Is It Religion or Is It Relationship?


During my time away (Let’s just call it an August Sabbatical…It makes me feel more important.), I not only wrote the first two chapters of a book I’ve been dreaming up for a few months now. (Who’s excited???) But I spent time studying the Kings. And I mean s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g 1 and 2 Kings. I’m not sure how I ended up there. But it was good.


Devotional Scripture: 1 Kings 15:1-8; 2 Chronicles 13:1-20
Key Verse: “And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22


If you read 1 and 2 Kings through quickly chapter after chapter, it’s like wait a minute – What guy is this? What kingdom is he with? (There were two – Israel and Judah.) Did he love God? (Chances are probably not.) It all just runs together into a big messy blob of long ago people.

There are well, a lot of kings. Twenty kings for the southern kingdom (Judah), and nineteen kings for the northern kingdom (Israel), in case you were curious. If you do the math, that’s thirty-nine kings to keep track of (not including Saul, David, and Solomon) and twenty years can go by in a matter of about three verses.

(It’s hard enough keeping track of four kids, let alone thirty-nine kings.)

But I had to try. So I went slow. I made notes. I compared 2 Chronicles verse by verse with 1 and 2 Kings. I fit in what prophet went where. I inserted some of the Psalms where theologians think they go. And I loved every minute of it. (I do kind of sort of love history though, as long as there’s no multiple-choice test involved, so I’d say that played in my favor.)

And when I came to Abijah or Abijam (depending on your translation), God was like, “No, you’re stopping here for today.” (He didn’t really say that. It was just one of those mornings a thought hit me so strongly, I couldn’t go on. Holy Spirit speaking? I think so.)

Abijah was the second king of Judah’s lengthy list. He only reigned three years. Probably taking the oath of office about 913 BC. 1 Kings 15:3 has this to say about him, “And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.”

Hmmm, not exactly what you hope the Bible will say about you. So what were the sins of his father? Well, mainly idolatry. He led the people into the worship of false gods. Setting up high places and pillars and “Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 15:23). Asherim were probably wooden in nature. I’m picturing something tall and skinny carved in the form of a woman because it represented the goddess Asherah, wife of the chief god El and mother to the other gods.

Verse 24 says Abijah also allowed male cult prostitutes in the land. Lovely eh? This guy cared little for the LORD and his commands and ways and glory.

But if you jump over to 2 Chronicles 13 you realize Abijah had a whole different view of himself. While trying to entice the northern tribes to follow him instead of Jeroboam (the northern king), Abijah had this to say, “But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the LORD who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for the service. They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps my burn every evening. For we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him” (2 Chron. 13:10-11).

Oh really Abijah. What about the high places? What about the Asherim? What about the male cult prostitutes? But because they kept the daily, weekly, and festival sacrifices, offered incense, set out the weekly bread, and took care of the lampstand (all things we’re going to study in Exodus), Abijah thought they were good.

Interesting. Look at the way he points the finger at Israel – “We keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him.” Not so Abijah. The charge of the LORD is to love him with all our heart and soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Not possible when there is idolatry going on.

But it made me wonder, how many, especially in America today, are floatin’ in Abijah’s boat?

Oh I’m good, I go to church Christmas and Easter.

Oh I’m good, I went forward when I was a kid.

Oh I’m good, I say my prayers every night before bed. I give to a local charity. I do my best to love others.

All good things. But what about the heart? Look what the LORD had to say about their actions – “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

(Clear enough.)

So concerned is God about the heart he goes so far as to say to Israel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26a). A new heart! Not because they deserved it but for the sake of God’s holy name, which Israel profaned among the nations by making God into a religion.

But God desires relationship. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

In other words, it’s not about the stuff my friends, it’s about the stuffing. What’s in you? Apostasy? Idolatry? Or a wholeness of heart devoted to God.

Ritual without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Sacrifice without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Worship without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God.

King Abijah thought he was good but God saw his heart and it “was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 15:3). Which begs the question, what would the Bible say about us? Or for that matter, about a nation who professes to know His name, but their hearts remain far from Him. (Sounds so vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?)

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23a


My Father in Heaven, please forgive us. Help us to see it’s not about religion, but relationship. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a YES to Jesus because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In Jesus name, because he made a way, Amen.

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Rest

In this crazy busy gotta-do-everything-right-now life we lead, seasons of rest seem to be less and less. So, I’m forcing myself to take one during the month of August. But don’t worry! I’ll be back. (I’m going to pretend you were worried.)

I’ve got some fun things lined up for the fall. Including a guest posts at (in)courage coming at ya on September 2nd and a free giveaway I’m working on with some other writers. It’s good stuff!

In the meantime, because I know how much you’re going to miss your weekly Deeper Devo, here’s a few of my favorites, from last year, to tide you over. (Hint, hint: They cover the life of Joseph.)

The Biggest Misunderstanding of God’s Love

When You Feel Disappointed with God

How to Navigate the Best Life Even Amidst the Worst of Circumstances

The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make

The First Step to Reconciliation

How We Move Past the Hurt and Heal

I appreciate you friend. Without your support (and the encouragement of Jesus of course), I probably would have quit this journey a while back. Will you do me a favor? Over the next month, will you share Deeper Devos with someone new? Muchas gracias! See you in a few weeks!

When We’re Called to Let Go

He had it all. Every comfort you could imagine. The best of Egypt at his fingertips. The latest technology, the fastest chariots, the choicest of fruits, servants, wealth, prestige, power, fame. He said it and it was done. He asked for it and it was delivered.


Devotional Scripture: Acts 7:17-29; Hebrews 11:23-27
Key Verse: “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:26


401 Easy Street, is where Moses resided. In the shimmering, cool, palace of an elite world power. Adopted as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter it’s even possible he was next in line for the throne.

Yet Hebrews 11:24 tells us he refused it. He “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:24-25). Considering “the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:26).

Counting the luxuries he’d been handed as nothing, he exchanged the palace for a tent, riches for a relationship, honor for dishonor, affluence for affliction, ample amenities for very few, the royal robes of Egypt for a shepherd’s coat

Would you have done it? Would you have left the lap of luxury for a seat at the commoner’s table? I don’t know if I would have. In all honesty, I’ve stumbled through the text this week for fear of what lies on the other side. What sacrifice I might be called to make.

Because the truth is, I like my comforts and conveniences. Don’t you? Nestled amid the amenities of the palace I know the conversation I would have been having with Jesus. “LORD, please, can’t I just serve you from here? I have money for the poor. I have power. I have influence. I’ll use them for your glory. I promise.” There’s no doubt in my mind I would have hung on.

But Moses didn’t. Considering the reward much greater than the cost, he gave it all up. And he did so by faith. (Hebrews 11:24 – The same way we’re to do it.) Taught by his parents, grandparents, siblings, or maybe God himself, Moses took God at his word and believed it.

You know who else exchanged affluence for affliction? Jesus. “Who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

Humbling himself he exchanged the throne for a stable, the royal robes of heaven for some simple swaddling, the brilliance of glory for no form of majesty, the table of heaven for a seat with commoners, the praise of angels for the rejection of men, a crown of splendor for that of thorns, fellowship with God for the wrath of sin. Obedient to the point of death, that we might live.

How’d he do it? Much the same as Moses. He looked ahead. He looked to God. He looked to heaven. Enduring the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2).

Handing the hope of heaven to us who can’t get there. Weaving grace into the fabric of human hearts. Offering peace and reconciliation to a people apart from God. Giving us who come with nothing of eternal value, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:3) And an inheritance we can’t even fathom.

“But as it is written in the Scriptures: “No one has ever seen this. No one has ever heard about it. No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (Is. 64:4, ICB).

It’s too great. Too wonderful for us to wrap around. Take beauty and go a step further. Take marvelous and magnify it. Take superb and marry it to delightful and you’ve got a small piece of our future in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, we can let go. We can sacrifice. Whether it simply be time or money or the life we thought we wanted. The way we thought things would be. The dream we felt sure we needed. The career. The plan. Or the life of ease and convenience we’ve grown comfortable in.

We can humble ourselves. We can be obedient to the call of God, even if it means running in a direction the world never would. Keeping before us the reproach of Christ, because the reward is far greater than the cost. The Savior far greater than the sacrifice.

Moses gave up much to gain more. And because of his willingness he experienced an intimacy with Christ so spectacular his face radiated with God’s glory. (I want that.)

But it took time. And a path he never expected. Are you willing? If and when God calls us to let go, let’s do so in faith my friend, for the riches of our King are far greater than that of this kingdom. And the surpassing worth of experiencing Christ a treasure like none other.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7).

In obedience we gain immeasurably more than we could ever lose. Be faithful my friend, be faithful.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Have you been busy counting the cost or the reward? I often get caught up in the cost. What is God calling you to let go of today? Are you willing?

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The Result of Faith

I wrapped it carefully, as though my entire world sat inside that little rectangular box. Curling the ribbon just so – I couldn’t wait for dinner. Couldn’t wait to give my mom her mother’s day present so our little secret could finally taste freedom.


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 2:1-10
Key Verse: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” Hebrews 11:23


Married just three months, I knew the baby bib inside that box would shock everyone at the table. “You’re pregnant?” The scene looped through my head over and over. What would they say? How would they react?

I knew there’d be congratulations because we were a polite family and that’s what polite families do. But would they think us too young? Because wasn’t I too young? I stared at the box, willing the growing butterflies keeping my baby company to simmer down. Everything was going to be fine. A baby is a blessing. New life is a blessing, right?

It’s no secret a baby can bring with it all manner of emotion. Everything from elation to trepidation, depending on circumstances. Which has me wondering where Jochebed, mother of Moses, may have fell on the spectrum.

It wasn’t her first baby. She already had a daughter, Miriam, and a son, Aaron, who would have been two at the time (see Ex. 7:7). Though unable to give her children freedom (as a slave in the land of Egypt), she’d been able to give them life – a blessing she’d surely enjoyed. But this time, this time, might be different, finding herself pregnant under an edict to toss all newborn Hebrew boys in the Nile.

Had it been me, I would have been begging God for a girl. “It’d just be easier LORD. Please, please, let it be a girl.” But what if it was a boy? Certainly angst grew right along with her stomach as she waited for her day to come.

“It’s a boy!” Whispered the midwives.  Exodus 2:2 says when she saw “he was a fine child, she hid him three months.” Because what else are you going to do? But Hebrews 11:23 states it was more than elation that caused Jochebed and Amram to hide their son. It was faith.

Faith? But how could it have been faith, if “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). My take on things – they had a word from the LORD. Because faith is not merely hope, it’s believing in the word of God and acting upon it.

While other mothers were weeping for their littles, Jochebed believed something different for hers. A belief that was by faith. Otherwise, I don’t think she would have sent Miriam along to watch. Nor do I think she would have placed him in the very river that had claimed the lives of so many, unless directed by God.

Left to my own reasoning, I would have gotten as far away from the Nile as possible. Run away if you have to, but don’t go near that river!

Yet there she was among the reeds sweetly surrendering her son in a basket made of papyrus, coated carefully in bitumen and pitch. How you let go, how you walk away, is beyond me.

But she did. And then she waited. For minutes? Hours? Did the river move unusually slow that day as it carried her son into a wake of unknown? Interestingly enough the Hebrew word used for basket in this passage is tebah. It can also be translated ark. It’s used in Scripture only here and in reference to Noah’s ark, which was also covered in bitumen and pitch – a tar like substance to keep things sealed.

A coincidence? No. Noah’s ark was a vessel of salvation for him and his crew, just as that little basket was a vessel of salvation for Moses. And a picture to us of Christ – the vessel of our salvation. It was faith that placed Moses in that ark and faith that places us in Christ.

Though crocodiles were probably a threat, though the basket could have tipped, though someone else could have grabbed him, carried along by God, Moses had never been safer than he was in that basket. (And in Christ, I’d say we could say the same.)

Did Jochebed have any idea how God would save him? Any idea it would be through the princess? I doubt it. But just hours after releasing him to the hand of God, there she sat nursing her sweet boy, and getting paid for it.

Not because she begged and pleaded and threw a fit. Not because she schemed a great plan. Not because she took matters into her own hands. But because she had faith. Faith in a God who is bigger. Faith in a God who is always faithful to his word.

My friend, it’s faith that opens the door to far more than we can imagine (Eph. 3:20). Faith that lends us the opportunity to experience the goodness of God. And faith that allows us to be part of what God is already doing.

God had a plan to save his people. A plan Pharaoh could not stop – or Satan for that matter. For it’s God who “frustrates the plans of the wicked” (Ps. 146:9, NLT). But it’s only by faith we can be part of it.

Because it’s not fits or fighting or a fabulous plan that’s gonna throw a wrench in evil’s way, it’s faith in a God who’s already got it worked out.

If we want to experience the goodness of God, landing a front row seat to his sovereignty in motion. If we want to be part of what God’s already doing. If we want to be front and center of a plan far beyond anything we could ask or imagine – it’s going to require faith.

It may be hard, but walking forward in faith is never a leap into the unknown, it’s a clear path into the sovereign hand of the living God. So what, I ask you, are we waiting for?

Contemplate and Evaluate:
When have you stepped out in faith and experienced the goodness of God in a way you never imagined?
What do you need to trust God with today? Your family? Your future? How can you best walk by faith?

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Is Your Faith Genuine? A Comprehensive Look at Biblical Faith

Today the word faith gets tossed around Christian circles like a hot potato. You just gotta have faith. We say it regularly and we say it often. And there’s nothing wrong with encouraging one another to have faith. We should!

But with so many uses of the word faith today, I fear we’ve lost the foundation of what genuine biblical faith really is and what it looks like. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it’s impossible to please God. So obviously faith is key.

Faith in Jesus as God and Savior, the only way, the righteous and perfect Lamb of God, who paid the price of my sin on a cross, conquered death, and rose again. Who is King today and forever. Who holds all things together. Who created all things and knows all things and is before all things. And deserves my allegiance.

Therefore, it looks like obedience.

Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24).

Out of a thankful heart, out of gratitude, out of love – genuine faith says yes. It doesn’t mind the boundaries given by God because it knows they are best, understands they are life giving, and has a desire to please God.

Genuine faith doesn’t proclaim the name of Jesus and then run off and live however it wants to, because genuine faith is produced out of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Who convicts and brings us to a place of repentance. Not only sealing us for the day of redemption, but guiding us until we get there. Teaching and reminding us of God’s word.

Producing within the believer the fruit of righteousness (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control). Not “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21).

Because genuine faith does not walk in darkness. It cannot because God is light and his light indwells those who profess His name by way of the Holy Spirit. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

It doesn’t shove God’s commands aside or ignore them or disregard them or make up it’s own way. Neither does it defy God, or chide God, or disrespect God by purposely practicing sin day in and day out. Because it respects grace as the space by which God grants us eternal life, not an open invitation to sin, or a way out of responsibility, but a way into relationship.

Does genuine faith walk this life perfectly? No, absolutely no. Faith knows it will mess up, but believes in a God who forgives when we humble ourselves and confess and seek Him. And genuine faith will confess because genuine faith desires fellowship with God.

Breathing trust in hard places, faith does the hard work fear is unable to do. It stops to listen. It trusts. It looks to the Bible for strength and hope and peace. Convinced God is greater than the enemy, it surrenders to the will of God. And seeks for God’s glory.

Pouring forth prayers, it remains steadfast. Even when the answer isn’t what we thought it would be. Even when we don’t like it. Even when we’re confused. Even when it hurts – genuine faith holds tightly to Jesus.

When the world leans into luck, genuine faith leans into Jesus. When the world has no answers, genuine faith finds answers in Jesus. When the world says you can’t, genuine faith says you can if it’s the will of Jesus.

Genuine faith doesn’t just desire God’s presence later, after all life has been lived, but desires it now, while life is being lived. It responds to the love of Christ in such a way that it’s evident who you believe in.

Confident in the promises of God, confident in the eternal blessings, confident in the work of Christ – genuine biblical faith lives a God honoring life.

So today I ask only one question, is your faith in Christ genuine?

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*Featured Image provided by Pixabay

 

What to Expect When You Step Forward in Faith

Preparation is the key to success, right? When I was in school that meant studying. When I played soccer it meant practicing. When I went to the dentist last month that meant flossing. (Come on now, I know I’m not the only one who pulls out the ol’ floss before an appointment.)


Key Verse: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:16, ESV


And now that I’m a mom it means a purse or backpack or diaper bag full of all kinds of necessities depending on the distance or destination. If it’s the grocery store I take suckers. If it’s the doctor’s office I grab the iPad. If it’s a road trip I take snacks and dvd’s and headphones and drinks and tissues and books and crayons and of course a big black trash bag. Why the trash bag? Because the one time you don’t take one, you’ll need one. Just trust me on that one.

You can’t be too prepared. Or maybe you can be but I’d rather err on the side of caution than be caught empty handed. Yet when it comes to our spiritual lives we more often than not walk straight out the door without a single thought to what might be lurking around the corner, waiting to sabotage a fresh commitment to faith.

But let’s be honest. Sometimes it feels silly to think there’s an enemy out there. An enemy who actually cares about me and what I do. We feel small and insignificant most of the time. But anytime a step of faith is taken, a trust in God is established, an allegiance is declared – it’s not insignificant. It’s noteworthy because it’s not you or me at work, it’s the power of God and the enemy trembles at the thought.

An enemy known in Scripture as the spiritual forces of evil. Lead by Satan himself who prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom ever he can devour. It sounds crazy I know. I have trouble believing it myself. Sounds more like a sci-fi movie script than real life.

But Scripture is adamant our enemy is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Hence the need to be prepared. But how? Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” A shield of faith. A solid, unbreakable, undeniable, unrelenting faith that doesn’t lose heart at the first jostle. And remains steadfast with the next shove. And the next and the next and the next.

A faith that stays alert and expectant of the enemy. Able to recognize those flaming darts for what they are: doubt, distraction, or disturbance. Often disguised as a conflict at work. A feud with a family member or friend. A malfunction. A day where nothing goes right. A marital struggle. A roadblock. A false accusation. A complaint. A criticism. A misunderstanding. A rift so deep it leaves an aftermath of hurt feelings.

While some of the problems we face may simply be unfortunate mishaps or the result of our own sin, the fact remains, the dilemmas and difficulties we deal with may very well be a weapon the evil one sent to distract us, make us doubt, or disturb us in such a way our faith takes a backseat.

Take for example the Israelite’s. After seventy years of exile they got the thumbs up from a Persian king named Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Praise God from whom all blessings flow right?

They knew it would be a long road to recovery, after all it took months just to walk home. But those who went, knew it was the right thing to do. It was God honoring and the LORD had clearly given them an open door to do so. Not to mention it fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10.

But when opposition arose instead of seeking God and identifying the conflict for what it really was, a flaming dart of the evil one to discourage them and disrupt progress, they quit. For ten long years. Assuming maybe they’d heard God wrong. (Ever been there?)

It wasn’t until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah came along and urged them back to work that the temple actually got completed (Ezra 5:1). In contrast, when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to encourage the Israelite’s to rebuild the wall surrounding the city, he pressed forth with unpersuaded determination.

He knew God had opened the door. He didn’t doubt. When opposition arose he told the Israelite’s to keep building! “Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Nehemiah 4:18-19).

How awesome is that! They didn’t let the conflict discourage them. They didn’t get distracted. They didn’t quit. They recognized the opposition for what it was and kept going, even though some of them could only work with one hand!

Beloved of God, when you step out in faith be prepared for trouble. The enemy longs to discourage you. It may be easy to identify, or it may not. It may come when you least expect it or in a way you didn’t anticipate, but make no mistake it will come. Sometimes disguised as a problem at work or a bad day at home, other times it’s simply a feeling of defeat.

And when it does seek the LORD. Ask him to help you identify the real source of your struggle. And then nail in place an unpersuaded shield of faith. More than likely you didn’t misunderstand the LORD, you’re simply in the thick of an extraordinary spiritual battle.

Be strong and courageous my friend. Be prepared. Don’t give up and do what needs to be done, even if that does mean working with only one hand.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What conflict or issue has been keeping you distracted or discouraged? How does your perspective change if you identify the situation as a fiery dart of the evil one, instead of just another issue to deal with?


P.S. …… I know many of you expected to start a study of Exodus today. Well, me too. But then something happened.The LORD very clearly through a series of events asked me if I trusted him. And I said, “Of course!” To which he replied with another series of events, “Then give me your dreams.”

As clear as a cup of ice cold water I knew that meant stepping back from Deeper Devos in some way shape or form. And it made me sad and hesitant. So I tried a little reasoning with God (never a good idea), “But I’ve posted every week for almost two years Lord. If I don’t post something every Tuesday I may lose my most loyal readers?” To which he replied with the most gentle nudge on my heart, “Trust me.”

And I said ok. Working my way through a book of the Bible on a weekly basis requires some intense study on my part. And I love it! Don’t get me wrong. But in my current season of tiny people, it’s starting to take a toll on my family. Don’t worry….I’m still planning to write. I have to or I’ll go crazy. But it might look different for a while and it may not happen every week. Or it may happen on a Thursday (Absurd, I know!) You’ll just have to check back regularly to see!

But how can I encourage you to trust God with your dreams if I don’t do it first? I can’t. The most effective Bible teachers are the ones who teach from a place of experience. And that’s what I long to be – effective. In whatever capacity God intends that to be. So my friend today – I go first. Today I give God my dreams. And you may or may not hear from me some weeks. If you don’t – don’t worry! I’ll be back. I just had one of those weeks wherein my family needed to come first. Thanks friend!       – Stacey

(Photo credit for featured image: Pixabay)

 

What it Means to Have Real Faith

Faith. It’s something we talk about it. It’s something we encourage each other to have. It’s something we know we need. But is it really something we practice? Hebrews 11:6 tells us without faith, it’s impossible to please God. So obviously it’s pretty important. But what is it really? What does it mean to have faith and practice faith in the one true God?


Devotional Scripture: Genesis 50
Key Verse: “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” Genesis 50:25


According to Hebrews 11, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph figured it out. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…” “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”

By faith, by faith, by faith….why were these men credited with having faith? Because it was belief in the promise of God that prompted their actions.

You see faith isn’t hoping God will come through for me. It isn’t throwing a penny into the wishing well of dreams in anticipation of a desirable outcome. It isn’t crossing my fingers behind my back. Faith at its core is believing God will do what he’s said he will do. Period. End of story.

Not because I say the right words or ask enough times, but because He is faithful. On the flip side, if God hasn’t said he will do it, I can’t have faith that he will. I can ask. I can hope. But I can’t have faith.

And therein lies a major problem with today’s Christianity. We often pray and ask God to do something for us. We close our eyes and believe really really hard that he can and should do it, assuming that’s how you have faith. Then we wait patiently (for at least an hour) and end up discouraged when things don’t turn out the way we think they should.

But the question is – am I simply believing God for something I want or something he’s actually said? It’s only faith if I’m believing God for something he’s actually said. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph believed God for what he said. (Reason #1,245,377 for knowing my Bible. It makes “walking by faith” a whole lot easier.)

Thus with nothing back in Canaan but a small piece of land he took from the Amorites (Gen. 48:22) and a cave bought by Abraham, Jacob was adamant he not be buried in Egypt, but in Canaan. Because he wholeheartedly believed the promise of God that the land would one day be theirs.

In spite of the odds. In spite of the fact they were no longer living there. In spite of the fact it currently belonged to a myriad of other people groups and sounded ridiculous, Jacob insisted.

So Joseph made it happen. With the pomp and circumstance of royalty, Jacob’s body was embalmed and taken to Canaan. It was quite the caravan. Verse 7 says along with Joseph went, “All the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household.” Everyone except the kids. (Maybe they were in school. Just kidding. Kind of.)

Oh and also “chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company” (v. 9). Meaning Pharaoh’s army, probably for protection since they were entering a foreign land. What I want to know is who was back at the palace taking care of Pharaoh if all his servants were with Joseph? Very generous of the king.

When the Canaanites saw the entourage and heard “the very great and grievous lamentation” on the threshing floor of Atad, they renamed the place Abel-mizraim, which means “the mourning of Egypt”, figuring it must have been someone of great importance.

But Jacob wasn’t great because of who he was or what he’d done in life. He wasn’t mourned for seventy days by the people of Egypt because of his contributions to society. (Just two days short of the required time of mourning for a king by the way.) He was mourned and lamented and celebrated solely because of his relationship to Joseph.

My friend, it’s not about who you are or aren’t. It’s not about what you’ve done or will do or won’t do. It’s about your relationship to Jesus. It’s about faith. Do we believe God is who he says he is? Do we believe God will do what he’s said he will do?

If so, our actions will show it. Because faith without works is dead. It has no validity. “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). It’s how Abraham and Isaac lived. It’s how Jacob and Joseph lived. And it’s how you and I need to live.

Confident in the promise of God. Confident in his faithfulness. Confident in his sovereignty. So much so that even when it looks unlikely, even when the odds are against us, even when it seems ridiculous, we testify to the goodness of God by declaring no matter what – bury me in the land of Canaan.

Take my bones, as Joseph made them swear. Proclaiming to a lost world – “I don’t care how it looks right now. I don’t care how absurd you think I am. I believe in the promise of God.” Could there be anything more impactful to the next generation than a church who takes God at his word?

Not holding God accountable, but believing God powerful. And then acting accordingly.

Beloved of God, the patriarchs lived their faith with action based on the promise of God. They may have withered from time to time, but they didn’t give up. Faith in God required something of them, and this hasn’t changed. It requires something of us too.

So whether it means we give trusting God will provide. Whether it means we acknowledge him before men, knowing he’ll acknowledge us before the Father. Whether it means picking up your cross or laying your most prized possessions down. Go and do it. Live by faith. Believe God will do what he’s said he will do and act accordingly. Because he who promised is faithful.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Are you trusting in God for something he’s said or something you simply want?

Alas we have come to the end of Genesis. It’s been a wonderful ride (at least from my vantage point). God has proven himself faithful chapter by chapter. So today I ask you, what difference has it made in your life? How have you been encouraged through our study together? How have you been challenged? I’d love to hear from you.

When You Feel Disappointed with God

Have you ever been charged with a crime you didn’t do? Or handed a punishment you didn’t deserve? I have a dear friend whose husband was minding his own business one day (on his way to workout actually) when he got pulled over. And the next thing he knew he was being cuffed and thrown in the back of a sheriff’s van. Little did he know his identity had been stolen and used to buy (let’s just say a few too many) prescription drugs.


Devotional Scripture: Genesis 40
Key Verse: “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful…Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” Psalm 31:23-24


Completely helpless and obviously a weeeee bit concerned, Andy sat in jail the entire day charged with a class D felony; while Cari called everyone she could think of who might possibly be able to pull some strings on behalf of her falsely accused husband. And then she waited. Come evening she was able to post bond for him at Easy Ed’s Bail Bond Service. (Honestly that was the name.) But it was far from over. It took almost a year to clear things up.

Joseph however, had no one to speak his defense. No one to post bond for him or pull a few strings or clear things up, so he remained in jail. “Numbered with the transgressors” just as Jesus was (Is. 53:12), and appointed caregiver of the king’s chief cupbearer and baker, who had apparently done something to offend the king, he waited and waited for God to get him out. But it didn’t happen.

After some time (we don’t know how long) the cupbearer and baker both had dreams on the same night but with no access to Pharaoh’s wise men for understanding, they were noticeably troubled. Joseph on the other hand was not, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (v. 8).

An absolutely astounding statement considering Joseph’s own dreams had occurred more than a decade prior and had yet to come true. If it were me, I probably would have responded with something like “Sorry guys wish I could help but I stink at interpretations. I once had these crazy dreams my family would bow down to me but obviously I was way off.”

But Joseph didn’t even blink. The only explanation for his confidence – an unwavering faith in the dreams God had given. He had not lost hope. He had not given up. He firmly believed it would happen. (Anyone else put to shame by this kid’s relentless faith or is it just me?)

After listening to the cupbearer describe his dream of a vine with three branches that budded and blossomed, and shot forth grapes quicker than my three year old can devour a pack of oreos, Joseph gave the happy interpretation. “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office.”

Great news thought the baker. So he shared his as well.  Only the outcome wasn’t so favorable for him. “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head – from you! – and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you” (v. 19). Talk about bearer of bad news! Way to not beat around the bush there Joseph. 

Then they waited a never ending three days to see if Joseph was right. The cupbearer anxious for the day to arrive while the baker hoped it’d never come. And Joseph? Well I imagine him a bit anxious as well. And hopeful. This was his chance! His God given opportunity. He’d asked the baker to remember him and speak to Pharaoh on his behalf. Surely he would. The whole thing was obviously God’s doing.

But when the third day dawned and everything happened just as Joseph said it would, there was no summons from the king to see the boy who’d predicted it all. No orders to bring up the man falsely accused. In fact there was no request at all. None. Because the cupbearer forgot about Joseph for two whole years.

Two whole years! Think Joseph was disappointed with God? I do. “LORD why? Why did you not do anything? I just don’t understand.” (Ever been there?) But here’s the thing. God was doing something. He was. It just wasn’t evident. Had the cupbearer mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh right away, it likely would have meant nothing to him. He had more important matters to tend to than a Hebrew slave. But when the time was right, it would mean everything.

A reminder to me to trust God because only he knows the why behind the when.

Allowing Joseph the opportunity to interpret the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, not only set the stage for Joseph’s rising but probably reignited the hope of his own dreams. And solidified a confidence within him that would come in handy when it was time to interpret Pharaoh’s.

He just needed to wait a little longer. The story was bigger than just him. And more often than we realize the same is true in our lives. It’s not just about us. It’s about God and his plan and his people and his purpose. Which sometimes requires us to wait a little longer (You have no idea how much I didn’t want to type that sentence.)

Giving us opportunity to bring glory to God through an unbending, unrelenting, undeniable faith. Wanna be someone great? Be a person of faith in a season of wait. Joseph didn’t do anything miraculous. He simply had faith in a long and difficult season of wait. When things looked bleak. When it looked as though it would never work out. When he was disappointed…he trusted God. My friend, “The LORD preserves the faithful…Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 31:23-24) And you too will be someone great.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
When have you been disappointed with God? Perhaps right now you’re in the middle of “two whole years”, how can you showcase a relentless faith? What Scriptures can you hold on to?
What lessons have you learned in seasons of wait?

(Photo credit: Pixabay)