Chronological Study · Essay

He Hears You

IMG_6597 In Genesis 30-31, there are a lot of births. Leah and Rachel basically have a small baby boom. It seems almost weirdly amusing that these two sisters are competing this way. They even follow Sarah’s lead and get their female servants involved. Then, suddenly there’s 11 baby boys (and one baby girl that’s mentioned). That’s a lot of mouths to feed! This was the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel.

So, I think today what I want to start with, briefly, is women. (Being a woman myself, I think we’re pretty cool in general) In the beginning, God created man, but in Genesis 2:18 God determines to make man a suitable helper because it wasn’t good for him to be alone. And thus, we have women! Eve was formed from one of Adam’s ribs, she was meant to complement him and they were to be one flesh. Obviously, some things got off kilter when sin entered the world, but originally this was the ideal partnership.

Since God created people in His image, I think one of the most precious gifts that God gave to women is the ability to be the vehicle for bringing life into this world. He gave women a major role in creating by allowing their bodies to be the place that a new life is formed. This is just one place I think we see God imprinting Himself on humanity by giving us the ability to create, and, I think it’s clear that we have a seriously creative God.

In Genesis 30 we see that gift in action. Like, a lot of action because there are so many babies. But, there’s another part of these verses that really stands out to me and that’s the fact that we see phrases like “the Lord heard…” or “the Lord remembered…” during the baby fever.

I don’t pretend to understand how it feels to struggle with infertility, but I know this was a difficult time in Rachel’s life. She and Jacob were in love, and Rachel desperately wanted children. She watched as her sister, who Jacob didn’t even want to marry, had multiple children with him. Then, she even tried to fix things by getting Jacob to have children with her female servant. This had to be difficult for her, and that’s probably vastly understating it.

But “God remembered Rachel; He listened to her” and she finally had a son (Genesis 30:22). After a long time of hoping and praying for a child, and watching three other women have children with the man she loved, Rachel had Joseph.

I don’t know what big thing is weighing on you today, but God hears you just like He heard Rachel. Maybe it’s not something that’s comparable to infertility—maybe it is—regardless, God hears you.

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is near the brokenhearted, He saves those crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:17-18

There are times where we go through periods of broken-heartedness, depression, and major discouragement and it can seem like God is so far away. Sometimes it feels like you’re praying to the empty air above you; or, that if your prayers are reaching heaven, they’re being put on a heavenly answering machine. “Hello, you’ve reached God’s voicemail. Please leave your message after the beep as He is too busy curing world hunger and disease at the moment. Thank you. *beep*”

But, that’s not how it is. He is never far away from us—He’s omnipresent. He hears when the righteous cry out to Him. The Bible says He knows all our needs before we even speak them (Matthew 6:7-8), so, why do we go through these periods of doubts, struggles, and discouragement?

I don’t have a definite answer for exactly why, but I can tell you that there is always a purpose. Maybe it’s like with Job where He’s testing our faith, maybe it’s to teach us something, maybe it’s so that our faith can grow, or maybe it’s so that we can help those around us. I don’t understand it all, but I know He hears you.

What do we do in the meantime when our prayers all seem to be answered with “just wait?”

I think one of the things that immediately springs to mind is Jeremiah 29:11. The context of this verse is not a happy event. It’s not a graduation, it’s not a wedding, it’s God saying that the Israelites are going to remain in exile for seventy years. Seventy years is a long time.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place form which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:10-14

Even though the Israelites were in exile God didn’t want them to think He had forgotten them. He made a covenant with this nation and He declared that He had plans for them for their good. Although, I’m sure it didn’t feel that way in exile just like it doesn’t always feel like there’s any ‘good’ when we’re amid similar seasons in our lives. He still promises to be found by us when we seek Him with our whole heart.

So, maybe that’s the answer that we need. When we’re feeling forgotten or lost, we need to turn to God and seek Him wholeheartedly. This should be what we strive for all the time, but especially when we’re struggling through something. It doesn’t guarantee that we get a specific answer as to why we’re going through that struggle, but God does promise that we will find Him. And, maybe that’s something He’s trying to speak to our hearts in those moments: that we need Him and that we can fully rest on Him. I don’t read anywhere in the Bible where God asks us to fake it in front of Him. I believe that He wants for us to lay open our hearts, our desires, our doubts, what we despair over in front of Him. He is “near to the broken-hearted” and the Holy Spirit is even called a “comforter” or “counselor” (John 14:16).

If you’re in a situation that seems hopeless, seek Him. Maybe He doesn’t answer your prayer in the way you want Him to, but He is listening. He remembered Rachel, and I am convinced that the more you “delight yourself in the Lord,” even when it’s hardest, that “He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

–Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

What’s so Bad about Esau?

100_0499 (2)Genesis 27-29 today! We’re getting to some intense moments in Jacob’s life. In these chapters, he lies to Isaac his father, he takes Esau’s blessing, flees for his life from Esau’s anger, sees a stairway to heaven, meets up with Laban, and gets married to two women and eventually the two servants of those wives. It’s packed with all kinds of action and drama. Honestly, you can’t make some of this stuff up.

But what about Esau? What’s going on with him? And why is everybody so down on him all the time? I think many people have the same reaction about fairness when they think about Cain. Why were these brothers rejected and the other ones chosen?

I had to break out Mom’s study Bible to look at the commentary and look some things up to understand the Hebrew here.

When we read about Esau, I think the first thing that stands out to me is that he was impulsive. He wasn’t always looking at the long-term consequences of his actions. He sells his birthright because he’s hungry, and he marries without listening to his parents’ wishes. It’s a heart thing. I imagine that he might also not value the things of God if he acts impulsively like this. In Hebrews 12:17 Esau is even called “godless” for his actions concerning his birthright. (When I looked up the word ‘godless’ it describes it as a lifestyle that does not acknowledge God). I think we also see this with Cain when he doesn’t give God his first-fruits. I’m not saying that Esau and Cain are the worst people to walk the earth, but they definitely miss the mark.

Then, we have those verses that say “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated” in Malachi 1:2-3. What does that mean? And is it fair that God decides to hate Esau?

I’ll start by saying that when we get into questions of ‘fairness’ and what we ‘deserve’ the answer is that we ‘deserve’ hell because everyone falls short of the standard God has set. We’ve all broken His law. When it comes to fairness, I honestly think that’s a horrible way to look at the Bible. God extends mercy to us daily, and He is not willing that any should perish. But, He is a righteous judge who has set the law in place. If we don’t accept Jesus (who is the ONLY way to salvation) we can’t expect Him to change that law for us and still be righteous.

So, I looked up that phrase that talks about ‘hate’ and it came up with a couple explanations for these verses:

  • One of the first things that it mentioned was that this expression ‘hate’ can imply less love. It referenced passages about situations where one wife was loved more than the other, it even mentioned Leah and Rachel’s relationship with Jacob (how he loved Rachel and not Leah), and it mentioned when Jesus tells us we must ‘hate’ our own family (or love them less than we love Him) to follow Him (compare Luke 14:26 to Matthew 10:37). The commentary from Mom’s study Bible described that this wasn’t really about Esau’s ‘eternal destiny’ but that it was about the fact that God’s covenant was extended to Jacob and not to Esau. Jacob was favored because God chose to extended His covenant toward his descendants, but Esau was still blessed, he just wasn’t included in the covenant.
  • Another thing it brought up was the dynamic between God and sin. God cannot be the perfect, loving, holy God that He is and permit any sort of sin. There is enmity between God and sin, and He has every right to have righteous ‘hate’ for sin and sinners. (See also: God showing us grace and mercy by sending Jesus to die for our sins so that they can be forgiven and we can be with Him one day in heaven).

Now, when we start to talk about the situation with God extending His covenant to Jacob and not to Esau, I think we get into that question of ‘fairness’ again. But, in Romans 9 Paul addresses this by saying that we don’t have any place to judge God for who He chooses to bless and who He doesn’t. He knows how the whole story works out. He is the potter and we are the clay. Paul explains, what right does a clay pot have to say to the potter ‘you should have made me this way or that’ (Romans 9:19-21).

We don’t have the full picture, but He does. Again, God is ultimately working everything to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not get everything we want in this life, but if we fit that description of loving Him and being called according to His purpose we need to stop comparing our blessings to other people’s blessings and trust that He knows what He is doing.

Another thing about this passage that stands out is that this family was taking matters into its own hands. Rebekah knew the promise God had made, but she decided to do things her way. Jacob lied and stole from his brother. Esau thought he knew what was best in his own life. And, Isaac was pretty imperfect as well.

God still blessed this family. Both Jacob and Esau went on to have considerable wealth and fathered two nations of people. But, because of Esau’s impulsive choices (and obviously in part due to Jacob’s actions) there was animosity between his descendants and the Israelites. God still seems to look out for Esau (or Edom) and blessed him, but Jacob was chosen and had a personal relationship with God. Jacob messed up considerably in his life, but he passionately sought after God’s will. (I’m not so sure about Esau since he’s called ‘godless’ later)

So, what do we take away from Esau? Well, I think Proverbs 3:5-6 sums it up.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

This verse really applies to the whole family in these chapters. With both Jacob and Esau’s choices, we see how impulsive actions and not valuing the right things can lead us into sin that has long-lasting consequences.

So, maybe we are slightly more understanding when it comes to Esau; but, at the same time, take the lesson of what not to do. Remember to think about the long-term consequences of your own actions in whatever you do—even if it seems small at the time.

–Liz

 

Chronological Study · Essay

What Would You Do for a Bowl of Stew?

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This is from one of my favorite projects from my freshman year where I did a ‘photo essay.’ I loved uncovering some of these beautiful things from seemingly dirty or just unexpected places.

So, Genesis 25-26 today! Maybe I’m getting to a point where most people recognize the stories they’ve heard in Children’s church or maybe Bible school. And maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think it’s funny to read back over these verses from a more adult perspective and think about how I perceived everything that was happening as a child. Not that I’m down on Children’s Church because I loved it while I was at that age, but I think it’s funny to see the things I latched on to—like the mental images I had come up with—in these chapters.

For example: Esau as a red hairy guy. I just have this funny picture of a guy who is literally red (like he’s laid out in the sun and been barbecued with the worst sunburn in history), and he’s also really really hairy. I mean, later we hear about how Jacob used a goat skin to trick his dad into thinking he was Esau so maybe I got part of that mental image right.

Anyhow, the part of this passage of scripture that I wanted to focus in on today was the moment when Esau sells his birthright. Again, after having heard these stories for so long, I judge Esau pretty harshly. I just mark him down as “this was a big red hairy guy who was just not very smart or good.” That sounds silly, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, the older I get the more I am able to see that with Esau, and like when Lot, Abraham, and Sarah acted foolishly in previous chapters, I am just as guilty of similar mistakes. Now, I’m not offering my daughters up to men who are up to no good, and I’m not literally living in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I’m not trying to ‘help’ God provide me with a son; but, often I’m looking at things from a worldly perspective and I’m not valuing the things I’m supposed to value or trusting in the One I should be trusting in. We all do that.

One of the things that I thought about specifically from this passage is that sometimes I let the things of this world overwhelm my faith. Sometimes I get so caught up in my immediate needs, wants, desires, fears, etc. that I rely on my own understanding instead of turning to God. In those moments, I’m not trusting that whatever it is He’s got a reason for me not to have it, for me to be waiting on His time. I’m definitely not thinking that He just wants for me to stop worrying so much and simply listen. I’m placing my earthly understanding above what wisdom God has provided through His word. I’m not valuing what should be valued.

Here, Esau is a prime example of not valuing what should be valued. He gets so focused on the fact that he is ravenously hungry that he gives away his birthright for a bowl of stew. What stew is worth the inheritance and blessing your father has for you? Maybe if his father was very unkind and didn’t care about him or something more negative I could see not placing much value on it. This isn’t the case, though. From what I read here, Isaac loved Esau very much, they even bonded over liking wild game! Not to mention Isaac was a wealthy man, who was likely leaving his children with a pretty sizeable inheritance. Even if Esau didn’t do it out of love, you would think he might show a little more appreciation for the fact that he stood to inherit a lot of that wealth.

Nope. Esau trades it for stew. STEW. There’s probably some really good food out there in the world that is worth a lot of money, but I doubt I’ll ever come across birthright worthy stew! It makes me mad to think that he acted so flippantly towards such an important thing.

But. (It’s a terrible transition word!) What about me? How often do I look at the situation in front of me and feel that it is bigger than something God is capable of handling? How often do I trade my ‘birthright,’ some of the things God tells us will come about if we follow His commands (as if living a life that is pleasing to Him is not enough of a reward), for something that can ‘fix’ whatever is going on in that moment? Sometimes I don’t even have a problem. Sometimes I just really want whatever stew is in front of me, and I look at the world (who in this situation looks like a lunch lady) and I say “yeah, you can have this ‘birthright,’ this nice valuable thing that I know I can have from scripture, and I’ll trade it for that temporary happy stew you got there.”

Great googly moogly, what’s wrong with us?! (Maggie and the Ferocious Beast anybody?)

Why does God stay with these people even when they continue to mess up? Why does He stick with any believer? We’re just going to keep messing up because we’re human. What is the point?

Turns out there’s multiple reasons:

  • The first thing that comes to mind is that God made an everlasting covenant in 17:7. God does not make promises lightly. He promises to be the God of Abraham’s descendants. When He makes promises to us, like that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6; John 14:8; Hebrews 13:5-6), He means it.
  • Second: He desires a relationship with us. God created us from the very beginning because He wanted to have fellowship with us. If He just wanted to have angels praising Him for all eternity He could have done that, but He chose to create mankind and to initiate a loving relationship with us. Being omniscient (which obviously I can’t wrap my head around that one) He knew what would happen when He gave us the ability to choose. He knows we’re going to make mistakes, but He wants us anyway.
  • God is love, He is faithful, and He is our Heavenly Father. I don’t know that those things really need a lot of explanation, but God loves us. Loves.
  • Lastly, when we do make mistakes He convicts our heart through the Holy Spirit, but He is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins and repent from them (1 John 1:9).

You are not so bad that God can’t reach you. You haven’t strayed too far that He can’t find you. You are not so lost that He can’t love you. Even when you sometimes sell your birthright for stew, or lie about your wife being your sister, or have your husband impregnate your servant, or when you hesitate to leave Sodom and Gomorrah.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I always picture it being like we fall into a mud puddle. We’re absolutely the dirtiest kid on the block. How did we fall? By being where our Father told us not to be. But, we get to the door of His house, we confess that we’ve messed up and He takes us in even though He could say that He’s “just done with it. you keep falling in all these mud puddles” but He loves us and cleans us off and He tells us He never stopped loving us. That He’s forgiven us through grace and that He’s glad we came to Him—because we can’t just try to use the outside spigot to wash this kind of thing off.

So, remember to keep a heavenly perspective when this world threatens to overwhelm us. And please, please don’t sell your birthright for stew.

–Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

All Your Needs

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(photo creds to one of my mission trip buddies. this was taken in Eleuthera during the 2015 trip)

Today’s reading was Genesis 22-24. These chapters show how God provides for us, how He gives us what we need at the right time, in the right place. God knows what we need and even when we deserve it the least, He still loves us and cares for us. Isn’t that amazing?

In chapter 22, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son (emphasis on his ONLY son). Let’s take a second to really set that up and let it sink in:

  • This is Abraham’s only child with Sarah.
  • The baby they prayed for.
  • The heir that Abraham so desired.
  • The child that God promised.
  • The one who’s supposed to kick-start the whole “many nations” thing.
  • Isaac is the one who God is going to make His covenant with.

God asks Abraham to sacrifice this child as a burnt offering. God knows that this is just going to test Abraham’s faith and that Isaac won’t actually be sacrificed. On the other hand, maybe Abraham understood that his faith was being tested, but I bet he was concerned about actually sacrificing his only son (only son!). How would he have any descendants if Isaac was sacrificed? Regardless, Abraham was prepared to obey.

This is probably a difficult passage to read as a parent. I can’t even imagine if I were in this position and had to sacrifice a friend. Literally or metaphorically, it’s a difficult thing to swallow. But, once Abraham shows that he trusts God (I mean, the Bible doesn’t even mention him trying to reason with God in this passage, he just gets up and obeys what God has called him to do), He provides a ram to be the actual sacrifice.

Talk about trusting God to provide! Abraham’s faith in this passage is something I aspire to. This is the kind of faith God desires. Not that we go out and start trying to offer our friends and family as burnt offerings, but He wants the kind of faith that trusts Him at His word and obeys even when things look bleakest. The kind of faith that says “all I have is Yours, God.”

If that wasn’t enough, read through chapter 24 and see how God provides a wife for Isaac. It may not be as miraculous as providing the ram in chapter 22, but it still shows that God hears our prayers and He provides what we need when we need it. His timing is perfect.

When I think back on my own life, I think of all the ways He’s provided for me. Some things have been really small, like answering a prayer that the air conditioner in my car would work. And some things have been much bigger like providing the financial support necessary to go on a mission trip to Eleuthera. In these situations and so many more that I honestly take for granted, the message is there: God provides.

Today on Facebook I had a sweet reminder of how God provides. In my ‘memories’ there was a picture from my first trip to Eleuthera (it’s a small island in the Bahamas, if you’re wondering ‘where in the world is she talking about?’). When I think back on that trip, I remember that leading up to that trip (July 2013) several of our appliances around the house seemed to be falling apart. Our washer and dryer, the dishwasher, I think even the HVAC were all on the fritz. I remember thinking ‘how are we going to do this if we have to pay to get all this fixed? And how are we even going to raise this money in the first place because it’s a lot.’

Well, God met our needs. We raised enough money from different fundraisers and some generous donations for all four of us to go. There were a few complications on this trip with the airlines (we were delayed for hours both going and coming back home, and our some of our luggage was lost when we got there); but, everything worked out so that we were able to get several projects done around the school we were working at and to minister to some kids through a Vacation Bible School at a local church. God provided for us.

The second time I went (July 2015), I was alone but still with a group of people from our church. I struggled with the fact that I was added in at the last second when someone else couldn’t go. For a while I felt like this wasn’t my place. I had been the third or fourth person who was asked to fill that spot. I still got a lot of work done with the group, but it didn’t feel the same as the last time.

Then, my youth pastor told me one night on the trip that I was looking at it wrong. I wasn’t the ‘last resort’ to fill a spot, I was the only person who could go. And maybe that was God saying that I was there to fill a specific need. God doesn’t do things by accident. That changed my perspective, and if that was the only thing that I got out of the trip it would have been worth it.

The truth is that I am never God’s ‘second choice’ or ‘last resort.’ If God is a God who orchestrates the events of the universe intentionally, then nothing is without purpose. (I can’t understand it all, and maybe I’m not articulating it properly, but chalk it up to an imperfect person trying to wrap her head around the plans of an omniscient, perfect Creator) Each of us is unique and we are called to fill a specific need in this universe. Maybe we don’t always feel it, but God did not create you by accident. You have a specific purpose and you matter!

So, maybe you’re in a position where you feel like you have a big need that God hasn’t met yet. Keep praying because God provides.

Maybe you feel like you’re stuck in some place and you’re not sure why you’re there. Keep seeking God’s will and look at the situation from the perspective that God has a purpose for you and that nothing—not even the small things—escapes His notice.

God’s timing is perfect and maybe we don’t always get what we want, but trust that He will provide what we need when we need it. I think a lot of times even if He just meets our exact need at the right time, it is so much sweeter than if we had gotten everything we wanted. Sometimes we just have to change our perspective from a worldly view to a heavenly one to see more clearly.

Philippians 4:19

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

–Liz

PS: I’d love to hear from those of you reading this! If you have an example of how God has provided for you in your own life, feel free to share in a comment below! Or, if you have a need that you’d like to request prayer for, you can share that as well. Praying that you all have an excellent Tuesday!

Chronological Study · Essay

When You’re Living with a Messed up Lot

IMG_5277This is probably going to be a short post because I’m (unfortunately) in a hurry to get several assignments done (it’s almost time for finals for the summer semester Yikes! I apologize if this is a little choppy)

Today’s reading was Genesis 19-21. And, Wow! these are messy chapters! These are real, gross, flawed, human chapters from Abraham’s life. You should read it if you haven’t in a while or if you never have. But, seriously, it’s soap opera messy.

A few things stand out to me. The first is how Lot gets drawn in to the culture of Sodom and Gomorrah. I feel like up until last Sunday when my pastor discussed this chapter I had always given him a really hard time. I mean, come on Lot! Your uncle is Abraham! You should know better than to go live in that place let alone become absorbed in it.

But, how often am I sucked in to things in the world/culture around me? How often do I start by looking at something from far off, and then I move just a little closer (and then a little closer and closer) until I find myself in the middle of it? It doesn’t even have to be something that’s a ‘big sin’ in the world’s eyes. It could even be something ‘small’ that becomes an idol in my life. Something to think about when I want to point fingers next time!

The next thing: Lot hesitated. God sent angels—heavenly messengers!—to say that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Lot hesitated. I don’t know exactly what made him hesitate, but I’m guessing it was the fact that he was emotionally invested, he had probably acquired some wealth there, and maybe he doubted after his sons-in-law didn’t take him seriously. Whatever the reason, he hesitated to the point that these angels had to pull him by the arm and start to drag him out.

If I’m totally honest, I can identify with Lot at times. I think we all can, although that’s not something anyone wants to admit. The fact that sometimes I mistakenly take ‘comfortable’ over where a Holy God who knows what’s best for me is calling me makes me want to kick myself! (hopefully I’m not the only one) I’m clinging to the hope that I’ll learn to trust Him more and more as I continue to grow in this life!

Another thing that stood out to me as I was meditating over this passage today was that I am thankful for the Abrahams in my life who plead with the Lord on my behalf! I mean, Abraham still doesn’t have it together because he’s just a human as Lot, but I am impressed by the conversation Abraham has with God at the end of chapter 18. And, I pray that I have the boldness that Abraham has in pleading for God’s people and in praying and pleading for the lost.

So, I’ll close with these verses that came to mind:

 

Isaiah 53:5-6

But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.

No one is perfect, and no one will ever be, but just like there was a savior for Lot, there is a Savior for us when we were lost in sin, and even now there can be forgiveness when we mess up.

 

Romans 6:1-2

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Even though we are forgiven for every sin through Jesus’s blood, we should stay out of Sodom and Gomorrah! We cannot keep living in sin!

 

1 Corinthians 10: 13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

God will provide a way for us to bear temptation, but I don’t believe He wants us to face it on our own. We should seek Him in our times of weakness so that we can rest on His strength.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2

            Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

When we feel God calling us out of a situation like He was with Lot, and every single day when we wake up and open our eyes this should be our prayer.

 

Romans 12:2

            Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

It’s so important to have this ‘renewing’ every day. God doesn’t want us just on Sundays. With that kind of faith we stand no chance against the world that is so insistent on conformity and weighs us down with sin.

 

Hopefully this finds you well on your Monday evening!

–Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

…Do What?

Today’s reading is Genesis 16-18, and it’s kind of a funny part of scripture. Some might say laughable—like Abraham and Sarah would say that. Why? Because they laughed at God’s promise that they would have a child at such an old age. But God was totally serious.

He had told them before that Abraham would be the father of many nations, his descendants would be as many as the stars and also that he would have a son. Abraham believed him in chapter 15, but I think when God revealed that Sarah would be the one who bore him a son he just couldn’t believe it. She was well past childbearing years. She was 90 years old for goodness sake! Maybe I’m off, but I think when most women hit their 40’s they’re about done with the whole childbearing thing, but imagine being 90. She would be 108 by the time he was starting college! She laughed at the words “Sarah your wife will have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Honestly, I think I might laugh a little, too.

What I think I take away from this passage is that sometimes—maybe I could even say frequently—God’s plans make no sense to the world. This promise of a son certainly doesn’t make sense. If this were happening now, I wonder if Abraham and Sarah would have consulted a doctor to confirm their suspicions. The doctor would almost certainly be included in the laughing because they would probably say it’s not at all biologically possible. Nevertheless, I count about five times that Abraham is told by God that he will have a son with Sarah.

God had a plan from the very beginning of the world—He’s omniscient, He knows exactly how everything plays out. So, we can rest on the fact that when He tells us something is going to happen it’s going to happen.

At the same time, the things He calls us to, even in the ‘little’ things where He calls us to be obedient and different from the world, don’t make sense to the world. One example is where He tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-8). What? I think any person can agree that being respectful to everyone is a good goal to have, but who wants to give up being just a little spiteful and bitter towards someone who really ‘deserves it?’ and love them instead? Nope. Worldly ‘logic’ says love people who love you, and just try not to physically harm the people who hate you. 1 Corinthians 2:14 sort of sums this up: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

I don’t say this to sound like I’m saying I’m better than someone who is not a Christian. But, there are so many times where my life will (I hope and pray by the grace of God) look different than a lost person’s life. Sometimes it won’t make sense. I think a lot of times it seems restrictive, and maybe it is a little ‘restrictive,’ but I can truthfully say that when I live that life I’m trading the happiness of the world for an eternal joy and deeper fellowship with my Creator and Heavenly Father.

God uses the foolish things to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). He probably completely dumbfounded Abraham’s neighbors when baby Isaac arrived. But that’s a testament to the awesome power of God! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can really live the life God calls us to and blend in with this world. He essentially calls us to be weird! I mean, He doesn’t phrase it like that, but He calls us to be separate from the world (Romans 12: 1-2).

Why would we ever want to live a life of constantly chasing little ‘happiness’ that does not last, trading down from an abundant ‘different’ life (John 10:10)? I think it comes down to us getting caught up in worldly ‘logic.’ I know Abraham and Sarah did at first. They turned to Hagar instead of trusting God because what God was promising didn’t really make sense with what the world says. Doubting God is a part of growing in your faith. What helps us grow instead of hurting us is, when we experience this doubt, searching scripture for who God has proven Himself to be. When we do this instead of letting our doubts accumulate and begin to overwhelm us, it gets a little easier to trust that He knows what He is talking about even when we don’t.

I think another one thing I need to clarify is that this kind of trust isn’t exactly ‘blind.’ Our faith shouldn’t be like jumping off a cliff and saying ‘God’s got this’ (Matthew 4:5-7). I don’t think that’s what He calls us to do. Everything He calls us to lines up with scripture. Maybe you see an opportunity where God seems to have directed your heart, and it may meet the criteria of being something ‘weird’ that you will be taking a ‘step of faith with,’ but it will always be aligned with scripture. (Not to mention we need to make those big decisions after prayerful consideration where we are seeking God’s will above our own desires).

My prayer is that we take Abraham’s life as an example to be more trusting when it comes to the way God calls us to live, as well as in the more ‘extraordinary’ things God calls us to. Sometimes it may seem laughable compared to the ‘logic’ of this world, it may seem too restrictive, or just plain dumb to some people. But, I hope that in those moments where we begin to doubt that we would look to who God has proven Himself to be and to the lives of others like Abraham, Noah, Esther, Paul, etc. and we would keep pressing on towards Him (Philippians 3:14).

–Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

Promises, Blessings, and a Blazing Torch

My church is going through a chronological study of the Bible, and, honestly, I’m a little behind on it, but I’m still reading every day. Today, I thought I’d share what I read and some of the things that stood out to me—hopefully this will be a daily thing with a few in-depth posts along the way as well.

Today the reading was Genesis chapters 12-15. I just finished the book of Job and now I’m into the life of Abraham. I think the more I read the Bible, and the older I get, the more I relate to these people and their very human, imperfect reactions to things; but, at the same time I am still amazed by the incredible faith they have.

In this section of reading we see Abram (he hasn’t made it to his name change yet, so I’m just going to stick to Abram here) following God boldly, making a few mistakes along the way, but following God and growing regardless.

God calls him out of his home beginning in chapter 12, and He promises Abram that He will make him a “great nation” and that Abram will be a “blessing”—eventually to the entire world (12:1-4).

What stands out to me here is that God is including an ordinary guy in His plan to redeem the entire world.

When I think of Abraham’s entire life I think about how he talked with God, how God made him amazing promises, about all the other impressive things that happened around him, and about the covenant that was established. At the same time, I also think about some of the big mistakes that he makes from the very beginning. If you read through the whole story and highlighted everything he did that was wrong, you’d probably be able to highlight a lot of things. He’s just a regular guy being drawn into God’s intentionally orchestrated plan for salvation.

Abram’s life has already been marked by the power of God in these four chapters. One place this stands out is in chapter 15. This portion of the story is packed with a demonstration of God’s love and provision.

In chapter 15, God speaks to Abram. (note: this is after Abram lies about his wife in Egypt and after Lot decides to live near Sodom. If I were able to decide who was in this plan to redeem the world, I might skip over Abram, but read what happens). God tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, Abram believes him, and God “[credits] it to him as righteousness.” Sound familiar? Like maybe what we talk about salvation? Let’s keep going.

There’s also this point after God speaks that promise where He gives Abram an assurance that He will keep this promise. Now, I do not understand all the technical details to this kind of sacrifice/covenant, but this was a very serious thing. God didn’t have to give Abram this assurance that He would keep His word, but He did.

I believe that God treats us the same way, although we probably won’t see visions like Abram did. He continuously shows Himself faithful to us, and that He will keep His promises.

This first demonstration of His faithful love to us individually was when He called us out to follow Him, and then credited our faith in Him as righteousness. That’s not our own righteousness because of what we did, but because of the forgiveness we can obtain through His Son’s blood.

Romans 3:10 tells us that “there is none righteous, no, not one” but the rest of the chapter continues to say that by our faith in Jesus we can be forgiven and justified by His grace (Romans 3: 10-26).

The fact that we have the Bible, to me, is another major way we see that He proves his love towards us even further. It shows that from the very beginning of the world God has loved us and we are made with intention. Nothing is randomly here. It all works to His glory—and trust me that His plan is definitely for the ultimate good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Not to mention the very fact that because of Jesus we can have a personal relationship with God Almighty like Abram did. That’s just a glimpse of how much He loves us and that He desires our fellowship and worship! I can’t think of a reasonable explanation to God needing us. He made the universe and has awesome power, but He chooses to involve us and show us grace and mercy when we don’t deserve it. He. loves. us.

Even though I write all that about God’s love and forgiveness, maybe you’re like me and sometimes all you can see is the way Abram didn’t get it right. That he messed up A LOT during his life. And, maybe that’s how you’re looking at your own life.

Today, take this assurance that God gave Abram that He is faithful in His promises. Including the ones about how He can forgive us of our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and that nothing you can do can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-9). That doesn’t mean we continue to live in sin because of grace and forgiveness (Romans 6:1-14), and it also doesn’t mean that we won’t still struggle against temptation and sin. It does mean that God’s promises are not dependent on what we can do. We are called to live a life of repentance and submission to God, but we are saved and forgiven by faith in His power, and His grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Just like God used Abram despite his flaws, He can use us.

–Liz

Essay

What Plans?

1The past couple weeks or have been pretty chaotic. I’ve been busy at church, we went on an almost vacation over the holiday weekend to the lake, and I’ve had several assignments due at the same time. It all adds up to me not making time to write a little along the way like I should. But, this is a learning process, and hopefully no one is offended. Hopefully.

So, something that has been on my heart recently is career decisions/plans! (Ooh! Scary) I’m about to be a senior in college and I keep getting all these questions about what I want to do once I graduate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people asking me, if I were them I’d ask me too; but, I think those same questions that are innocent and reasonable to someone who isn’t in college are sometimes the ones that strike fear into the heart of college students.

When confronted with those questions you need to have an answer because college is expensive, you’re putting forth a lot of effort to do well in your classes, and you should have a plan. Still, these questions can be nerve-wracking. What if someone thinks your plans are dumb? What if your plans are underdeveloped and too idealistic? What if you don’t really know and don’t have a plan in a conventional sense? *cue hair pulling and maybe some weeping and gnashing of teeth*

There is a lot of importance placed on choosing the right career, knowing that you’re going to bring in the money, having benefits, working somewhere where you have opportunities for promotion and a pay raise, all that jazz. You’ve really gotta nail this part down and then have some idea when you’re going to get engaged, plan the wedding, honeymoon, how long it’s going to be before you have those 2.5 children, how you’ll pay for their college and, by the way, how you’ve been saving up for your retirement (if you actually can retire) and obviously you’ve already got life insurance so your funeral doesn’t put those 2.5 kids and any resulting grandchildren into debt. That’s all by the time you’re in your early-twenties or so.

(Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration of the truth)

Even though these are important things, and often older adults and parents bring this up because they know it’s important to plan ahead, sometimes it can get a little overwhelming. Why are we so worried with planning out every detail of our life so quickly? No wonder so many people seem to be talking about having anxiety or depression these days. Typing all of that out makes my head spin. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate for planning. I’m not really about the whole ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ life—I need at least a general outline of what’s going to happen. (A detailed bulleted itinerary for each day would be even better) Everything seems to be pressuring us—at any stage in life—to be superhuman and have everything secured firmly in place, which doesn’t leave much room to actually live life and make human mistakes.

Still, there’s another question that can cause even more worry when we’re in this mindset: what is God calling me to do?

I’m going to level with you and say that I have *some* idea—a very broad general idea—of what I want to do for my career, but when I think about that last question it really makes me worry that I don’t have it together.

How do we know what God is calling us to? And if we don’t get it right can we still pass “go,” collect our $200 and start back around the board? If we miss out on our ‘calling,’ because we’re human and prone to missing things or messing up, have we completely missed our purpose?

I think this is one area where it becomes a little clearer to me that there is a spiritual battle taking place around me. All of these worries make me feel so stuck, so inadequate, that it’s difficult to move. But, what does the enemy want? “To steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). And does instilling doubt about our future and what we should ‘really be doing’ for our career seem like a good strategy to steal our joy, kill our hopes, and destroy the opportunity for us to grow spiritually? Oh, yeah. When we have these doubts, and don’t deal with them properly, they strangle us.

When I am focused on ‘what I should know/have planned’ I get so bogged down with insecurity. It sucks the joy out of me. This comes when I have the “second thing first” like my pastor discussed on Sunday. Obviously, if we put the cart before the horse we can’t get very far, but the point he made during service was also that it can make us lose both the first and second things when we, say, put finding our career before our relationship with God (this was based on a quote by C.S. Lewis).

I really feel like this age group, from youth in middle school to people in college, is a group that the Devil targets a lot. When you look at how much that age group influences the world it seems like a strategic move to fill them with doubts about their own identity and purpose as they’re growing up and making critical decisions that impact the rest of their life. I know I hear a lot of comments about “well, when ‘real life’ hits you…’’ but that is so deceptive. These are often comments that are meant to be helpful, but this phrase can cause us to think that we have more time than we do, in a sense. ‘Real life’ is your entire life and everything we do matters. Yes, it’s different when you’re more dependent on adult help than later in life when you are an adult yourself, but we need to stop thinking that life ‘begins’ after school, after a certain age, when you get married, or after you get a good job.

We frequently see God going after young people in the Bible, and I don’t think I’ve read where He tells them “well, after you get this job…” or “once you’re this age…that’s when your ‘real life’ begins. You can hit me up then and we’ll chat about what I want you to do. Until then, enjoy hanging out!”  No! Every aspect of our life has purpose and intention in God’s eyes. With Joseph, we see God using the abuse he took from his brothers, the way he was a slave, when he was thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, etc. Every detail of his life was used for God’s glory and ultimately to save the Israelites from starving during the time of famine (Joseph’s story is in Genesis 37-50). What I mean is, when it comes to our purpose on this earth, as Christians, it is not tied to a career. Our purpose is something that is held in God’s hands and it’s not just one single thing. I’m sure Joseph thought his career was just going to involve herding sheep and managing his household and that was it. He sure had a shocking change of plans.

Even though it’s easy to get caught up in worries about what we should do for our career on this earth, that’s not going to change our ultimate purpose—like He tells Jeremiah, something God knew before we were ever born (Jeremiah 1:5).

What I believe is really important throughout our lives, and especially needs to be instilled in us from a young age regardless of religious beliefs, is that we need to be faithful in the little things. In addition to Joseph’s story, the Bible presents the parable of the “bags of gold” (it might be different depending on which version you’re reading) and describes that those who most pleased their master were the ones who were considerate in the way they dealt with investments of the “few things,” or in the ‘little’ things (Matthew 25:21). In the end, the master tells them because they were obedient with the ‘little’ things, he was going to put them in charge of “many” things (Matthew 25:21).

I think, when it comes to our careers, we can apply the same principle. This starts with the right focus: putting the first thing first and starting from a relationship with God. This should always be number one. That doesn’t mean we won’t mess up, but it does mean that we keep pressing on in always trying to make it our first focus (Philippians 3:12-4). When we do start with the right focus, everything else starts to fall into place.

For example: when we start with our relationship with God, when we’re disciplined in the ‘little things’ like consistently reading God’s word and spending time in prayer, it becomes easier to understand God’s will for our lives (…which can sometimes include career plans). I’m not going to claim that if we always read our bible and pray God is going to mark out our designated career with a big X, because I don’t think that’s so. What I am trying to say is that, through a relationship with God, it becomes easier to discern where God is working, and how we can best serve Him (Ephesians 5:8-17). Maybe the options for a career are still wide open, but our perspective changes from one of worry to one of trust, and maybe just that change in attitude can make it easier to see where our talents/gifts/abilities and our passions intersect so that we can seek out a place to work for God’s glory.

Sometimes we place so much importance on choosing the right career that we begin to think that there is only one job for us, and, if we miss it, we won’t be any good to anyone. Well, not only is this not true, the fact of the matter is that regardless of where you are career-wise God can use you. Be faithful in the little things and keep the first things first and the bigger and second things start to be added in as we continue on (Matthew 6:33-4).

Does this mean that we should not place any sense of urgency on searching for that place that God is calling us to? No. When you’re at a point in your life where you need to be concerned with choosing a career this should be something we prioritize to some extent. Big decisions like your career are something to take seriously and consider with prayer, fasting, and godly council from others, but, it starts with your relationship with God and not from a place of panic.

So, if you’re like me and at a point that you don’t have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed on your career plans, remember to be faithful in the little things and that God has not forgotten the plans (notice the ‘s’ in plans!) He has for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6

—Liz