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 

Confession of a Pumpkin-Hoarder

I have a confession to make.

I have pumpkins on my front porch. Five, to be precise.

From, you know…

September.

Does it make things better that I bought them in late September?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.  But here’s the thing. They were front and center through Thanksgiving…and when I was putting Christmas decorations on the front porch, I was tired and had a three-year old assistant and…okay, no excuses are really going to hold water here (my mother and father, when they read this, will vehemently agree).  

I can admit it– I was plain lazy and nudged them into a corner with my foot instead of lugging them around back to the trash can or woods.

And since then? Well…they’ve been such well-behaved pumpkins. They haven’t been noisy or underfoot. They haven’t rang the doorbell to complain about the weather. They let the neighborhood cats rub their backs against them. They just sat there, all quiet and orange. Totally unobtrusive. Even when I took the Christmas wreath and lights down, they didn’t make a fuss.  I’d considered carrying them away once the lights were stored upstairs in the attic, but I made a lot of trips up to the attic that day. The back yard, once again, just seemed so far away. 

And so the pumpkins remained in their corner, a slight nudge of “I should really get rid of those” every time I walked up the steps to the front door (a thought usually immediately followed with: I’ll get to it later. They’re fine.)

Which brings us to this morning…I’d gone to drop the boys off at  and returned home, looking forward to my coffee. I was unlocking the front door when I noticed it — a strange scent in the air. Not a pleasant smell. More of a…hold your breath until it passes kind of vibe.

 I looked around the yard and then…orange caught my eye. The pumpkin family. Common sense raised its hand and I got a bit closer to investigate. They looked totally fine. The same as when I put them in those spots…oh….3 months ago? I nudged the smaller guy.

His stem fell off and he rolled over. An oozy, decidedly not cheerful orange-ish bottom stared up at me.

Oops.

They have looked okay, sure, but…beneath the surface, there was some decomposing going on. Beneath the surface, there was a problem, even though I’d done a great job at ignoring its development for all this time. All it took was a warmer day and a tumble to reveal it.

And now? They have to be dealt with. I have to carry stinky, rotten pumpkins and it’s going to be gross and I am not going to like it one little bit.

I’m wishing I’d just properly put them away when I knew I should’ve.

As I grumbled my way into the house, what came to mind was the pumpkins in my heart. 

Maybe you know this particular kind of pumpkin, too.  Those “little” attitudes or habits that we  kick to the corner cause we’re not quite ready to deal with them yet…”little” problems that we make excuses to leave unresolved. Maybe we don’t have time. Maybe we’ve already dealt with the more obvious things and feel like we’ve cleaned up enough for the day. Maybe picking them up will require us to make restitution or to change our routine…effort that doesn’t seem necessary since these pumpkins don’t cause major friction in our day-to-day lives. So they’re sat aside…and we think, one day I’ll give that up to God. One day, I’ll surrender it so He can take care of it. In the meantime, it’s not that noticeable. It’s just over there in the corner, is all. No big deal.

But here’s the thing about waiting: in this kind of scenario, no action equals stagnation. Beneath the surface, things continue to disintegrate. Sin is sin, whatever ‘large’ or ‘small’ label we try to attach to it…and the nature of sin is to destroy. Sin that is not surrendered to the Lord will only fester. It will only to continue to infect you, affecting your relationships with others and with God.

And when things in your life heat up-when circumstances shake you up–that’s often the moment those unresolved issues present themselves in all of their ugly, totally obstructive reality. Whatever current difficulty you’re having, it’ll only be harder to handle.

 Please don’t wait. It is so easy to store away bitterness. Long held fear or grudges, pride…habits that we know aren’t pleasing to God. Maybe out of fear or shame, we kick things to the corner and hope that they somehow resolve themselves…but that’s not how sin works. We need to bring them to our High Priest, our Mediator…our Savior.

John 1:9 says that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  We can trust Him, even — especially— with the messy parts of our lives that we try to shine up or hide away. He is the redeemer of everything in our souls.

Jesus came to bear our sins for us and to forgive us, leaving no room for condemnation in His mercy and grace. Where sin would rot and destroy, He offers a newly-made heart, pure and free in His righteousness.

I pray that we will come to Him in acceptance of His life-giving love, offering every part of our lives.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~from Psalm 139

On Falling…

Poor Vinny, my dish-soap-dispensing waiter, had an unfortunate sprawl earlier this evening.  

It has been that kind of a day. I had my own trip and fall this morning, albeit a less literal one than poor Vinny’s.

I have no one to blame but myself. For a moment, I ignored the whisper of the Holy Spirit and put all my focus on me. What followed? Bitter words that sparked and flew, tainting the hours with their acrid smoke and scars. Even stamped out, these words still leave the soot of regret. There is still pain from the heat and shame of the too-quick surrender to that fleshly desire to prove I was right.  

I wasn’t right (and I knew it!)…but instead of humbly admitting my mistakes, my pride went raging into battle…proving nothing but the truth of James’ declaration that the tongue is a ‘restless evil, full of deadly poison.’

And so I failed to show grace and I neglected the cause of mercy…and found myself in desperate need of both.

Shame tries to send us into hiding (remember that first couple diving for the first bushes after their disobedience?) and so I really wanted to grab the bag of powdered donuts off the shelf, put on comfy pjs, and put all of my attention into an Iron Chef marathon. After all the hope I had for this week, all the good intentions…how could I slip up so easily?

Yes. Hiding sounded great.

But then…a still small voice reminded me of words I typed only a few days ago…”But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, 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…

I looked around my house, at my kiddos, at the bag of donuts. Succumbing to a day of wallowing in regret and prideful self-pity would not get me out of this mess. It would only compound the problem in my heart, keeping the focus all on me.

I needed to offer a good, old-fashioned ‘I’m sorry’ to my Father and to the one I’d hurt with my outburst. And then I needed to ask Him to redirect my heart, my feet, and my day.

So I looked away from myself and up to Him. Knocked off my feet, this time in sorrow and humble crying out for help…and, out of His great (unfathomable!) love, He heard me.

“God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered; He’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is His love to those who fear Him. And as far as sunrise is …

…from sunset, He has separated us from our sins.”~Psalm 103:8-12 (MSG)

The truth is that every single on of us will have a falling-flat-on-our-face day. Because we have not yet reached the end of our journey, when this battle with sin is forever done. We can have victory in the here and the now, through the help of the Holy Spirit, but we will not find perfection in this life-time…so what relief and gratefulness in knowing that the righteousness of my Savior covers me! What undeserved blessing to know that He is faithful…even when I am not.

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies…”~Psalm 36:5

 So if your step wasn’t so steady today, please know that you are not alone and that your new day can begin now. He is faithful to forgive and to put our feet back on His path…so don’t hide and don’t run anywhere except into His presence and into His Word. When we fall and reach out to Him, He will pick us up again.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
      from sunrise to sunset,
   Melting ice, scorching deserts,
      warming hearts to faith.

 The revelation of God is whole
      and pulls our lives together.
   The signposts of God are clear
      and point out the right road.
   The life-maps of God are right,
      showing the way to joy.
   The directions of God are plain
      and easy on the eyes.
   God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
      with a lifetime guarantee.
   The decisions of God are accurate
      down to the nth degree.

  God’s Word is better than a diamond,
      better than a diamond set between emeralds.
   You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring,
      better than red, ripe strawberries.

  There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
      and directs us to hidden treasure.
   Otherwise how will we find our way?
      Or know when we play the fool?
   Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
      Keep me from stupid sins,
      from thinking I can take over your work;
   Then I can start this day sun-washed,
      scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

…May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” ~from Psalm 19 (MSG&NIV)
   

How to Deal

When we left off waaaay back in 2010, our first humans had disobeyed God and innocence was lost on the Earth.  The perfect communion with God, the perfect health, the perfect relationship…all over due to the arrival of sin.

And so sometimes there’s no avoiding it: the doctor gives you bad news, a relationship falls apart, you lose someone you love, a dream fails….every one of us will face a time that will leave us broken. It’s the nature of our world. It’s the nature of sin in our world.

Adam and Eve, until their decision to disobey God, had a pretty amazing scenario going on. No sickness, no pain, no turmoil, no death…but by their choice to taste the forbidden fruit, sin entered the scene. And so did all of the heart-breaking results. Imagine the shock to Adam and Eve’s system. First of all, they realize they’re naked and aren’t too comfortable with it. Second of all, God explains the curse that has fallen on humanity and the earth…they must have been stunned with the turn their world had just taken.  

Sin’s consequences, from that day in the garden of Eden, have been far-reaching and unavoidable.  Satan seeks to destroy and devour everything within his reach. And, so, we will all hear bad news at one time or another – and when we do, what comes next?

Let’s revisit Adam and Eve. Sin had heaped trouble on their heads. They were cowering before God, afraid and guilty.

But then… “the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.” (Gen. 23:1)  Let this sink in. The first couple had just rebelled against God. They’d gone their own way, listened to Satan, and were hiding from God’s presence. He could’ve left them alone to pick up the pieces of their lives. He could’ve wished them luck and handed them a few more fig leaves.  But that’s not how it went. Because He is the God who redeems and restores. He is love. And so the Lord Himself tenderly clothed His broken people…imagine Adam and Eve’s thankfulness for such mercy – envision their worship as He soothed their fears and shame with unmerited forgiveness. Their unfaithfulness did not deter His faithfulness. In fact, He covered their guilt with the first animal-sacrifices…knowing that, one day, His Son would go so far as to sacrifice His own life to eternally cover our sin, our shame, our pain.

Here’s what you need to know: in the middle of whatever turmoil the world has handed you, God is the Great I AM. If you’re in the chains of sin, He is your Savior. If you are sick or heart-broken, He is Jehovah-Rapha – your Healer. If you are empty, He is All-Sufficient. In all things, He is Jehovah-Jireh – your Provider.  One man brought sin into our world and Jesus Christ is the one Son of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Whatever your situation, don’t hide from Him. Run to Him…He is waiting to cover you with His love.