.

He sees us.

We can trust our hearts to His loving hands.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.”

“He tends His flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.”  (from Isaiah 40)

 

*fictional re-telling of Hagar and Ishmael’s story is drawn from Genesis 16 & 21

*photograph from andrin0