God is Never Unaware

Today’s Reading: Exodus 1-4

The nation of Egypt had grown very powerful because the hand of God was on Joseph’s life, yet they were still a self-seeking, sinful people and they oppressed God’s children. A new king was now in leadership and he was intimidated by the size of Joseph’s growing family, the Israelites. He decided to make them slaves and appointed brutal slave drivers over them, assigning them with crushing labor.

Life was bitter for the Israelites as they were worked without mercy and under the pressure of ruthless demands (Exodus 1:11-14). The more Pharoah oppressed God’s people, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread. Pharoah gave an order to the Hebrew midwives to kill every newborn boy, only letting the girls live. But the Hebrew midwives feared God and refused the King’s orders. So Pharoah ordered all the Egyptians to kill every newborn Hebrew boy (1:22). Imagine the terror and grief of God’s people as their babies were yanked from their arms and cast into the Nile River.

BUT GOD IS NEVER CAUGHT UNAWARE. HE IS NEVER WITHOUT A PLAN.

God raised up a leader from one of those baby boys to rescue his people. A married couple from the tribe of Levi gave birth to a son and hid him for three months. When they could no longer hide him, they placed him in a basket and laid it among the reeds of the Nile River, with the baby’s sister watching close by. Pharoah’s daughter found the baby and claimed it as her own. Because GOD IS GENEROUS, He even worked out a way for the baby’s mother to take him back home and nurse him until he was old enough to move into the palace and be raised by the princess, who named him Moses (2:1-10).

Although Moses was adopted into this royal family, he never lost his connection with the Hebrew people. He saw how hard they were forced to work and came to their defense, killing an Egyptian who was beating one of the Hebrew slaves. When Pharoah heard of this, he tried to kill Moses so he fled Egypt and went to live in the land of Midian (2:11-15). There GOD PROVIDED him with a wife, the daughter of the Midian priest, Jethro.

While tending Jethro’s flocks one day on Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, Moses came across a blazing fire in the middle of a bush. The bush was engulfed in flames but was not consumed by the fire. As Moses stepped forward to get a closer look, he heard from God.

“I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey…Now go, for I am sending you to Pharoah. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10

AGAIN, GOD IS NEVER CAUGHT UNAWARE. HE IS NEVER WITHOUT A PLAN.

He knows how His people suffer and He hears their cries, responding with His perfect plan. Moses had the privilege to be a part of this plan – to have a front row seat to the mighty hand of God at work. But Moses responded in fear and doubt.

God said “Go” and Moses responded “Who am I?” God made it clear – It isn’t about who you are but about who I am and “I Am Who I Am” (3:14). Moses protested – What should I say? God responded – “Say this…” Moses reacted in fear and doubt, asking “What if…?” God pointed out the staff in Moses hand and told him to throw it down to the ground. It turned into a snake. God told him to pick up the snake by the tail and when he obeyed, the snake turned back into the staff. God was showing Moses how He would perform all kinds of miracles to show Himself to both Pharoah and the Israelites.

Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” – Exodus 4:11-12

GOD IS NEVER CAUGHT UNAWARE. HE IS NEVER WITHOUT A PLAN.

God has a plan and that plan often involves us. He calls us to do something and He desires obedience and faith. When we say, “Who am I? What can I do?” God says, “It’s not about you, it’s about me and I Am Who I Am.” When we ask how, God says, “Take what I have already placed in your hand, what I have already equipped you with, and let go of it. I will take it from there. I will tell you what to do and I will give you the words to say.”

Many of us are called by God to rescue others who are suffering. We have a message to give those who are hurting – God hears, He is concerned and He has a plan to rescue them. Let’s listen closely to God today as we make ourselves available to be used by Him in the lives of others. Let’s respond in obedience and faith instead of fear and doubt. Let others know that God has seen, He has heard, He is concerned and He has come down to rescue them!!!

Heavenly Father, thank you for the many ways in which you have generously provided for us. Thank you for being present and active in our lives, knowing what has been and what will come. It is comforting to know that nothing about my day will catch you off guard or unaware. Help me to trust you in the midst of it all. When I start to argue or find excuses, remind me that it is about you. Remind me of who you are and what you have already provided in my life. Give me the courage to respond in obedience and faith. Amen.

When I Argued With God

Today’s Reading: Job 26-42

In our humanity, we often think we know better than God what should happen. In our arrogance, we often think we have all the answers. In our ignorance, we often question God instead of submitting to His plan. But do we know? Do we understand? Can we even imagine? Are we as strong as God?

Most of the book of Job is one long conversation. His friends have come to visit him after he has suffered great loss and pain. They argue with him that his sin has caused him to lose favor with God and that is why disaster has taken his family, possessions and good health. Job defends his righteousness and whines about how God has abandoned him. A young bystander, Elihu, finally steps into the conversation to remind all of them WHO God is and to caution them when making such grand accusations against God. God. You remember him, right? The Creator of the world, the Almighty, the One more powerful than we can comprehend or imagine?

“Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens, and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder – the tremendous voice of his majesty.
He does not restrain it when he speaks. God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
WE CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE THE GREATNESS OF HIS POWER.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down.
THEN EVERYONE STOPS WORKING SO THEY CAN WATCH HIS POWER.
The wild animals take cover and stay in their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber, and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice, freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture, and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
They do whatever he commands through the earth…

“DO YOU KNOW how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
DO YOU UNDERSTAND how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror. CAN YOU DO THAT?

“We cannot look at the sun, for it shines brightly in the sky when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
WE CANNOT IMAGINE the power of the Almighty;
but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us.
No wonder people fear him.
All who are wise show him reverence.”
– Job 37:2-12,15-18,21-24

Stop looking for the sin in your life that has caused your suffering and start looking at how your suffering is causing you to sin. Perhaps your current pain is more about your present grumbling than a consequence of your past actions. Humble yourself and listen to what God has to say about your complaining and arguing.

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.
Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted with joy?

Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores.
I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? …

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
Have you explored their depths?
Do you know where the gates of death are located?
Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
Do you realize the extent of the earth?
Tell me about it if you know!
“Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go?
Can you take each to its home?
Do you know how to get there?
But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!”
… – Job 38:1-13,16-21

Then the Lord said to Job,
“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers? …
ARE YOU AS STRONG AS GOD?”
… – Job 40:1-2,9a

Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me…
I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”
– Job 42:1-2,6

What a powerful section of scripture. I wish I could say I have never argued with God. I wish I could claim I have never disagreed with God or questioned His decisions. Unfortunately, I am as guilty as Job. It was I who was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.

This morning I recognize that YOU, Almighty God, are strong and powerful and wonderful. I listen to the wind blowing outside and I recognize your strength. I stay inside from the cold snow and I recognize your control. I do not know what is best. I do not pretend to understand your greater plan. But I do trust you. I sit quietly and watch Your power at work – the power I cannot even fathom the depth of. You, Oh God, are holy and You, Oh God, are great! Amen.

When I Questioned God

Today’s Reading: Job 11-25

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10

Job’s friends seemed to have an understanding of Job’s sufferings as if it was simply Job’s turn. He had been blessed for years and now it was his turn to suffer the realities of life. Where is your faith, Job, and where are your confident words now that the shoe is on the other foot? When they could have encouraged him, Job’s friends chose instead to mock him.

“Your words have supported those who were failing; you encouraged those with shaky knees. But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you. Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?” – Job 4:4-6

QUESTIONING THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Job developed an attitude of self-pity and defeat. What good does it do to argue with God if He isn’t listening?

“So who am I that I should try to answer God or even reason with him? Even if I were right, I would have no defense. I could only plead for mercy. And even if I summoned him and he responded, I’m not sure he would listen to me. For he attacks me with a storm and repeatedly wounds me without cause. He will not let me catch my breath, but fills me instead with bitter sorrows. If it’s a question of strength, he’s the strong one. If it’s a matter of justice, who dares to summon him to court?” – Job 9:14-19

I agree with Elihu’s response to Job when he said, “But it is wrong to say God doesn’t listen, to say the Almighty isn’t concerned” (Job 35:13).

QUESTIONING THE WISDOM OF GOD

Job questioned God’s wisdom in even allowing him to be born if He was going to eventually let him suffer like this (Job 10:8-12,18-22). Job demonstrates an internal conflict between being in awe of the power of God and being disappointed with the wisdom of God. In one breath he is speaking of how great God is and in another breath he is questioning the motives and decisions of God. If Job was without sin before the hard times came, he is now demonstrating his humanity and sin nature by questioning the authority of God.

More than that, Job was downright angry with God. Many of us can relate to a moment in our lives when we questioned God or asked “Why?” In our grief, we experience anger but there’s a difference between taking our anger to God and taking our anger out on God. I think this is where Job messes up. It is not a sin that he is experiencing human emotions in the midst of his grief and pain; it is what he does with the emotions that trip him up. Job is arguing with God and criticizing God’s wisdom.

QUESTIONING THE GREATNESS OF GOD

Are you currently questioning the wisdom of God regarding a situation in your life? Are you arguing with God? Are you angry with Him? Let’s look at some verses in Job to consider just how awesome and wise our God is – how worthy He is of our trust even in the most difficult times. Let us consider that God is greater than we can understand.

“Can you solve the mysteries of God?
Can you discover everything about the Almighty?
Such knowledge is higher than the heavens – and who are you?
It is deeper than the underworld – what do you know?
It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea?”
– Job 11:7-9

“God stretches the northern sky over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing.
He wraps the rain in his thick clouds, and the clouds don’t burst with the weight.
He covers the face of the moon, shrouding it with clouds.
He created the horizon when he separated the waters; he set the boundary between day and night.
The foundations of heaven tremble; they shudder at his rebuke.
By his power the sea grew calm…
These are just the beginning of all that he does, merely a whisper of his power.
Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power?”
– Job 26:7-12,14

“God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens.
He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall.
He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning.
Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it thoroughly.
And this is what he says to all humanity:
‘The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.’”
– Job 28:23-28

“Look, God is all-powerful. Who is a teacher like him?
No one can tell him what to do, or say to him, ‘You have done wrong.’
Instead, glorify his mighty works, singing songs of praise…
Look, God is greater than we can understand. His years cannot be counted.”
– Job 36:22-24,26

God, you are greater than we can comprehend. Help us to simply rest in your wisdom, submitting ourselves to your greatness and your authority in our lives. Lord, give us the strength to let go of our need to understand and simply trust you. So when the reality we are facing is as bitter as our morning coffee, Lord we ask for the gift of faith and the ability to trust in order to sweeten up our perspective. Thank you for loving us patiently when we lack understanding. We love you back! Amen.

When I Was Down-And-Out

Today’s Reading: Job 1-10, Psalm 30

We don’t really think of the timing of Job’s life as falling between Genesis and Exodus, but historians believe this to be the case. There were many years between the death of Joseph (1805 BC) and the birth of Moses (1526 BC). The story of Job falls here, starting out very much like a fairy tale.

ONCE UPON A TIME…

There was once a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless – a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil (Job 1:1). Most of us know the story. Job was a righteous man who had been blessed abundantly by God. He had a large family, lots of servants and lots of animals. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area (1:3).

THE HIGHER YOU GO, THE HARDER YOU FALL.

Job lost everything when Satan challenged God regarding the faithfulness of Job. God allowed Satan to test Job by taking away his possessions and then by causing him physical pain through terrible boils from his head to foot. Job’s response shows the strength of his faith as he continued to praise God.

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
– Job 1:21

When his wife nagged him, encouraging him to curse God and die, Job’s response was powerful: “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10

THE MORE FRIENDS YOU HAVE, THE HAPPIER YOU ARE.

As we read through his book, we see that Job is having a difficult time. He feels the pain and suffers from the loss just like anyone else would. He is surrounded by friends who are trying to give him advice through this time of suffering but seem to only be saying the wrong things. We have probably all been there – either we have been the one going through a hard time and had well-meaning friends say something that makes the pain worse OR we have been the one who has sincerely tried to comfort a friend only to end up saying the last thing they wanted to hear.

Job’s friends assume that Job is being punished for something and needs to repent in order for the hard times to end. Perhaps Job’s friends are slightly enjoying the fact that Job is not perfect – that something is finally going wrong for him. Jealousy is a powerful thing, even among friends, and it is possible that the words of self-righteousness coming from Job’s friends are a result of past envy or attempts to measure up to Job.

THE HARDER YOU WORK, THE LUCKIER YOU GET.

Job’s friend, Bildad, made a mistake commonly made today. He assumed that earthly blessings come to the righteous and the wicked can never prosper here on earth. “But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home. And though you started with little, you will end with much.” – Job 8:5-6

Oh the prosperity gospel! We have all heard it and probably believed it to some degree. But the fact remains that there are some godly Christians who live and die “dirt poor” by earthly standards and there are some very ungodly, unbelieving people who have everything they could possibly ask for in regard to their position and possessions. This is not always easy to understand but our response to what seems unfair in life should be to simply trust God and, as Job did, look forward to our heavenly rewards instead of measuring our earthly possessions.

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!
I will see him for myself.
Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
I am overwhelmed at the thought!”
– Job 19:25-27

AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Job’s story has a happy ending. God stepped in, healing Job physically and restoring him with earthly possessions even greater than what he once had. And the great news for us today is that our story has a happy ending also! No matter what our current circumstances are, no matter how much we are suffering today, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven where there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, no more loss. In the words of Job, “Praise the name of the Lord!” In the words of David:

I give you all the credit, God—
you got me out of that mess, you didn’t let my foes gloat.
God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together.
God, you pulled me out of the grave,
gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out.
All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face!
He gets angry once in awhile, but across a lifetime there is only love.
The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.
When things were going great I crowed, “I’ve got it made.
I’m God’s favorite. He made me king of the mountain.”
Then you looked the other way and I fell to pieces.
I called out to you, God; I laid my case before you:
“Can you sell me for a profit when I’m dead?
Auction me off at a cemetery yard sale?
When I’m ‘dust to dust’ my songs and stories of you won’t sell.
So listen! And be kind! Help me out of this!”
You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.
– Psalm 30, The Message

God is Never Uninvolved

Today’s Reading: Genesis 37-50

IS THIS GOD’S WILL OR IS IT GOD’S PLAN?

Have you ever felt an overwhelming panic that what is happening around you is not the will of God? One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that God has a plan even when the choices of others are outside of God’s will. When I rest in His sovereignty, I learn how to trust Him despite everything that is going on around me.

Today we read the story of Joseph’s life from start to finish. Joseph’s life was affected time and time again by the sinful decisions of others, but God was NEVER uninvolved. Joseph’s brothers sinned against him out of jealousy when they sold him into captivity, but God did not abandon Joseph.

GOD’S PLAN WAS TO USE IT FOR GOOD

A lot of good came out of the rest of Joseph’s life, even though the trajectory of his life changed when his brothers sold him into slavery. It was not God’s perfect will for Joseph to be sinned against, separated from his family and sold into slavery – yet God’s plan was to use it for good.

The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. – Genesis 39:2-4

It was not God’s perfect will for Potiphar’s wife to lust after Joseph and lie about his integrity, causing Joseph to spend years in prison, but God’s plan was to use it for good.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. – Genesis 39:20b-22

GOD BLESSES OTHERS THROUGH OUR SUFFERING

Joseph’s time in prison gave him the opportunity to interpret the dream of the chief cupbearer, who eventually told Pharoah of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. As a result of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams, the lives of many were saved from the devastating famine. Joseph spoke of this after his father’s death, when his brothers threw themselves down before him in repentance.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. – Genesis 50:19-20

GOD IS NEVER WITHOUT A PLAN

I do not believe it is God’s will that anyone should sin or be sinned against, yet God is NEVER without a plan because He loves us and He wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). HE MAKES BEAUTIFUL THINGS come out of the sinful actions of man. When we are wronged or sinned against or suffer the consequences of our own sins, God has not abandoned us. Instead he works out a BEAUTIFUL PLAN OF REDEMPTION in the midst of this sinful world. God does not will for us to sin but neither is He surprised by it. He stills plans HOPE for our future.

Is it God’s will that an unmarried woman gets pregnant? No, but God has a plan for that unborn baby and for its parents. At times, that plan involves blessing another family through adoption.

Is it God’s will that a man should leave his wife or that a wife should leave her husband? No, but God has a plan to bring the wayward spouse to repentance and He has a plan to bless the life of the one left to suffer the consequences of their spouse’s sin.

Is it God’s will when a drunk driver kills an innocent bystander? No, but God has a plan to provide healing for those who are left grieving and to use their healing to minister to others who have suffered loss.

Is it God’s will that America should consider it a woman’s right to end the life of her unborn baby? No, but God has a plan to use the sin of abortion to bring many to repentance. God has a plan to use His followers to reach out to those affected by abortion or considering abortion.

I love how the message parallels the NIV here: Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now – life for many people. – Genesis 50:19 (The Message)

DO I ACT FOR GOD?

When I am sinned against or suffer the consequences of someone else’s sin, is it for me to refuse to forgive them? Do I act for God? Is it my right to question or be angry with God that He did not intervene and prevent the hurt? Do I act for God? God never leaves us or abandons us; He is never uninvolved. We can trust in the God of this promise:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

Thank you, God, for taking every detail of my life and for using them to accomplish something good. Lord, I trust you with the good and the bad, with the joys and the heartaches. I pray for a strong faith and daily reminders that you will never leave or abandon us. Show me today when I am manipulating my circumstances or attempting to act for you. Get my attention when I begin to question you. Teach us to trust that you are the God who works for the good of those who love him and help us to see you clearly through our circumstances. Amen.

Through Every Struggle

Today’s Reading: Genesis 30-36

After having an incredible spiritual experience at Bethel, Jacob moved his family on toward Ephrath. His beloved Rachel was pregnant for the second time and she went into labor. Her pains were intense and the delivery was very hard. Finally she gave birth to a son and with her final breath named him Benoni, “son of my sorrow”, but Jacob called him Benjamin, “son of my right hand”.

Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life. He first met Rachel when he arrived in Paddan-Aram. She was bringing her father’s flocks to the well and Jacob moved the stone from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s flocks for her (Laban was Rebekah’s brother). Within a month, Jacob was asking to take her as his wife. He loved her so much that he was willing to work seven years in exchange for his bride. When his uncle deceived him and instead gave him her older sister, Leah, Jacob agreed to another seven years of labor in order to marry Rachel.

Now loving Rachel did not mean that marriage came easy. When she was unable to have children after her sister Leah had already given birth to four sons, Rachel became very jealous and pleaded with Jacob to give her children. Jacob reacted in anger, “Am I God?” he asked. “He’s the one who has kept you from having children!” – Genesis 30:2

Now Rachel had a choice. She could draw close to God and trust Him with the desires of her heart, or she could let jealousy and pride guide her actions. Rachel chose the latter. Instead of WAITING FOR GOD’S PLAN IN GOD’S TIME, Rachel began to manipulate her circumstances to get what she wanted. She gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife. Bilhah gave Jacob two sons and Rachel declared, “I have struggled hard with my sister, and I’m winning!” (Gen.30:8)

Apparently two can play at this competitive game because Leah gave her servant to Jacob and added 2 points to her score. Then the sisters began to barter for mandrakes, which were believed to aid in procreation. Again, Rachel was using manipulation and control to get what she wanted instead of going to the Giver of all good gifts. Oh how I wish I could not relate to Rachel here! I wish I never had the tendency to panic and take things into my own hands instead of trusting in God for provision!

Leah gave birth to two more sons and a daughter but Rachel remained barren. God eventually remembered Rachel in spite of her bitter heart and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. And she named him Joseph, for she said, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family.” – Genesis 30:24

Even in the first moments of holding her newborn son, a gift from God, Rachel is already displeased and desiring more from God. Instead of clinging to the God who had answered her prayer and provided her with a son, Rachel stole the household idols from her father, choosing to worship false gods instead of the one true God.

GOD’S WILL, GOD’S WAY, in GOD’S TIME – a lesson Rachel never seemed to learn. She gave birth to a second son but was not given the opportunity to raise him. In her struggle to always get more from God, Rachel lost all she had and Jacob lost his first love – Rachel.

Jacob has just renewed his covenant relationship with God at Bethel and now he is burying his sweetheart. Jacob built another stone pillar, this time over Rachel’s grave (35:20). He gathered his large family together and continued on. Jacob could have chosen anger and bitterness at the loss of his wife right after recommitting his life to God, but he chose to accept GOD’S WILL, GOD’S WAY, in GOD’S TIME.

At times I find myself with this expectation that God should answer my prayers because I have served Him well, almost as if I deserve His blessings. When I hear of someone who died in a car accident or that another believer has been diagnosed with cancer, I find myself asking God why He has allowed pain to come into the lives of those who love Him. I know it is wrong and I reject that kind of thinking, but sadly I often identify expectations in my heart that need disposed of. I have to let go of my sinful accusations and let God do things HIS WAY in HIS TIME. When I ask God WHY, I hear Him once again reply, “Trust me.”

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8

It’s all yours, Lord. Everything I want to manipulate and control – every situation, every unknown, every relationship, every heartache – it’s all yours. Thank you for the blessings you so generously pour out into my life each day. I praise you for all you allow in my life – good and bad. TEACH ME THROUGH EVERY STRUGGLE and strengthen my faith in you. You are El Shaddai, God Almighty, and I trust you.

Renewing the Covenant Relationship

Today’s Reading: Genesis 28-29

I AM YOUR GOD AND I AM WITH YOU!

Genesis 28 tells of an encounter that Jacob had with God – a turning point in his life when God let him know that He was not only the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, He was ALSO the God of Jacob. How wonderful it must have felt for Jacob in that moment when He heard God’s promise:

“I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be a numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions – to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised.” – Genesis 28:13b-15

Jacob set up a pillar, poured oil on it and named it Bethel, making a vow to God just as God had made a vow to Him.

IF YOU ARE WITH ME, THEN I AM WITH YOU!

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” – Genesis 28:20b-22

That day Jacob began a covenant relationship with God. He responded to God’s promise and committed to being present in the relationship. Just as God was reaching out to Him, Jacob was seeking after God. But life gets busy and offers so many distractions.

The next twenty plus years had good times and bad. Jacob now had two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and one daughter. He had acquired much wealth but his household had also acquired pagan idols. Jacob had to seek peace among his wives, peace with his uncle and peace with his brother, Esau. To make things worse, his daughter was raped and his sons responded in vengeance. Life was difficult but God was present.

God called out to Jacob and Jacob RETURNED to Bethel, recognizing that God had faithfully kept His covenant but that Jacob was in need of RENEWING the promise He had made to God. The influence of the world around him had made an impact on Jacob and his family and he needed to once again cleanse himself, returning to the place where God had revealed himself to Jacob. And the God of Jacob’s past faithfully appeared to him again and blessed him, showing Jacob that God was not only the God of yesterday, but the God of today and the God of tomorrow.

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.

Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai – ‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” Then God went up from the place where he had spoken to Jacob.

Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the place where God had spoken to him. Then he poured wine over it as an offering to God and anointed the pillar with olive oil. And Jacob named the place Bethel (which means “house of God”), because God had spoken to him there. – Genesis 35:9-15

Perhaps God is calling us back to the place where we entered into a covenant relationship with Him. This world we live in and the stress of life have had an impact on us and we need to RENEW our promise. Let’s declare that the God of our yesterday is still who we desire to be the Lord of our today and the Keeper of our tomorrows. God is faithful and still desires to produce fruit through our lives.

I AM YOUR GOD AND I AM WITH YOU!
IF YOU ARE WITH ME, THEN I AM WITH YOU!

Lord, I choose to renew our covenant and desire to keep it fresh and growing stronger every day of this new year. I promise to look to you as the God of my past, make you the Lord of my day and trust you to be the Keeper of my tomorrow. Thank you for making your presence known to me this morning. If you are with me, then I am with you. I love you and choose to act out of that love today, depending on you to provide and protect. Amen.

Even in the womb, Jacob struggled with his brother;
when he became a man, he even fought with God.
Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won.
He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him.
There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to him –
the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is His name!
So now, COME BACK TO YOUR GOD.
Act with love and justice and always depend on Him.
– Hosea 12:3-6

When Fear Overwhelms Faith

Today’s Reading: Genesis 25-27

Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. – Genesis 25:21

Twins – there is something exciting about having twins. Twins seem to tweak our curiosity. For Rebekah, it meant calamity. It meant two siblings struggling with each other before they were even born. After struggling with infertility, the Lord heard Isaac’s prayer and blessed Rebekah, saying to her:

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23

Sure enough, Jacob was born pursuing his brother’s position as firstborn, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. As they grew up, their differences increased with Esau becoming a skilled hunter of wild animals and Jacob staying closer to home to tend his father’s tamed flocks.

Showing he had little regard for his birthright and that he was driven more by his carnal desires, Esau traded his birthright when Jacob offered his hungry brother a bowl of stew for the precious inheritance. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left (25:27-34) only to be hungry again in just a few hours. He gave up his blessed position for temporary pleasure.

ESAU’S FEAR: FEAR OF NOT GETTING WHAT HE WANTED WHEN HE WANTED IT CAUSED ESAU TO JEOPARDIZE ALL THAT WAS RIGHTFULLY HIS AS FIRSTBORN SON.

Isaac also allowed fear to jeopardize God’s blessing. There was a time of famine and Isaac moved his family to Gerar. The Lord told him to stay there – that He would be with Isaac and bless him. God’s promise to Abraham continued through Isaac as He promised to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (26:4).

ISAAC’S FEAR: DESPITE THIS PROMISE OF BLESSING, ISAAC LET FEAR CONTROL HIM.

Out of fear the Philistines would kill him in order to obtain his beautiful wife, Isaac told everyone that Rebekah was his sister. Sound familiar? Apparently Isaac had not learned from his own father’s mistakes (12:10-20). Isaac’s fear of death put his wife in danger and God’s blessing in jeopardy. King Abimelech saw Rebekah in Isaac’s arms one day and confronted his lie, declaring protection over this family. And once more, God blessed His people in spite of their great fear and small faith.

REBEKAH’S FEAR: REBEKAH LET HER FEAR GET IN THE WAY OF HER FAITH CAUSING HER TO LOSE WHAT SHE LOVED MOST.

Isaac was old and losing his sight. He called Esau and told him to hunt for some wild game and prepare Isaac’s favorite dish. He would then pronounce the blessing of the firstborn onto Esau. Rebekah remembered God’s promise but her fear that Esau would get the blessing she wanted for Jacob caused her to intervene and choose deception instead of faith.

Jacob willfully followed Rebekah’s plan of deception. He pretended to be Esau and tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing Isaac intended for Esau. When Esau learned of his brother’s trickery, a hate began to grow in him and he schemed how he might kill Jacob someday. When Rebekah heard of Esau’s plan, she sent Jacob away with the excuse that he needed to travel back to Rebekah’s brother to find a wife so he would not have to marry a Canaanite woman.

In an attempt to gain what she wanted, Rebekah let fear cause her to lose what she loved the most. She probably never saw her son again. If she had trusted God’s provision of His promise, she might have grown old watching Jacob receive God’s blessings. But instead of faith she chose fear, using manipulation and deception to pull God’s plan into place.

But God’s plan not God’s way is never God’s will.

What areas of my life am I letting fear control? In what ways is my fear getting in the way of my faith? Is my fear of not getting what I want standing between me and God’s perfect plan for my life? Am I missing out on God’s blessings because of my desire to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this world?

Lord, teach me to trust in you for every provision. May your promises and blessings on my life pour out directly from your hand. Teach me to let go of my attempts to control and manipulate the circumstances around me. Help me to simply open up my hands to receive what you want in my life. Forgive me for the many times I let fear get in the way of my faith. God, I trust you. You are my Provider and my Protector. In you I place my trust, giving you my family and my future. Amen.

Watch God be God

Today’s Reading: Genesis 23-24

What if we were able to simply watch God be God today? What if we entered into our day WILLING, PREPARED, EQUIPPED and STRATEGICALLY POSITIONED to allow God to use us for His purposes and His plan? I wonder what kind of success we would experience if we took time to pray specifically for what is ahead. As we continue our study of Abraham, let’s consider what God can do when we enter our day with intentionality and the heart of a servant.

Sarah died at age 127. Abraham bought a plot of land surrounding a cave so that he could have a permanent burial place for his family. He, too, was getting up in age and it was time for him to find a wife for Isaac. He did not want Isaac to marry a local Canaanite woman, so he asked his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, to travel back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife.

So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham. He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions. Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to distant Aram-naharaim. Then he went to the town where Abraham’s brother Nahor had settled. He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening and the women were coming out to draw water. – Genesis 24:9-11

When asked to perform this important task for his master, Abraham’s servant was WILLING, he was PREPARED and he left EQUIPPED to do what he had been asked to do. Next he STRATEGICALLY POSITIONED himself. He was there to find a young woman, so he went to the place where the women were known to go each day and draw water for their families. Then he PRAYED to God for success.

Abraham’s servant was willing, prepared, equipped, strategically positioned and, most of all, he prayed to God for success in doing what he had been called upon to do.

“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside the spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’ – let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.” – Genesis 24:12-14

Abraham’s servant had been entrusted with a great responsibility. When it came time for him to carry out Abraham’s request, he asked God to be the one to give him success. His heart was genuine. He did not want success for his own merit but out of love for His master. And the Spirit compelled him to pray specifically.

Before he had finished praying…
BEFORE HE HAD EVEN FINISHED PRAYING…
Don’t miss this!
Before the words were completely out of his mouth, God specifically answered his prayer!

Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebekah coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother, Nahor and his wife, Milcah. Rebekah was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again. Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”

“Yes, my lord,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” – Genesis 24:15-19

Now my study Bible says that ten thirsty camels could drink as much as 250 gallons of water. This generous offer of Rebekah’s showed she was hard-working and hospitable. By remaining a virgin, Rebekah was also AVAILABLE for God’s plan for her life.

The servant waited patiently, watching God be God – taking in the moment when God was answering his prayer and making his journey successful. He then took time to praise God and to give honor to the God who had led him on this journey. Because he obeyed when God called him, this servant had a front row seat to simply watch God be God.

The man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. “Praise the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham,” he said. The Lord has shown unfailing love and faithfulness to my master, for he has led me straight to my master’s relatives.” – Genesis 24:26-27

The servant gave Rebekah a gold nose ring and two large gold bracelets for her wrists. Rebekah brought the servant back to her family and her brother immediately noticed the value of the gifts. The servant testified how God had given him success in what he had been sent to do.

Delayed obedience is disobedience. Rebekah’s family wanted her to wait 10 days before leaving but the servant did not want to delay the completion of his mission. Rebekah recognized the hand of God on her life and willingly went with the servant right away, rather than taking the time to say goodbye to her family as was traditionally allowed.

I love this next part because I have experienced it firsthand: It was while spending time alone in God’s presence that Isaac looked up and saw Rebekah. I love how our faithful God speaks to us and moves in our lives during our quiet times with Him. I believe there was no doubt in Isaac’s mind and no wavering of Rebekah’s heart that God had chosen to join them together for His purposes and His plan.

Lord, we pause and wait patiently for you. We take time this morning to pray and to praise. We are willing to be used by you today. Lord, prepare and equip us to accomplish your will. Give us wisdom to know where to strategically position ourselves and how to pray specifically. Speak to us and give us an unwavering obedient heart for you. We love you and we praise you for your unfailing love and faithfulness towards us each day. You are the God who provides and we look forward to watching you simply be God today. Amen.

The Lord Will Provide

Today’s Reading: Genesis 20-22

My heart goes out to Hagar as I read today’s passage. She foolishly made fun of Sarah’s son, Isaac, and in response Sarah demanded Hagar and her son, Ishmael, be sent away. Abraham loved Ishmael but obeyed when God told him to do as Sarah had asked. Hagar wandered aimlessly in the wilderness, soon running out of the food and water Abraham had given them. She laid her son under the shade of a bush and then walked away, unable to watch him die.

“Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her container and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. – Genesis 21:17b-20a

WE DO NOT NEED TO PROTECT WHAT GOD GAVE US FROM THE GOD WHO GAVE IT TO US.

This may seem like an obvious statement but definitely one I need to remind myself of often, especially concerning my girls. The fear of everything that could go wrong threatens to paralyze me. I worry they will get in a car accident, I worry they will get sick, I worry they will get their hearts broken and I worry about the day they will move out of our house. I know there is joy in watching God’s plan for their lives roll out but it takes courage to daily place them in God’s hands.

No matter how excited we are about what God has for our children, no matter how long we have planned for each next step, no matter how much we have prepared for this moment – there is nothing easy about letting go of our children and trusting God with what comes next. As parents we must daily place these precious gifts from God back into the hands of the God who provides.

Abraham would understand just how hard a task this is. But Abraham would also understand how it is the same God who blesses us with children in the first place who asks us to trust Him with what comes next – to do anything God would ask us to do with the blessings He has provided for us.

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son – yes, Isaac, whom you love so much – and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told his servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” – Genesis 22:1-5

God promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants. Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, yet God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. I would have reacted with confusion and a lot of emotion, but that is not how Abraham displayed his faith. He trusted God to provide and faithfully, without hesitation, walked up the mountain with his greatest possession – his son.

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am.”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” – Genesis 22:6-14

The Lord provided. These words hold such power over our current situations. To know with confidence that God keeps His promises, and to know that He provides for the fulfillment of those promises – this is the knowledge that keeps us going when it seems like life is moving too fast.

I DO NOT NEED TO PROTECT WHAT GOD GAVE ME FROM THE GOD WHO GAVE IT TO ME.

I can trust God with my marriage, my family, my job, my money, my health, my friends, my future. God sees our situation and hears our cries. Do not be afraid! God will provide.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. – Hebrews 11:17-19

Here I am, Lord. Show me this morning what I am clinging to that has never been mine to begin with. Remind me of your provisions and give me the strength to trust you with what comes next. I thank you for the abundant blessings you so generously extend to me every day. I place EVERYTHING on the altar and I choose to listen to your voice. Yahweh-Yireh – the Lord will provide.