In the Hands of a Just God

We were on vacation – life was good. Everyone seemed happy and occupied. No one was currently eating sand or fighting over shovels or suffering from self afflicted salt intake. So I decided to do a quick peruse of facebook. (I wish I hadn’t.) With each swipe of my thumb my heart sunk deeper and deeper. Comment after comment regarded a decision I had no idea was taking place. NO IDEA was even up for debate.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 18:16-33
Key Verse: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of gay marriage. Was this really happening? Were they really trying to redefine marriage? I say “trying” because you can’t redefine something God has already defined. Homosexuality is wrong. (Just like adultery and pornography and stealing and coveting and misusing use God’s name…it’s all wrong!) How can they tell me it’s ok? They can’t! They just can’t! But they did. I wanted to hide – my entire family – forever. Because I knew God was not happy. It was a blatant slap in the face to the covenant relationship the Almighty himself established. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. This was serious. America was suddenly on a very slippery slope. And it scared me. Big time.

Because I know God is a righteous judge. I know he will not let explicit disregard for his standards go unpunished. “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless” (Isaiah 13:11).

Oh LORD hear me please. I didn’t make that decision. I didn’t want that decision. I do my best to uphold your standards. I do my best to honor you! Do you know that? Do you see me amid this rapidly decaying society? Or did some power-hungry-cares-nothing-for-God judge just ruin it for me? Do I now have to live in fear of your judgment because of people in Washington who care nothing for my beliefs; my values; my children; my life?

I don’t think so. Not in light of Genesis 18…After confronting Sarah in her unbelief. The Lord and Abraham go for a little walk toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two extremely wicked cities. So wicked God could wait no longer to judge them. He informs Abraham of what he is about to do (for the purpose of teaching Abraham). When questions would arise from his children and grandchildren about God’s justice and righteousness and mercy I’m certain he told them of this conversation.

How good of God to reveal his plan and purpose to Abraham. Think about the anger, the surprise, the disbelief Abraham would have experienced come morning had this discussion not taken place. Our time with the LORD is essential for understanding who he is and what he purposes. So when those crazy-how-could-God-let-this-happen things occur our reaction isn’t anger, disbelief, and surprise. But peace, surrender, and trust.

The LORD tells Abraham “I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know” (Gen. 18:21). Not because he didn’t already know. But so Abraham would know God does nothing without a thorough investigation. So we would know God does nothing without just cause. He CAN be trusted. His decisions are always right.

Yet the reality of what God was about to do sincerely bothered Abraham. It’s evident he’s concerned for his nephew (Lot) who resides in Sodom. “Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Supposed there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (18:23-24) “And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (18:26).

But Abraham had to know…What if there are only 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 righteous in the city – will you spare it then? Yes. Every time God said he would spare the city for the sake of the righteous. We’re talkin depraved-beyond-repair-make-you-wanna-throw-up-perverted injustice happening in that city. But for the sake of just ten righteous people God would have spared it.

I don’t know what the future holds. But I know this: God cares for the righteous (Job 36:7). Those covered by the blood of Christ – he does not forsake. If I suffer it is for my good and his glory (Rom. 8:28). Should I fear the LORD? Absolutely – it’s the beginning of wisdom. Do I need to fear his wrath? No. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Tough times may fall on this nation. Consequences may arise. But come what may – He will hold my hand. He will provide what I need (Matthew 6:30-33). He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish me (1 Peter 5:10). I need not fear. I need not be dismayed for He is with me (Isaiah 41:10).

So where does it leave me? Where does the immoral decay of this nation leave me? It leaves me in the hands of a perfectly just God. A God who considers me his child. A God who loves me. A God who has forgiven me. A God who intimately “knows the way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:6).  “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 33:18).

If Christ is your LORD and Savior – it leaves you there too. We need not fear my friend. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Have you come to Christ for Salvation? If not please wait no longer. Jesus is the only way we can be reconciled to God.
Do you find Genesis 18 comforting or discomforting? Why or why not?image

Is Anything too Hard

He sat on the other side of her tent door. The Creator of the universe. Did she know it? Did Sarah have any idea whom it was that ate her freshly baked cakes? Do we? Do we have any idea whose majesty is all around us? Any idea whom it is that stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20)? If we really did maybe we’d be a bit more eager to open the door. And a weee bit more content to stay for a while.

In the presence of He who made us. He who loves us. He who pursues us…As he did Sarah.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 18:9-15
Key Verse: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27

This entire episode puzzled me for a bit. It appears as though God reveals his plan of Isaac to Abraham in chapter 17 and then a few days later to Sarah in chapter 18. But how could Abraham have kept such news from Sarah? I mean this is unbelievably exciting stuff! Wouldn’t Abraham have been bursting at the seems to tell his wife? This is what she had dreamed of her entire life. A baby! And now it was to happen at 90 years old. Incredible!

Not to mention kings were to come from them! By the way honey, God changed your name to Sarah today. (meaning princess.) Royalty Sarah! You’re royalty! And my new name… Abraham, that’s right my love “father of a multitude.” Oh and our son’s name is to be Isaac and he’ll be born about this time next year. Can you believe it??

Excuse me Abram or Abraham whatever your name is…what did you just say? Personally I think Abraham told her every word. How could he not? But Sarah just couldn’t believe it. Call it a lack of faith or maybe even a safeguard against disappointment. The fact of the matter is I can’t fault her for it. My own lack of faith won’t let me.

How often do I limit God? How often do I think “impossible.” It’s simply impossible. Not gonna happen. No way. How often do I take matters into my own hands because I’m just not sure if God will really take care of it? How often do I whine and complain disbelieving this is really the best path for me? Really God? This is the road you want me to walk? Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll take it from here.

But God doesn’t give up on me. And he didn’t give up on Sarah. He asked Abraham “Where is Sarah your wife?” God knew where she was. But he was drawing her – closer to himself. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (v. 10). He lovingly allowed her to hear the words from his own lips.

He didn’t just pop in for some good eats. He came for a purpose. To reveal himself to Sarah as the God for whom nothing is impossible. Nothing! Has it sunk in yet? God’s power has no bounds. His plans never fail. Job learned it. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Jeremiah lived it. “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego held on to it. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:17). The disciples were taught it “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Mary had to come to grips with it. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Gabriel’s response: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

But what about you? Has the revelation of God’s ceaseless power seized your heart? Embracing you with peace and composure? Stilling your restlessness. Calming your anxiety. “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Have you come to grips with it? Learned it? Lived it? Proclaimed it?

I’d say Sarah certainly did. On her journey to motherhood. Beginning that day in her tent. When she laughed to herself at the implausible idea of a baby at ninety – her body no longer what it needed to be. To her utter dismay she heard the King of Kings ask Abraham “Why did Sarah laugh…?” I can’t help but wonder at her surprise. Her bewilderment. How did he know I laughed? I didn’t laugh (not out loud at least). Yet the God in whom nothing is impossible knew what was in her heart. And simply responded “No, but you did laugh.”

Oh how I wish we could have stayed in the tent with Sarah a few more verses. Because a heart which comes to realize nothing is impossible for God is a heart that rejoices in the unimaginable possibilities of life. Living amidst hope even in the most dire and devastating circumstances. Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt he CAN make all things work together for my good and his glory (Rom. 8:28). He CAN reach my lost loved ones. He CAN make me more like Christ. He CAN heal (though he may choose not to for the sake of eternal purposes). He CAN save us. He CAN in fact do more than I could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

So how bout it believer? Is anything too hard for the LORD? Anything too wonderful? May the revelation of God’s ceaseless power seize your heart today.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What situation or area of your life have you viewed as too hard for the LORD?
Does your faith have limits because your “God” has limits? What do you need to trust God with today? Remember…nothing is too hard for the LORD.image

Then Abraham ran to God

I have a confession to make. I’m a naptime snob. It’s true. I admit it. But not because I like to nap. Simply because it’s “my time.” To do what I want. Which generally involves writing to you lovely people. However a few weeks ago it involved waiting four hours (yes four hours) at three different pharmacies for three antibiotics my farmer needed if he was gonna continue to have sight in his left eye (obviously something we all want). But I was livid. This was NOT how I had hoped to spend my naptime. Not at all what I had planned.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 18:1-15
Key Verse: “Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

Never mind the necessity of it. Never mind my man lying at home in extreme pain. Never mind the divine appointment God had for me once I finally surrendered my attitude. Never mind. Because I just wasn’t happy. And life should be all about making me happy right? Wrong. I can’t help but wonder what other divine appointments blessings I could have gained had my attitude been one of service at the start?!

Perhaps a little more like Abraham’s. It was naptime at their house too. Or at least time to escape the hot sun. So Abraham sat at the door of his tent. When he looked up three men were standing in front of him. Instead of lamenting the fact his siesta had been cut short. Instead of being irritated at the sudden change of plans. Instead of encouraging them to come at a more convenient time. He ran to them. Ran! And “bowed himself to the earth” begging them to stay. To rest. To wash up. And eat something – a morsel of bread perhaps (v. 5).

But he had no intention of just serving them bread. With their permission Abraham “went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes”” (v.6). (Do you hear the urgency in his voice.) I wonder what kind of intrusion this was on Sarah’s afternoon? Was she resting? Was she a bit peeved at the abrupt order from her husband? Three seahs is equal to 21 quarts or just over five gallons of flour. He wasn’t just asking her to pull the Sara Lee out of the pantry.

Then he ran to the herd. Picked out a calf “tender and good” and gave it to a young man to roast quickly! The word “good” is the same word God used over and over to describe his creation in Genesis 1. This wasn’t just any calf. This was the best one Abraham had. A choice calf. And he offered it to his visitors while he stood under the tree and watched. Stood. As a servant would – ready and waiting.

Never mind the intrusion on his day. Never mind the fact that it smelled soooo good. Never mind his 99 year old body. The LORD had come for supper. Did Abraham know it? In my humble opinion I think so. When Abraham addressed the men he used the Hebrew term Adonay – a name set apart for God alone. Instead of Adoni – a common but polite form of respect. And the Hebrew word for bowed can also be translated worship. Indicating Abraham’s bow was likely more than just a gesture of courtesy.

Not to mention this was not the first time God had appeared to him (see Gen. 17:22); though it’s the first time the text actually says he appeared as a man. And it hadn’t been long since his previous appearance. If you compare Genesis 17:21 and 18:9 the Lord says in both instances Sarah will have a baby this time next year. The consistency in wording alludes to a very small gap of time. (Though long enough Abraham was able to run after his circumcision.)

So there ya have it. If Abraham recognized one of the men as God no wonder his response was so enthusiastic. Right? Well…maybe. But it also begs the question…would I do the same? If God showed up on my doorstep would I welcome him with the same eagerness Abraham did? Would I pull out all the stops? Give of my absolute best?

I’d like to think so. But the fact of the matter is we see God all the time. In creation (Rom. 1:20). In answered prayer. In the unexplainable. The repentant sinner. The unexpected provision. The blessing of today. The peace for tomorrow. We see him. Yet does it make a difference? Do we run to God in the morning with an excitement and enthusiasm to serve him?

No, I don’t think it’s a matter of seeing. I think it’s a matter of believing. That God is who he says he is. And will do all he has said he will do. Abraham had been told just days before God was going to give him a son by Sarah. And Abraham believed God. So out of gratitude for what God was about to do in his life he ran to him eagerly. He served him. He gave of his best.

Because that’s what God deserves. Always. Our absolute best. We owe him everything. He owes us nothing. Yet he gives us everything. Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17). Oh that we might serve God with the enthusiasm he deserves. Eager every day to accomplish his purposes. That the world might see a generation of Christians excited about their God. Enthusiastic in their faith. Set apart wholeheartedly to serve Jesus.

Let’s not just squeeze him in when we have time. Let’s not merely serve God what’s leftover. Let’s not be lukewarm. Let’s be enthusiastic about the God of grace and mercy; the God of steadfast love and faithfulness. The God that showed his love for us “in that while we were still sinners, died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The God that justified us by his blood, saving us from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9).

My dear friend, “fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Are you eager to serve and spend time with God? Or does he merely get what’s left in the day?
How might an enthusiasm for the things of God encourage your friends, neighbors, children? What impact might a lack of enthusiasm have?image

Lucky Abraham, Lucky You

It’s known as the Abrahamic Covenant. The promises of God found in Genesis 17. What a lucky guy huh!? Called by God in such a personal way. Protected by God (Gen. 12:3). Blessed by God (Gen. 12:2). Brought into a covenant relationship with God. When really he deserved none of it. It was all given to him! Every single bit – straight up handed to Abraham on a silver platter.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 17:6-8; 15-21
Key Verse: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 1:3

He had it pretty good – that guy. Prior to this speech from God, Abraham had been promised his name would be made great. A nation would come from him. His descendants would one day possess the land of Canaan as their own. And a son would be born from him. (As far as he knew that son was Ishmael. Because as far as we know God had yet to speak on the matter.)

Until now. When Ishmael was thirteen. And Abraham was fast approaching triple digits. When Abraham didn’t see any other way. When Sarah had lost all hope. Her body as good as dead. God spoke on the matter.

He came down (see v. 22). Adding more to the covenant he had already established with Abraham. Blessing upon blessing. And Abraham’s response – perfectly appropriate. He fell flat on his face. And I assume stayed that way while he listened to the most incredible promises:

I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you (v. 6). “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring…for an everlasting covenant” (v.7). “I will give to you and to your offspring…the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (v. 8). “As for Sarai your wife…Sarah [meaning princess] shall be her nameI will give you a son by her…she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (v. 15-16).

Woweeee! What a lucky guy! Can you imagine God appearing to you with such brilliant promises?! The God of the Universe; the Creator; the King of all Kings making a covenant with you?! And to your offspring! How absolutely spectacular! Oh to be Abraham or at least an offspring of Abraham! Shrouded in God’s protection and promises. Forever! No wonder he was a man of faith. Right?

Lucky guy indeed.

But here’s the thing. You ready? Abraham’s not the only “lucky” one. If you are in Christ – you are an offspring of Abraham! “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:26, 29).

Yes you! In Christ – an offspring of Abraham! Heir of the promise. Co-heirs with Christ! Adopted as a son or daughter of God.

And get this. You too have been called by God (John 6:44). I know you have a story. Every believer in Christ does. Of how God called you into a real and personal relationship with him. We don’t come on our own. But he didn’t call you to saving faith just to leave you high and dry. You too are safe in the hands of God (John 6:39). You too have been invited into a covenant relationship with him forever (1 Cor. 11:25). You too have been given incredible promises (2 Peter 1:4). You too are blessed by God (Eph. 1:3).

Abraham may have had the privilege of talking with Christ but we have the privilege of abiding in Christ! (John 15:5) Abraham may have had the privilege of seeing Christ but we have the privilege of having Christ with us always to the end of the age! (Matthew 28:20)

Need more?

We have the privilege of being the very temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). The privilege of approaching the throne of God with confidence at any time with any concern (Heb. 4:16). The privilege of being part of a royal priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ (1 Peter 2:5). The privilege of having the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwell in us (Rom. 8:11). Sealing us for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). We have the privilege of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). The privilege of knowing, memorizing, absorbing an entire book filled with the very words of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

All this handed to us on a silver platter. Every single bit – straight up handed to us by grace through faith. Completely undeserved. Yet ours forever in Christ Jesus.

Sounds like we’re the “lucky” ones! (And by lucky I mean blessed, favored, fortunate – not something left to chance.)

So why so downcast o my soul? Why so sad? Lift up your eyes to Heaven and rejoice! The blessings we have in Christ are astounding! The guaranteed inheritance awaiting us is beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). Ya some days are really hard. Some days are flat out exhausting. Some days I just want to go back to bed. Anyone with me? But really…really we’ve got it pretty good. No actually – in Christ we’ve got it really good.

Indeed I’d say Abraham isn’t the only lucky one. You are! Lift your head believer. Today may be hard. Tomorrow may be even harder but you are blessed. You are favored. You are fortunate. You are “lucky”.

Contemplate and Evaluate
Have you taken time to count your blessings recently? Praise God today for not only the tangible blessings but the spiritual ones as well.
How can focusing on the privileges we have in Christ give you encouragement for today?image

The God Who Sees Me

He is ‘El Ro’i. The God who sees me. Just let that sink in for a moment. God. sees. me. Say it out loud if you can. God. sees. me. Do you believe it? Nothing is hidden from him. Absolutely nothing. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). He sees me. Sometimes I just need to know he sees me: my situation, my efforts, my hopes, my frustrations.

Devo Scripture: Genesis 16:7-16
Key Verse: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Other times I don’t want to think about it. When I know my attitude is in the pits. But the fact is I don’t get to choose what God sees and doesn’t see. Because he sees all of it! He’s acquainted with all my ways (Ps. 139:3). Nothing is hidden from him. Nothing escapes him. Not even one little thought “for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chron. 28:9b). Oh how desperate we are to forget this fact when we choose to sin. And how quick we are to point it out when others sin. But the truth is….“The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man…and observes all their deeds” (Ps. 33:13-15).

Because he is ‘El Ro’i, a God of seeing. As Hagar came to understand “by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur” (Gen. 16:7). There she was – exhausted, pregnant, mistreated, wrong, hopeless. Running away because it was just too hard.  Most likely heading back to Egypt. To what? A family that couldn’t afford to care for her? Rejection because she was carrying a half Shemite baby? She might as well be honest with herself, no one wanted her. She was alone; all alone.

Or so she thought. And so we think. But are we ever alone? No my friend, no. The God who sees was with her. And the God who sees is with us. When we’re exhausted; completely spent; at the end of our rapidly fraying rope – he sees it. Whether we’re in the wrong or a victim of injustice – he sees it. When we try, succeed, trust, or fail – he sees it. We must believe – he sees it.

Verse 7 says it was “The angel of the LORD” that found her by the well. But this was not an angel as we think of. Scholars widely believe this to be the preincarnate Christ. In Genesis 22:16 when the angel of the LORD calls to Abraham on Mt. Moriah he calls himself the LORD. In Genesis 31 the angel of God appeared to Jacob in a dream and referred to himself as “the God of Bethel.” In Exodus 3 it was the angel of the LORD that appeared to Moses in the burning bush, but clearly it was God (Ex. 3:4-5). And there is no mistaking Hagar believed she was in the very presence of God “for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). Oh friends do you see it. There by the spring…though dirty, dejected, and disobedient…Jesus met her.

This is the unfathomable kindness of God. That HE who is so incredibly high and lifted up cares enough to meet a disobedient Egyptian slave girl by a spring of water. To comfort her and confront her. To renew her strength and give her hope. He loves us! It’s unreal how deeply God loves us! Enough to not just let us be as we are – stuck in our sin. But to come after us. To pursue us. To save us. To reveal himself to us. Just as he did Hagar.

In the person of Jesus Christ. Through his word; his perfect and precious word. And through the work of the Holy Spirit. He has made himself known. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18; NIV). He who sees us, has allowed us to see him. Could there be any greater blessing? Yet how little it appears we care when we leave only a few minutes a day for the God who sees us. How little impressed we seem.

But not Hagar. She was more than impressed. She was astounded that the God of Abram and Sarai cared enough to hear and see and bless her. So deeply moved was she that she gave God a name: ‘El Ro’i, “The God who sees me” (NIV). So deeply moved was she that God would bless her with “offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” So deeply moved was she that her son would not be a servant as she was but would “dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So deeply moved was she that his name was to be Ishmael, which means “God hears.” What a reminder! Every time she called for Ishmael she would be reminded of this amazing moment.

This amazing moment when she saw God and came to understand that God sees her. This amazing moment when God stopped her from doing the wrong thing. This amazing moment when she experienced the blessing of submitting herself to God. Because that’s what she did that day…submitted herself to his will; his plan; his purpose.

And that’s what he wants from us. Submission. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6b-7). Submit yourself to God and I promise you will never regret it. Submit yourself to the one who made you; who saw you before anyone else did. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16). Submit yourself to his will; his plan; his purpose just as Hagar did and I have no doubt you too will be blessed.

I don’t imagine the walk back to Abram and Sarai was easy. But certainly it was possible with “The God who sees me” by her side. Just as it is for us. Submit to God my friend and find the joy, the strength, the peace that comes with doing the right thing and knowing the God who sees you will be with you every step of the way.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
1. Does the fact that God sees you comfort you or concern you?
2. What area of your life do you need to submit to God today? To his will and his plan?image

In the Face of Doubt

Ten years had passed since they had started their new life in Canaan. Was it what Sarai expected? I doubt it. Is it ever as we expect it? She had followed her husband willfully on this journey in hopes of a family – a child of her very own. The word of the LORD to Abram had been “Go…and I will make of you a great nation.” Surely music to her battered and broken heart. With such a promise I imagine her response something along the lines of “Yes! Yes I’ll go Abram! An entire nation from me!” Certainly hope soared within her as they entered the land of promise.

Devotional: Genesis 16:1-6
Key Verse:  “Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” Ps. 27:14; NKJV

But then…nothing. For ten long years. Ever been there? By her estimation she was running out of time. Little did she know that’s exactly what God wanted…her body “dead.” So he could be the God who brings life out of death. So he could showcase his marvelous power.

But she couldn’t see the big picture. She didn’t know the big picture. Most of the time we don’t. That’s why it’s called faith. So as time passed and hope drained, Sarai began to doubt. Because isn’t that what happens when prayers go presumably unanswered? Our minds fill with doubt. Maybe…I misunderstood. Maybe that promise wasn’t meant for me.

And Satan gets us right where he wants us. A place of uncertainty. “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2). 〰 “Abram I know God said you would have a child but maybe it’s not through me. Maybe the promise wasn’t meant for me.” Oh how quickly the seed of doubt can grow. As she considered her options, Sarai became more and more convinced Hagar had to be the solution.

Now before we harp too much on Sarai and the fact she encouraged her husband to have sex with another woman, let’s consider the culture. I’m certainly not excusing her. What she suggested was wrong and God did not honor it but culturally in the world she grew up in it was not an uncommon practice. It was the woman’s responsibility to produce an heir for her husband. If she couldn’t do it a servant could act as a surrogate mother to provide a child.

I think it’s also worth noting that Abram and Sarai had the same father but different mothers (Gen. 20:12). Their background likely included polygamy. That being said I think Sarai had good intentions. Certainly I could be wrong but she is praised in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith. And again in 1 Peter 3 as a woman to be modeled after. But after years of waiting; years of hoping; she found herself in a place of uncertainty. A very dangerous place. For it’s often from a state of uncertainty we act apart from God.

And end up with an “Ishmael” in our lives. With a mess we didn’t foresee. Heartache we didn’t expect. All because of a little uncertainty. A little harmless uncertainty in the faithfulness of God.

But is it ever harmless? Doubt is the devil’s playground. I cannot imagine the heartache Sarai experienced the night she knew her husband was intimately in the arms of another. And the rejection she must have felt to realize God had blessed Hagar so quickly with child but not her. However the consequences didn’t end there. Sarai had no idea the conflict that would exist between her offspring and that of Hagar. No idea it would go on for thousands of years. No idea it would be the cause of such terrible turmoil. No idea it would last until Christ’s final return (smoldering still today).

Is it any wonder God told us to take every thought captive for Christ? (2 Cor. 10:5) Every doubt. Every fear. Is it any wonder God told us to pray without ceasing? (1 Thess. 5:17) Is it any wonder God said to cast our anxieties on him? (1 Peter 5:7) Any wonder God said to trust him wholeheartedly and lean not on our own understanding? (Prov. 3:5-6) Oh the messes we make when we act apart from God because of doubt or fear or uncertainty.

Oh restless heart be still. Remember God’s faithfulness. Don’t doubt. No don’t doubt. It will only lead to trouble. “Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14; NKJV)

He has a plan. A good and wonderful plan. Be still restless heart. Please don’t move ahead of God. Trust him. His ways are not your ways. His thoughts are not your thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9) Just because he doesn’t work in the timing you had hoped doesn’t mean he’s forgotten or changed his mind or found a loophole. It means he’s still working. He’s still preparing. Trust the God who made you. Trust the God who died for you. He has not forsaken you.

Restless heart pray. Just think how different life might have been if Abram and Sarai had prayed – in the face of uncertainty. Trust God for something better. Why is it when life doesn’t go our way we often assume the worst? What if instead we trusted God for something amazing! For something far more wonderful than we could have ever imagined! Instead of rationalizing; instead of doubting; instead of taking matters into our own hands – what if we believed God was still working? For his glory and for our good…trust him restless heart…trust him.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21

Contemplate and Evaluate:
1. In what area of your life do you need to trust God for something better or bigger or far more wonderful than you could have ever imagined?
2. When have you acted apart from God because of doubt or fear or uncertainty? How can you use that experience to encourage another in their struggle to trust God?image

My Exceedingly Great Reward

Devotional: Genesis 15:1-5
Key Verse: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15:1

What had he done! Oh the mess he had made. Defeating four kings of the east meant Abram now had four enemies in the east. Humiliated, would they retaliate? What of Sarai? What of the servants, the men, their families? Had he endangered them all?

Obviously we don’t know what Abram’s thoughts were. But isn’t that the way it works? A small fear creeps into the far corner of our minds. We let it take root. Water it with all kinds of “what if” scenarios until it wraps itself around every thread of truth; dismantling our confidence; overriding any desire to press forth. Encouraging us to just give up; wave a little white flag of surrender; and hide. Or hyperventilate. Or eat chocolate. Or buy something new and pretty and distracting. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

All the while God remains patient; faithful. Abram must have been experiencing at least some fear on the heels of his great victory or God wouldn’t have said “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield” (Gen. 15:1). How truly marvelous to have God as one’s shield. Maybe for Abram you might say but God’s not been any sort of shield for me. Oh but he has dear friends. He has. In Christ you are forever shielded from hell. Forever shielded from God’s wrath. Shielded from an eternity of pain and suffering. Shielded from the daily accusations of the evil one. Absolutely Jesus is your shield; your mighty shield. “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3).

But just as God did not shield Jesus from pain and suffering neither will he shield us. Maybe sometimes. But suffering “produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:4) making us more like Christ. Drawing us to him. Giving us opportunity to showcase his faithfulness and bring him glory.

So we remain strong; steadfast; believing he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Abram had given up the spoils of war for God’s glory and the sacrifice had not gone unnoticed. No sacrifice we give to God goes unnoticed (Luke 12:6-7). God assured Abram “your reward shall be very great.” But I love how the New King James Bible states it, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” God himself was Abram’s reward! His exceedingly great reward!

God himself – our reward! The greatest reward. Nothing else could compare! Nothing! Yet so often we want something else. Sometimes so desperately we’d do anything for it. But what if Jesus were the one thing I desired most? What if he were the absolute longing of my heart? What sort of contentment and joy and wonderment might I find if I sought Jesus as my greatest reward?

Daily my greatest reward. Daily my ambition; my motive; my passion. I think alas I would know him as my shield. We wonder – where are you God? Where are you in this mess? But could it be we see him not because we think on him not. Consumed by the worries of today and tomorrow. Consumed by my wants and desires. My ever increasing wish list. I soon forget whom it is that truly satisfies. I soon forget what is truly my reward. If only I could stay my mind on Him, what a shield I would have. What a shield! Against temptation. Against fear. Against jealousy, discontentment, and sadness. Against every flaming dart sent to disarm my faith. For truly he is the reward!

Yet we have strong desires. Desires that just don’t seem to go away. Sometimes of our own making…sometimes God given. For Abram it was a son. A child – of his very own. Year upon year passed and still no heir. I cannot imagine the ache; the disappointment. Abram had been promised a nation would come from him. Through him would come blessing to every family of the world. He remembered the words spoken to him. No doubt he remembered the words. But still…no child.

So he asked. (God wants us to bring our requests before him.) “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” (Gen. 15:2) And God answered piling grace upon grace, “your very own son shall be your heir...number the stars, if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:4-5). What a gracious God we serve! “Don’t worry Abram I am your exceedingly great reward!” But Lord I want a son? But Lord I want______(fill in the blank). How often I fill in the blank! How often I unknowingly tell God he’s not enough for me. Yet he chides me not. Instead he listens. And if I’m listening reassures me of his sovereignty. Just as he reassured Abram, “You will have a son and much much more.” What grace! What beautiful grace!

He loves us friends. He really does. Bring your requests. Brings your desires. Bring your aches and burdens. Bring them to the Lord. And leave them…there…amid his sovereignty. Believing. Trusting he will do what’s best for you. Because he will. He always will. He proved that at calvary with every nail; every beating; every scar; every thorn; every excruciating hour…for you…for me. So that he could be our exceedingly great reward!

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Do you think of God as your reward?
What today do you need to leave at his throne? What desire, what ache, what burden do you need to give him so that he can be your reward?image

Sometimes We Need to Let Go

Devo Scripture: Genesis 13
Key Verse: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Ps. 1:1-2

We cling to things…don’t we? Tight. Like that dream, that child, that house, that job, that plan, that money is the one thing that will make us happy. The one thing. So we pray. We take it to God and we beg him for it. Please LORD, please just this once answer my prayer the way I want you to. Or we fight for it. At the risk of losing everything…we fight. We let it consume us until every thought, every moment, every whisper is for it and it alone. Never mind our witness. Never mind our relationships. Never mind our God.

And it very well might rightfully be yours. You may have worked hard for it. It belongs to you. So no way should you have to let go of it. No way. It wouldn’t be fair. After all it’s yours. Don’t worry I feel the same way. It’s mine…my reputation, my security, my comfort, my desire, my life, my idea, my hope, my shame, my pride, my sin.

So we cling. Harder. Because “blessed is he who gets what he wants.” Is that it? Is that what Scripture says? No, it’s not. But we act like it is. Atleast I do…when I pray unceasingly for what I want. What I think I need to make me happy. To keep me happy.

But what if we let go? It’s scary, I know. But what if we let go of that which we cling most tightly to. That which we grasp at with such sincere audacity; which we think will make us most happy. What if we actually let go? For starters, maybe we wouldn’t be so worn out. (All that clinging and grasping is exhausting!) Maybe we’d actually “let go and let God” as we allude to. Maybe we’d realize life in HIS hands isn’t so bad after all. Maybe we’d still be ok. And maybe….just maybe we’d learn to trust Jesus who cares for us as we will never fully comprehend.

We might even find blessing. Abram did. When he – for the sake of his witness; for the sake of his relationship with his nephew; for the sake of his relationship with God – let go. They had a problem, he and Lot. They had too many riches! Together they overpowered the available pasture lands and wells. Their herdsmen quarreled. But instead of fighting back. Instead of getting really upset and demanding Lot respect his authority. Instead of pouting, complaining, feeling sorry for himself and stuffing his face with chocolate; instead of gossiping – he went to Lot. And he let go. “Let there be no strife between you and me…Is not the whole land before you?…If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Gen. 13:8-9).

So Lot took a good look around (likely they were on elevated ground). “And saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt” (Gen. 13:10). It looked good! After the famine; after seeing Egypt; it looked really good. So he took it. All of it! (Blessed is he who gets what he wants. Right??) Problem was the land included Sodom. And the men of Sodom “were wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Gen. 13:13). And because of his choice to dwell in wickedness Lot would lose much, including his wife. He would live daily with a tormented soul (2 Peter 2:8). No, he wasn’t blessed. But Abram was.

Abram, who let go. Abram, who worshiped God upon his return from Egypt. Abram, who learned to trust, with a ruthless trust, the Almighty God. He was greatly blessed. For God appeared to him and said look around. All the land you see I give to you and your descendants. Forever! Go and walk through it! So I imagine Abram did. I imagine he took a nice long walk. But then settled “by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron” (Gen. 13:18). He settled in rich communion with God; for Mamre can mean “richness” and Hebron means “communion.” What an incredible place to be…settled in rich communion with God. Truly Abram was blessed. For all communion with God is a blessing.

And we want blessing. Don’t we? Because it make us happy. And truly happiness is what we seek! It’s why we cling. It’s why we grasp. Because we want to be happy. And we think we know just what will make us happy. But do we? Do we really know? God’s made it clear. And it’s not always getting what we want. It’s doing what HE wants. That’s what will make us happy.

It’s not a coincidence the Hebrew and Greek words for blessed can be translated “happy”. It’s by design. God’s perfect design. Because happiness cannot be found in a dream, a hope, a wish, a goal. It’s found in Him…

Blessed [happy] is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Ps. 1:1-2

Blessed [happy] is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!” Ps. 112:1

Behold, blessed [happy] is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

Blessed [happy] is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding.” Prov. 3:13

Blessed [happy] is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Ro. 4:8

Blessed [happy] are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8

Blessed [happy] are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:10

Seek after Jesus my friend. Seek him with all your heart. Live always for him. Even if it means…you have to let go. For the sake of your relationships; for the sake of your witness; for the sake of His glory -sometimes we have to let go. But I have no doubt if it’s for his glory you’ll find yourself blessed. You’ll find yourself…happy.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What are you clinging to; what are you grasping for; that you need to let go of today?
What have you sought after for happiness? (A better body; love; wealth; position; honor) What does Scripture say will make you happy?


Claiming the Promises

Devo Scripture: Genesis 12:10-20
Key Verse: “The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance.” Ps. 37:18-19

I don’t think Abram expected it. A famine that is. I wouldn’t have. “Lord you brought me all this way for a famine? Really? I don’t understand. Why? Why are you allowing this?”

These…all things I could hear myself saying. Or maybe I should just admit…all things I have said. We pray. We seek God. We sense his leading. We take a step of faith. And then…a famine. Something so completely unexpected. Something so hard it makes us question if we really did the right thing. And maybe we didn’t. Maybe we stepped out of God’s will to serve our own purpose or pleasure. Yet other times…other times we can be sure, we’re right where he wants us. Right smack dab in the middle of a famine.

So that HE can show himself faithful. So tremendously faithful to every promise. To every single soul who reverently fears his wonderfully holy name. This is why the famines come. This is why the hard things happen. The unexpected things. So we will know him as faithful. Faithful to his promises. The promises we so seldom claim.

I am convinced if Abram had sought God for his needs Genesis 12 would have contained a story of God’s miraculous provision. I am convinced if Abram had claimed the promises of God he would have been a strong tower; a testament to God’s goodness; a refuge for many, in a dry and desolate land. I am convinced God would have blessed him for his faith.

Instead Abram fled to Egypt. He took matters into his own hands. (Something I am guilty of more often than I care to admit.) He lied out of fear for his life. (Fear being the opposite of faith. Fear being that which strangles our faith.) And got himself into a serious predicament.

Sarai was indeed his half sister (Gen. 20:12). So to protect himself (for it was apparently not uncommon to kill a man for his wife) he commanded of Sarai from the moment they entered Canaan “This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me. He is my brother” (Gen. 20:13). Then instead of killing him they would negotiate with him, giving him time to formulate a plan of escape from any would be suitors. (Unless of course the suitor ends up being the king of Egypt.)

Off she was taken…to the palace. At 65 years of age Sarai must have been quite the looker! I cannot even comprehend the anguish of Abram’s heart. He knew there would be no negotiating with Pharaoh. What had he done? I’m sure with every sheep, every oxen, every donkey, every servant delivered to his doorstep the guilt festered deeper within. Thank goodness he knew a God faithful to his promises. Did Abram pray? It doesn’t say. But when he walked out of Egypt with his wife and all that he had acquired, no doubt he knew who had delivered him. Pharaoh should have killed him. Abram jeopardize his entire household. And caused him much suffering. Yet he was alive and free and blessed with many riches. (Grace…God’s abundant grace)

But he missed it. He missed the opportunity to showcase God’s faithfulness to the world. His goodness to those who revere him. Did Abram get off scotch free? No. It was only a matter of time before the Egyptian servant Hagar, whom they likely acquired on this trip, would cause him severe grief. How different things might have been if Abram had simply claimed the promises and remained in the land of Canaan. I’m not saying it would have been easy. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have endured great loss. But God is faithful to his promises. Even in the days of famine…God is always faithful.

A truth we must harbor deep within our souls. Don’t be fooled by the heaping piles of food on the table. Right now, today, we’re smack dab in the middle of a great famine…a great spiritual famine. And I’ll be first in line to admit…I have concerns. I have fears. I have doubts but I know whom I have believed in. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9).

Let’s prove to the world he is faithful by remaining strong and steadfast, deeply rooted, in this dry and desolate land. Even if our fears are legitimate. He is faithful. Do you believe him? Great are the promises we have to claim!

Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.” Prov. 13:13

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:19

The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance.” Ps. 37:18-19

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” Ps. 37:23-24

The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” Ps. 37:40

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Ps. 103:17-19

Great are the promises for those who remain steadfast in the famine. Who keep the commandments of the LORD. Instead of compromising. Instead of taking matters into our own hands. Let’s wait for the LORD. Let’s not miss the opportunity. That the whole world may know…he who promised is faithful.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What promise are you claiming today?
Are you a testament to God’s goodness in this dry and weary land? How so?image

Called By God

Devo Scripture: Acts 7:2-4; Genesis 11:27-12:9
Key Verse: “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you.” 1 Thess. 1:4

My hard working farmer and I have an inside joke with the phrase “So I’ve been thinking…” When he starts a conversation with these words my candid response is typically “Uh oh, what am I gonna have to do?” More often than not it entails maybe 15 people for dinner in just three days (after I’ve already been grocery shopping for the week). Oh and making pies because I’m really good at pies. But if I start the conversation his typical response is “How much is it gonna cost me?” What?!?! Honey not all of my ideas cost you money…just some of them.

But as we begin our study of Abraham I can’t help but wonder, did Abram (as he is called in Gen. 12) have any of those “So I’ve been thinking” conversations with Sarai? I can only imagine there were a few. They lived in the city of Ur (186 miles southeast of modern Baghdad). It was a thriving city with opportunity for not only prosperity but honor. It was also a center of worship for the moon god, Nanna. Pilgrims would come from near and far to pay tribute to Nanna at the large Ziggurat towering above the city. Many worshiped the moon god, including Abram, his father, and brother (Joshua 24:2).

Think about it. Just 9 generations removed from Shem (the godly son of Noah) and already idolatry. If we don’t teach our children and grandchildren…it won’t take long. No, not long at all. Thank goodness God is in the business of justifying the ungodly (Rom 4:5). (i.e. Me and you for that matter) God didn’t choose Abram because he was a godly man. He was far from it. God chose Abram because he had a plan to bring salvation to all people through the offspring of Eve (Gen. 3:15), Seth, Noah, Shem, and now Abram. God was sovereignly working his plan. And still is to this day! (rest in that my friends…rest in that)

But it wasn’t going to be easy for any of God’s chosen vessels. You would think being chosen by God would mean life would work a bit more in your favor. But it’s that kind of thinking that gets Christians in trouble. What about when the going gets tough? What about when the hard things happen? What then? If we think being chosen by God means an easier life we’re gonna be pretty upset with this so called “god” we serve. Maybe instead of expecting a nice wide paved road we should expect an uneven path through a dark jungle with snakes, sinking sand, and slippery slopes around every corner. Maybe then we’d count our blessings a bit more. Maybe then we’d be more watchful for the lifeline’s God extends to us. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so lukewarm in our faith. Maybe then we’d be prepared and God could actually use us. Because being chosen by God doesn’t mean life will always work in your favor but it does mean God will always work in your favor. If you’re in Christ you’ve been chosen by God. And you can hold tightly to the fact “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6; NIV).

So on one beautiful day in Ur (maybe it was a rainy day but we’ll say it was sunny), God began a good work in Abram. He appeared to him. (I can’t quite fathom that.) And said “Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you” (Acts 7:3). I can’t help but wonder at Abram’s reaction. Scared? Surprised? Hesitant? I would have been. Were there any introductions? “Abram I’m God. The real God. The Almighty One. Your creator. I set the moon in place and I keep it there. I am the Sovereign One and you shall serve me.” Or in his heart did Abram just know…this. is. the great I AM.

Then came the “So I’ve been thinking” conversations between Abram and Sarai. (Or so I imagine.) I wonder at her reaction. “Abram, did you have too much to drink? Is the heat getting to you? What do you mean we have to leave? Where are we going? What do you mean you don’t know? Did she have “go days” and “stay days?” (I would have!) Was she delighted or surprised that her father-in-law was so on board with the idea? For Terah maybe it was simply a fresh start. Gen. 11:28 tells us Haran (Abram’s brother) had died in Terah’s presence. No parent should ever have to bury a child, no matter the age. Staying in Ur could have meant daily facing painful memories. And leaving could have meant escaping them. So they packed up and left for Canaan. But when they happen along a place with the same name as his son (Haran) maybe it was just too hard to leave (Gen. 11:31).

So Abram stayed in Haran until his father died and God removed him from there (Acts 7:4). Did God appear to him again in Haran? We simply don’t know. But we do know that Abram obeyed. With the promise of becoming a great nation, blessing, honor, and protection, Abram entered Canaan at the age of 75.

Why? Why was he so willing to risk everything? To leave his home, his people, his family. Simply put, because God called him to do so. And what God determines will come to pass. When the God of the Universe calls you to faith it’s impossible to resist. I don’t claim to understand it. I simply claim the Scriptures.

Jesus said “All that the Father gives me will come to me…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (Jn 6:37, 44). Give praise and thanksgiving to the Father who has drawn you to Christ! We have not the power to bring ourselves from death to life, either physically or spiritually, only God has that power (Eph. 2:4-5). “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Ps. 3:8). Ephesians 1:4 declares “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” And Romans 9:16 states of salvation “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

It’s not because of who you are that you believe…it’s because of God. And it’s for a purpose. God has called you not so you can live however you want to and still go to Heaven. God has called you for a reason…just like Abraham. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). If you are in Christ…it’s for a purpose. For. a. purpose. God has plans for you! Yes, plans for you that bring him glory. Great glory. Right now. Right where you’re at. Whether you want to be there or not. He has called you. So my dear friends…let’s get to it! To God be the glory!

Contemplate and Evaluate
What do you think of the statement “Life will not always work in your favor, but God will”?
Do you consider your salvation a result of your own works or the very grace of God?
What purpose has God called you for? Is your life bringing glory to Him?