Sunday Morning

It is still early here. The sun isn’t showing its face quite yet; when I peek through the window, all I can see is darkness draping the front yard. Street lights burn in their spaces, a porch light is a pool of light across the street…but around these points, darkness reigns.

But I know the light is coming. I know, at the right time, the sun will begin to dispel the darkness. I know the strength of that bright star will end the night. Even now, even as the darkness seems to cover us, the sun is on its way and so I do not fear. Its power has never been overwhelmed by the night; instead, darkness flees from its presence.

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I’m turning my eyes this morning to the One who is steadfast, to the God whose strength always, always overcomes the darkness. Our prayers are heard by the God who reigns above all…our God who is able and good is still with us — even when it seems like our situation is dark, even when it seems like the night is long.

I do not fear because He is faithful.

I know that He is bringing a Day that will chase away the darkness forever. I know that, one day, night will be no more.

In the meantime, we let Him shine through us. We are the porch lights and the street lamps and the candles and the stars. In our lives, darkness has no hold.

Lord, let us shine ever brighter and ever bolder. Let our lights shine until others see Your glory, Your love, and Your power even in the night.

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Even now, the darkness is thinning and the sun is changing my view…before it fully shows its face, I know that morning has come.

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.-Hosea 6:3

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.-Romans 13:12

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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

In The Storm

Things look a little different around here these days. There are trees, their leaves now golden-brown, bowed low to the ground along the highway. Ditches are deeper, wider. Cracks and widening gullies have appeared on the edges of the woods near our house. Water lines stain buildings in town. Gaps appear where trees used to stand and, in one spot, an entire row of pines has disappeared.

Hurricane Matthew may be long gone, but the evidence of it still remains. Our land is changed. We have been marked by the storm.

I know I’ve been absent here on the site over the past little while. I’ve been watching and waiting as this storm of contention continues to hover over our entire nation. I’ve been wondering what the long-term affects will look like…I’ve been wondering how our land will change…I’ve been wondering how my life will be altered.

We can’t control the storm or the changes time will reveal…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the landscape of my own heart in a time when wildfires of anger are hot and fierce, ignited by careless words…in a time when hatred and fear are raining down…in a time when the ground beneath us seems to be cracking under the pressure of it all.

My instinct is to find shelter, to avoid the storm as much as I can, to keep change at bay.

But I’m reminded, as I watch the constant flow of painful news stories, that Jesus willingly stepped into our storm. He came into the pain, into the sin-filled world, to bring His peace. He didn’t avoid the chaos, but pursued our hearts in the middle of it. He came into the mess of my mistakes so that I could know His life-giving love.

If I am following Him, I cannot pile sand-bags around my heart to maintain my own safety. If I am committed to loving people like He loves people, I have to be okay with exposure to the gales…and I CAN be, because I know that the Peace-Speaker, the One whom the wind and the rains obey, always holds my soul steady in His hands.

We’re all enduring a storm and, one way or another, we’ll be marked by it. But I don’t want to be marked by fear, apathy, anger, or confusion. I want it to be the Holy Spirit teaching and shaping the landscape of my soul as this season continues.

Instead of hardening toward those I disagree with, I want my heart to soften in compassion. I need to strengthen my resolve to become quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and the first to love. I want to tend even more diligently to these roots so that I am firmly planted in truth, immovable by even the fiercest wind. I want to remain bowed low in prayer. I want a deeper desire to intercede for others who need Him. I want to be more vulnerable, to throw up the windows and open the doors even as the rain pours and the thunder bellows — because I  want to be faithful to go into the world…into the storm…with the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are the children of God, the body of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom of light — so let us live unafraid and undeterred by the schemes of the enemy. Don’t let the cacophony of the storm persuade us to stop singing the song of mercy, grace, and redemption we have been given…it may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ belongs to our Savior. His voice cuts through the chaos. His truth does not falter. His power and His love do not fail.

Our world will keep changing – but the One who holds its purpose remains steadfast.

He has entrusted us with the call to shine into the darkness, not just to light up our own safe circle…and we can follow where He leads us, knowing that there is no storm strong enough to extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ within us.

Knowing You are with us, we can boldly declare Your name to this world.  Knowing how You love us, we yield to the changes You make in us…conform us to Your image, Jesus, and let our lives glorify the Father.  Remind us, Lord, of who You are…in our hope in You, we can stand firm through every storm that comes into our lives.  

“Death could not hold You,
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names.”

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – from Romans 12

“He’s Never Failed & He Won’t Start Now”

After the unexpected impact of Hurricane Matthew in our area, planned and unplanned days out of school for my kids, and a family trip…I am finding my footing again in a return to regular rhythms of life.

I am thankful for the routines, for the quiet corners of a day and moments to spend with Words that bring peace and life….especially because things feel hard right now. There’s a level of anxiety around us that is palpable.

This darkness tries to pull us in, this sinking feeling strong in this time when discord tries to win the day.

But, again — as many times as it takes — again and again and again — “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.” Again and again and again, I will put my trust in the Light that conquers darkness. I will put my faith in the One who is the Prince of Peace, the One who has already overcome. When I am uncertain and afraid  — I will sing praise. I will stake my life in His love.  When I feel helpless and small, I will remember that authority over nature and time, nations and governments, the church and our future, my family and my heart — it still belongs to God. It always has and always will.

In this time when everything feels mixed-up, I know that this is what I need: Prayer. Time to listen. Time to read His words to us. I need to see the world by His Light, by His truth.

On that note, I’ll pick up our daily readings again tomorrow…we’re in Genesis, walking alongside Abram.

For tonight…I think that the most useful and true thing I can say to myself and to you is this – it’s His presence that we need.

Forget the noise and the answers flying around and the dire predictions and the stress of what has been and what will be — let’s get away, find even just moments of silence, and turn our eyes to Him. He is our help. 

We need Him.

I pray that we will knock and find the door swinging wide open….listen and hear the still, small voice….lay down the burdens and pick up peace…

Father, we come to You.

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. -Psalm 121:1-2

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
-Psalms 73:26 

 

 

 

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 

A Song for Your Saturday

I hope that you find at least a few moments today to rest in the presence of Jesus — just as you are, with your heart open to Him.

For a little while, let go of expectation and obligation…let go of what you’re trying to hold together…and let the Father hold you.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.-1 Peter 5:7

Together We Follow: Genesis 11:1-9

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In today’s reading, we find a group of people who are united in one language and one goal.

On the surface, maybe this unity that we see in the beginning of Genesis 11 doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. It seems that men are working together, getting along as they begin to build a city.

But they have left God out of their plans.

Their goal is to do the opposite of what God has instructed them to do…He told the sons of Noah back in Genesis 9 that they were to multiply and fill the earth. But, somewhere along the way, someone decided that this was not the right course for the future. Someone decided that God did not know what was best for mankind. Someone decided to stop trusting in His purposes for the earth.

So they settle together in the land Shinar, founding a city. They want to make a name for themselves by building a tower that will reach into the heavens…and they want to use this name – believing that it will come with authority – to put a stop to the scattering of the tribes over the earth.

They are building in their own honor, for their own glory, for their own gain, to accomplish their own will.

Did they believe that this tower would show God – their own creator – how powerful they were? Did they wish to show control over their future? Did they wish to reach heaven,  believing that such heights would make them equal with God?

This immediately brings to mind the enemy, satan, who said “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation. On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’

I can see his pride, his desire to become like God, and his sneaky way of undermining the trust in man’s relationship with the Creator. I can see his schemes in the lives of these men who wanted to make a name for themselves, working to leave behind the will of God to, instead, fulfill their own desires.

Yes, they’d been led astray. Like their ancestors before them, they chose to listen to the voice of the enemy instead of to the voice of God. 

And God already knew the destruction that comes with pride. He had already had His heart broken over mankind’s bondage to sin and selfish desire…and the violence and pain that came with it.

So He put a stop to this catastrophe-in-the-making before it could be completed.

It was, I think, a creative (and merciful) solution. Instead of destroying the tower, He changed the status quo…He confused the language of the whole world. Instead of one common tongue, each tribe or family found themselves speaking a unique language.

In this sudden disruption of language, work on the city ceased and the tribes began to disperse.

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As I consider the Tower of Babel and this desire of mankind to build ourselves up, I wonder what we are trying to prove. Is it our own worth that we are attempting to establish? Are we consumed with self-sufficiency, chasing the idea that we are enough in ourselves and not dependent upon God? At its core, is our disobedience a symptom of not trusting God? And at the center of our distrust, do we find the ploy of the enemy to break our communion with God? 

When it comes to my own life, I can see that this is true. I have tried to build my own towers in this life, looking for value and control in the work of my own hands. I didn’t trust that He was enough to fulfill my heart. There have been times when I didn’t obey God because of fear. I didn’t think I was able to do what He’d asked – I didn’t trust that He would provide the ability, the strength, or whatever was necessary for that time. There have been times that I did not understand the step He wanted me to take – and, so, I wouldn’t take it. Pride, too, has stopped me from obedience – which, for me, is another way to say that I trusted in myself instead of in God, so I chose my own way instead of His.

But what I have learned is that His ways are better than mine. I have learned, through taking one step at a time forward with Him, that He is faithful. I have put my trust in Him and found Him steadfast and always, always good.  I have learned that my strength comes in surrender to Him, my confidence in depending totally on Him. I have learned that my actions, words, and perceptions of the world have a direct connection to how I see God…and the ability to fully obey, laying down my life and picking up the cross before me, comes with my trust in Who He is.

Because I know He is for me, I can step out in faith – even when it’s illogical or uncomfortable  – to do whatever it is He might ask of me. Because I know He is love – because I know He loves me, I can follow wherever He leads.

These are on-going lessons…because God keeps calling us to follow into new places, doesn’t He? He keeps transforming us into His image. He keeps teaching us to trust Him, more and more, so that we can do the next thing to which He calls us.

I hope that we build our lives in His honor, for His glory, for His fame.

If we make any name known, Lord, let it be YOURS and not our own. Let it be Your will fulfilled in us, our obedience flowing out of our love for You…fearless to follow because of our trust in You. 

 

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

(Here’s an interpretation of what the tower may have looked like. This is a painting by an unknown Flemish master from 1587.)

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“Genesis does not say what the Tower of Babel looked like, but archaeological ruins provide clues. Ancient ziggurats or pyramids exist all over the world. Ziggurats are stepped, tiered, or terraced pyramids that usually have a shrine on top. Ruins of these exist in almost 30 different countries including Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Peru, and Mexico.”–Bible Science Guy