Just As We Are

Tonight, words are few. I’ll be honest – my kids are loud, my house needs a ferocious cleaning, and there are all manner of things on my to-do list that I have not yet gotten done today.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has their share of distractions…I’m sure there are those of us, too,  who would raise our hand to say – my heart is heavy, my mind is too full, my shoulders are feeling weighed down with everything I’m trying to carry or the problems I wish I could solve.

If you’re raising your hand to say ‘me, too’ —

The psalmist says again and again, at different times and in different ways – I cried out to the Lord and He heard me. He helped me. He healed me. He delivered me. He rescued me. Out of His great love, He lifts me out of every dark place and even the deepest pit.

That’s for us, too. That’s for me. That’s for you. When we surrender our pride and our expectations and our try-hard and our figure-it-out  — we are free to cry out to Him and put our hearts in His hands, to have these promises as realities: “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”-Psalm 30: 5, 11-12

Don’t wait for things to get easier. Don’t wait to make yourself ‘presentable’ or for the ‘perfect’ quiet time…now, in the middle of the noise and the chaos – in the middle of the heartache and the questions – in the middle of everything…go to our Savior and let it all fall at His feet. Surrender every bit of it, because He loves us so much that He wants to bear our burdens. He is already praying for us. He is our safest place. He is our peace. He wants to give joy and comfort, strength and rest. Find Him there, at the throne of mercy. When we surrender ourselves, just as we are,  and lift our eyes to Him…we find arms-wide-open-welcome.

“How great the love, how strong the hand that holds us.”

 

 

Lay It All Down

There are arms always open to you. There is always One who is listening. There is always a place to find rest.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”-Matthew 11:28-30

Together We Follow: Genesis 16

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Genesis 16 is a heartbreaking twist in the lives of Abram and Sarai. Although God had shown His faithfulness already to them, there was a promise — the promise Sarai had been waiting to see fulfilled — not yet made reality. After years and years of waiting, her arms were still empty. It isn’t hard to understand how fear, doubt, and grief filled her heart. More than anything, a child was what she wanted. More than anything, she wanted to be a mother. She wanted to see Abram hold his son, an heir to all of their love.

With the promise of God to Abram of a great number of descendants, hope was sparked in her soul after, most likely, she had nearly (if not completely) given up on the idea of motherhood. But the years kept passing by and still there was no child…and she let the spark die into ashes.

She began to doubt that this promise was meant for her. In an attempt to fix the situation, looking for a solution of her own making, she sent her maid into Abram’s arms. It was not long before Hagar had something that Sarai did not have: life growing in her womb.

Sarai was unhappy, Hagar was unhappy, and although we aren’t told how Abram felt at that moment — it seems safe enough to guess that he was unhappily in the middle of this conflict. Because Abram and Sarai made this choice, together, to ‘fix’ their problem instead of waiting on God to fulfill His word to them, everything became more complicated.

I can put myself, at least a little bit, in each of their shoes and understand how hard it must have been in that season of their lives. I have tried so many times to make things happen in my own power and ended up in a mess of regret and shame…I have doubted God’s timing…I have wondered if it was too late for me to see His purposes fulfilled in my life…I have been on the other side of someone else’s mistake, living with the hard consequences of decisions I didn’t make for myself.

But in the middle of all these doubts, bad choices, and fears…we find a beautiful moment.

Hagar ran away from Sarai’s presence, ending up in the wilderness. She was alone, pregnant, and scared…but not for long. An angel met her there because the Lord heard her affliction. In her moment of need, in her time of despair, God reached out to her and let her know that there was a plan for her, there was hope for her future.

God saw her anguish and cared about her pain…and that’s what Hagar called Him: “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees”.

Wherever you are today – He is still the God who sees. He sees me. He sees you. He is the God who hears our cries and meets us in our wilderness.  He is the God who draws near to the broken-hearted, the God who bears our burdens on His own shoulders. He is the God who knows you by name, your life of immeasurable worth to Him. He is the God who redeems us. We might have sparks of hope and faith that we’ve left to fade into a pile of ashes  — but He is the One who blows fresh life into us, making even what was dead live again.

Friends, whatever your situation might be – He knows your affliction and He isn’t leaving you alone in it…He is our ‘very present help in time of need’.

Hagar still had a hard road ahead of her…and, sometimes, so do we. But from that day, she could walk with the knowledge that God knew her and that He cared for her…she knew that He was making a way for her life…and that’s the truth we hold, too. We are loved – and He will walk through every wilderness, every hard-to-understand season with us. On the other side, we will be able to say with certainty: The God-Who-Sees works all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Hold onto your hope.

You are not forgotten.

You are not discarded.

You are not useless.

You are not abandoned.

You are never, ever alone.

Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her:

“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
 He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”  Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Together We Follow (Genesis 15)

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Genesis 15

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

There’s a lot going on in this chapter of Genesis. The covenant between God and Abram sets a story into motion that is still happening even now, so it’s an important moment in for us to understand. (You can find a reminder of what the word covenant really means when it comes to humanity and God here). We will come back to this chapter again, zooming in on a few details, but for now I want to focus on this: God initiated this relationship. He offered His presence and His promise for the future to Abram – and Abram didn’t have to accomplish some feat of valor to receive God’s blessings. He didn’t have to become worthy in his own goodness or strength.

What did he do?

He believed.

He took God at His word — and this faith of Abram’s was ‘accounted to him for righteousness’. It pleased God that Abram chose to trust Him.

Upon this foundation of faith, God made a covenant with Abram: his descendants would be given land, a home, a place to belong.

In the time of Abram, covenants or agreements were made legally binding in this way: the two involved parties would “slaughter some animals, carve them up, and arrange the pieces in two lines. Then both parties would join hands and solemnly walk together down the middle of the path. By so doing they would pledge in the presence of blood and suffering and death, their intention to keep the terms of the contract.” (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible)

You read today that Abram did, in fact, follow God’s instructions to set up this formation to confirm their covenant. But afterwards, Abram did not walk down the middle of the two lines. Instead, God – His presence represented by fire – passed through alone.

God was both extending the covenant terms AND taking it upon Himself to fulfill it.

The promise of Home for the descendants of Abraham became an unconditional covenant sealed by God Himself.

This stream of grace is the same that flowed from the garden and continues to flow into the salvation we are freely given — the salvation extended by the Father and accomplished by Jesus for us.

And just like Abram, we receive this gift by choosing to believe. Just like Abram, we put our faith in the Father and find ourselves at Home. His grace invites us into His heart, gives us a place to belong.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.-Ephesians 1:7

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.-Ephesians 2:8

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.-Titus 2:11

 

We Are Held

In some ways, I am feeling unsettled, uncertain, and unsure as 2017 dawns. Maybe you are, too.

We can’t know what to expect from this new year, but we do know that this is the life of faith – taking one step after another in confidence that the Way-Maker goes before us and leads us exactly where we need to go.

Whatever may come – The Lord is our portion, therefore we will hope in Him. (Lamentations 3:24)

Here’s what I want for this year, for me and for you – I want to keep seeking. Keep knocking. Keep coming to the table where He has set a place just for us. Keep following Jesus, wherever He leads.

If we keep our eyes fixed on Him alone and our hearts open before Him no matter where we are, no matter the season…what I think we will keep learning soul-deep is this: He will sustain us.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life…-Psalm 54:4

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.-Isaiah 46:4

Together We Follow (Genesis 14:1-16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t it a truth we all need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we forgetting who we are in Him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is still Emmanuel – God WITH us.  

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

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

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

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Genesis 14:1-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together We Follow: Genesis 13

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

Genesis 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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