Sustain

Rather than resolutions, some people find a word to focus on throughout the year…a single word to dig into, to learn from. I don’t always do this, but I picked a word this year – or, rather, the Holy Spirit led me to this word in the last days of 2016: sustain.

To sustain is to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support, to bear up under, to buoy up…and as the new year dawned, I thought about God’s promises that He is all of this for us, our very present help in every single day.

We can’t know what’s around the bend of time. We can’t plan for what we don’t know is coming our way.  What we can do is lean into His love, listening for His voice and following when we hear Him.

And when the difficult moments show up, He has gotten there first. He is already holding us steady. It is beautiful when we can see it, when we can see how God has already prepared us for whatever may come.

These six months of 2017 have been full of uncertainty, crossroads, grief, and holding onto hope. These six months have taught me more about give us this day our daily bread…I’m learning how to depend on the presence of God to sustain for today, for this moment, for this need.

I’m learning to trust that He has already shown up, already made a way before me.

And what is there to fear if He is the One promising to sustain me every step of the way?

*****

Maybe it has been a few weeks, maybe a month – I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve started playing this song a few times a day, sometimes over and over again. Sometimes this happens. A song will plant itself firmly into my heart and the words will grow into protective branches over my heart, lyrics like leaves of shelter.  And when moments come that would bring anxiety to my heart, the words of truth and grace are already growing wild there, leaving fear no room to grow.

I hope it reminds you, too, that His love has always shown up first and always, always will.

 

 

 

When We Can’t See Him (walking on the road to Emmaus)

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.  

And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?”

And they stood still, looking sad.  One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”  

And He said to them, “What things?”

And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.”

So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” –from Luke 24: 13-32

I sure do recognize myself in these disciples on the road to Emmaus.

These two – one named as Cleopas – are perplexed and full of sorrow as they travel. They look at the world in front of them and they do not understand what they are seeing – the One they had put their trust in had been betrayed and killed…and now, according to the women, not even His body remained in the place they’d left Him.

Nothing was going as they’d expected. Everything was falling apart.

Like those two disciples, I can’t always see His purpose in the falling-apart-world we live in.  I can’t always see His work unfolding.  I can’t always see Him in the circumstances around me. Sometimes we look at what the day brings and wonder why it unfolds in such a way…our hearts cry out – we were hoping for something different, something we think is better, something we can understand.

But this scene shows us plainly – He is in these moments with us even while we can’t yet recognize Him. He has already redeemed all that seems lost.

These disciples on the road to Emmaus knew the promises Jesus had spoken – they know the promises of God – but they did not understand the way those promises were being fulfilled.

As they walked, Jesus explained it all to them. Point by point, Jesus explained God’s purposes to them, including His own part in the redemption-plan…because they couldn’t put it all together themselves. They couldn’t see the whole story.

They only knew what they had hoped for – that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.

This sure sounds familiar to me…and, perhaps, it is also pretty close to how you have felt. We have hoped for a certain outcome – only to find something entirely different on our path. We have waited for the move of God, only to end up perplexed by His choice of where and how He chooses to work.  When faith does not reconcile with our sight, sometimes it is just plain hard to hold onto our trust in God.  And in these moments, sometimes I have been slow of heart to believe.

But the two disciples found that Jesus did fulfill their hope…through the ways of God that are higher and infinitely wiser than the plans of mankind, He redeemed Israel and all who would ever believe in His name as Son of God and Savior. Through the words of Jesus, they began to understand – God’s purpose had not been shaken.

And as we put our trust in Him, as we open our hearts to receive His Word, as time unfolds…we will find that He is using all the details of our lives to write a story that is best for our eternal-hearts …one that will bring us closer to Him, one that will bring Him glory.

When He broke the bread on that day, the disciples knew Him. And with His words in their hearts – hearts that had burned within them as He spoke – they understood that the full picture was an entirely different one than what their vision had been able to take in.

There are times when we suddenly see why things have happened as they have…and we are reminded that our God is in control…we are reminded that our hope is in One who always loves us and never fails us. We get a glimpse of the eternal perspective of our situations.  We are able to see that He has been with us all along…going before us, directing our path to get us to the place we need to be.

And I believe that these moments are the ones we need to hold close, so that our faith begins to grow…so that the next time our situation causes us to doubt and to fear, we will remember – He is still in control. He is still with us. We will know that all things are working for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 28), even when the working-out part seems like it will never end…even when it means suffering.

There are times when we may not get our answers here on this earth. But one day, when His kingdom comes, He will break the bread for us and we, too, “shall see face to face.” We will “know fully”, even as we are fully known. (1 Cor. 14:6)

If we are in these circumstances now, may His peace that ‘passes all understanding’ guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…may we remember that His promises are life and freedom, healing and power, love and grace…and no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:10)

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

“Now faith is confidence is what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” –Hebrews 11:1

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you; and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, and for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”  -Isaiah 55:8-13

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” –Isaiah 41:13

{Please join me tomorrow as a dear friend shares her own story of God working all things together for the good of her family and how God wonderfully orchestrated the details of one of the most difficult days of her life…}

Scripture & Song (You Are Not Alone)

“Within Your temple, O God, we meditate on Your unfailing love. Like Your name, O God, Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is filled with righteousness…For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.”  –Psalm 48:9-10, 14

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress…He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” –from Psalm 46

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” –Isaiah 26:4

“…I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” –Isaiah 46:4

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” –John 14:27

“And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:20

Music Monday (Waiting Here For You)

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. –Jeremiah 31:31-33

This was the promise for Israel: a new way of life, infused with the presence of their God.

After they disobeyed and ignored Him, after they saw the consequences of their faithlessness in the destruction of their home and the loss of their freedom…because of God’s enduring love, they still had a promise to lift their heads, to give them hope. Isaiah, prophet of old, delivered this promise: Look, your Savior is coming! (62:11)

God promised redemption and restoration to His people – but years upon years passed with only silence between heaven and earth.

How they must have longed for the Messiah to appear in glory and might. After all they had lost, how they needed the comfort of a Prince of Peace, a Savior to shoulder their burdens and set their people free.

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“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…” – Luke 2:25-28

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” –Luke 2:36-38

Simeon and Anna had been waiting – it seems like nearly all their lives – to see that promise of old fulfilled. I have been thinking about these two a lot over the past few days. Can’t you just see Simeon there, wrinkled and steadfast, waiting day after day to see God’s Word realized? I like to think that he was quick to tell all of the old stories – relishing every miracle, every deliverance, every testament to God’s faithfulness. I like to think of the spark in his eyes as he stood firm on the foundation of who God had shown Himself to be, the fervor in his voice as he worshiped the One he knew would not fail to fulfill His promise.

And then there’s Anna, a woman who had been widowed for most of her life. Luke tells us that she never left the temple. Her love of God was greater than anything else the world could have offered her. She worshiped, fasted, and prayed day and night. It seems to me that her whole life was a living sacrifice to the Lord.

The thing that strikes me is this- if Simeon had given up his belief in God’s word…if Anna had given up her desire for God’s presence, then their stories would have totally different endings. Simeon would not have held the Savior of the world in his own arms –  Anna would not have seen, with her own eyes, the Child who would redeem us all. What pure joy must have overwhelmed their hearts to witness the ancient words of the prophets fulfilled, the consolation of their people there among them.

Simeon and Anna were ordinary humans, just like us – so I have to imagine that there could’ve been days that were harder than others, moments when they wondered if the Messiah would come to save their people. Maybe they sometimes felt like they were standing alone in their conviction. Maybe, every now and then, they felt the weariness of waiting.

But they never gave up their hope. They never gave up their expectation that God would do what He said He would do. And so they received the harvest of their faith that God must have been so pleased to give them. I like to imagine that the Father smiled at Simeon and Anna on that day…I can almost hear Him saying, Well done, my good and faithful servants…enter into the joy of thy Lord. (Matt.25:23)

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Jesus says this in the book of Matthew:  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Later in the New Testament, James tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights”. God’s Word is full of promises for His people – peace, provision, abundant life, healing for heart, body, and soul. 

In one way or another, I believe that we are all waiting on God. I don’t know what promises you are waiting to see fulfilled in your life. But I do know that He is true to His Word – the end of that verse from James 1:17 assures us that there is no shadow of turning with Him, no variation. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And maybe we can relate to Simeon and Anna in this way: just as they waited for the coming of their Messiah, so we wait for His return to earth. He came the first time and, by the shedding of His own blood, made a new covenant of grace and love between God and any who will believe in Him. He will come again and make all things new…and there will be no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death.

Here’s what Simeon and Anna teach me – we must wait with expectation, no matter how long it takes. We must leave room for Him to fulfill things in His own way, in HIs own time. So many of the men and women waiting on the Messiah did not understand that this baby born into a simple Jewish family was their Savior…because He did not look like the Messiah they had planned on receiving. They had latched onto their own ideas and their own wisdom…and so they could not see what God was doing. His ways and plans for us are different than ours – higher, better, and beyond what we can imagine for ourselves. We must wait, too, with obedience. When the Spirit urged Simeon to go into the temple courts, he went. He and Anna both were tuned into the voice of God and they could hear His next direction, their next steps. Their hearts and their minds were set on Him. Their lives were filled with worship, which reminds us of who He is – our great and faithful God – and who we are…His children, loved beyond measure.

So, yes – we are a people holding onto the promises of God, the hope of what is ahead. May we be like Anna, ever offering our lives as worship and ready to speak of our redemption-hope to anyone who will listen. May we be like Simeon, day by day waiting with a sparkle in our eyes and a steadfast assurance in our hearts – for all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” (1 Cor. 1:20)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.-Hebrews 10:23

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.

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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.

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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