Monday, October 29, 2012


Several years ago when Beth Moore was 'my mentor and bible teacher'
I remember learning the Greek word 'ahar'.
Behind and before
all wrapped up into the same word.
Ahar illustrates how God is both at the same time.
Ahead of us and behind us.
The word made a lasting impression on me and it comes to mind once again as I think about a summer of learning about grace.
What in the world is grace?
When I was in high school I quoted from David's 139th psalm for my yearbook picture.
"You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me......where can I go from your Spirit....your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."
He has been behind me.
All is grace.
Now I read the words as if I had never seen them before,
"therefore let us come with confidence to the throne of grace
so that we might receive mercy and find grace
to help us in our time of need." Heb. 4:16
Yes, indeed, this is a time of need.
He has promised to go ahead of me.
And He is inviting me to the throne of grace.
Not the throne of righteousness,
not the throne of the saints,
or of the have-it-all-togethers,
those who have no needs, no questions, no fear, or pain,
but the throne of grace- for those who have needs.
For those in need of grace, love, forgiveness.
What is grace?
I am afraid.
I heard a beautiful song. A song of grace sent as a prayer. For me.
          Lead us to a place,
          Guide us with your grace,
          to a place where we'll be safe.
          I pray You'll be our eyes and
          watch us where we go,
          Help us to be wise in times
          when we don't know.
The throne of grace. I hear Him inviting me to come....for times when we don't know.
To help me in my time of need.
I begin to unwrap grace.
I am reading. Praying. Thinking.
God is inviting. Reminding. Speaking to me.
I want to run and hide. I don't know who I am. I am afraid. What is wrong with me?!!
And I hear Him say,
"You are loved."
"You are mine."
He comes close and says, "I don't love you because of what you do. Or don't do. Or did. But because of who you are. You are MY CHILD."
I feel like Eve, wanting to hide,
and God says, "You can trust My love for you."
But what is grace?
What is His grace, but for my time of need.
I don't feel what I think grace should feel like.
I feel lonely
and sad
and afraid
and questioning
who I was
and who I am.
I am emerging from my life
into something new, and I don't know yet what it is.
My time of need.
He hems me in- behind and before.
Today I drive down the road and the morning sun is on the horizon in front of me.
I catch a glimpse of the full moon sitting above the long winding road behind me in my rear view mirror.
He is behind me and before me.
I catch a glimpse of His grace
but I don't see it until I look in the mirror.
Until I look back and remember.
I see the sun
and the moon
at the same time.
It takes my breath away. Beautiful.
I remember His presence,
His strength and peace,
His hope.
The power in His Name.
His Grace.
When I remember, I give thanks, for His grace and I begin to trust, to believe.
He continues to teach me.
I drive down the road trusting
and thanking Him for the grace in the rear view mirror.
As I give thanks, it is here at the throne that I realize
all is grace;
what feels good... seems good.... tastes good....
as well as all that does not.
What feels like cursing is good
because God is good
and He is the giver of good gifts,
and we are told to give thanks for all things.
And so we thank Him for bitterness,
and receive the grace of healing.
We thank Him for loneliness,
and we receive the grace of His presence.
We thank Him for grief,
and we receive the grace of resurrection. New life.
Only as I remember and give thanks do I see the grace in the reflection,
and at the same time,
the grace of Him before me.
Continuing down the road, God turned my face toward His and gently looked at me from the pond. I have passed by here many times before
but this time God said,
"Stop and look at me."
As I turned my head I saw the boat house nestled in the tall rushes at the water's edge,
reflecting its image into the water. My eyes followed the edge of the horizon around to the other side. A freshly built dock for the neighbor's fishing boat stood above the water. And the reflection below. My eyes looked to find the line of the horizon that divided the dock from its reflection.
The water was still.
The reflection clear.
My eyes could not see where the Creator ended and the image of the Creator began.
The image in the water perfectly reflected what was standing over it.
When the water is stirred, the image is not so clear.
In that moment I remembered-
only when I am still,
can I reflect His perfect grace
that is behind me and before me.
Be still. And know
that I am God.
Remember. Reflect.
Give thanks.
Find grace.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Halfway Across the Bridge

     I went out walking yesterday morning, excited for the opportunity to have my aunt all to myself. She is a dear lady; full of life, passion, and care. She is not a simple person, but there is simplicity in knowing and loving her. As a child I remember that she always talked to me and showed her simple love to me. We set out down the road, chatting excitedly about the things that we've learned about each other in the short time we've been together. Amazing how one can feel so connected when our worlds have been so far apart. As we shared from our hearts, the connection grew stronger, cementing together a trust and a love that can only be from God himself.
After many turns in the road, stop signs, cross-walks, and passer-byes going the other direction, we finally came to the bridge. We stopped for a moment as my aunt said, "This is halfway across the bridge." She told me that whatever the day, whatever the hour, whatever the weather, she always stops here. She looks out over the water and takes a minute to marvel at the wonder of life, to reflect on the gift of life that we've been given. As we stood looking out at the boats in the harbor she talked to me about how different it looks from day to day. Clear and blue, much like a photograph at times, but often gray, hazy, with fog blocking the view. On those grim days, one can hardly see the beauty of the little harbor at all. You know it's there but the weather makes it difficult to see.
I began thinking about how true that is for each of us.
When we walk halfway across the bridge and our view is limited by the clouds, oh how we want to turn and walk back!
We cannot see the perspective that God has for us
and we fear.
Much like the disciples in the boat when they got caught in the storm.
We are lost and afraid and would rather go home. A lot like life.
Sometimes we can't just turn and go home, we need to stand and face the storm.
We need to stand in the middle of the bridge letting the wind hit our cheeks,
looking far and hard into the fog.
We need to look both ways,
at what is in front of us
and what is behind,
feeling the rain, listening to the thunder
until we can believe again that
the beauty is still there.
That peace and hope are still there.
The comfort of the everlasting arms is still there.
The everlasting arms of the One who does not change.
Who is the same yesterday. Today.
He is still there.
We believe He is there, and we begin to trust that we can keep walking.
He has promised, "I will never leave you or forsake you."

My aunt and I turned and came home.
In life, I am standing in the middle of the bridge.
Looking into the chilly fog,
waiting for the sun to warm me
and for the clear beauty of the harbor to come into view.
Waiting for God to say to me, as He did to the disciples in the boat, "Do not fear. It is I."
"Walk to the other side of the bridge....."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wrestling With God

When we struggle with questions about God, perhaps we begin to feel as Jacob did. Jacob, the twin brother of Esau, wrested with God all night long. He was a deceptive man by nature. Even the name Jacob meant deceiver. He had tricked his brother out of his own birthright and their father's blessing. Jacob overcame his struggle with God and with men and his name was changed to Israel which means 'he struggles with God'. Jacob struggled hard with his own humanity and struggled with God's promises much like we do.
God had made an everlasting covenant with Jacob's grandfather, Abraham. He promised that Abraham would become the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, and His covenant would be established through Isaac. Jacob and Esau were the twin sons born to Isaac, the promised son of Abraham.
Paul writes about the twin brothers in the book of Romans. He tells us in Rom. 9:11 that before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad that 'the older will serve the younger'. This was in order that God's purpose according to His choice would stand. It was not because of works but because of Him who calls. Paul also quotes the prophet Malachi who says of God, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'.
These words sound pretty harsh when we are thinking about a God who loves us all. It sounds so contrary to our ideas about a merciful God. Paul continues in vs. 15 and 16 by quoting Exodus 33:19, 'for God says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not depend on man's desire or effort but on God's mercy."' In vs. 18 it says, 'God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden'.
Doesn't this make us all struggle with our faith and ask God some serious questions? How can this God who chooses who he is going to be merciful with and who he will harden also be the God who redeems us and loves us all?
Paul asked many of the same questions we do as he tried to help the believers of his day resolve the issues of faith they struggled with.
Romans 8:29 causes many to ask if we are predestined to receive God's mercy or His wrath?
Verse 14 raises the question, 'what shall we say then, is God unjust'?
And in verse 19, 'why does God still blame us for who resists His will'?
And verse 20, 'Why did you make me like this'?
Do these questions sound like our own?
I believe God is pleased when we begin to struggle with issues and questions that only He can resolve as we look deep into His word. There are a couple important concepts I believe will help us when we come to these questions and are asking God for answers. First,we gain much greater depth of insight when we consider the whole counsel of the word of God. As we wrestle to find answers we must consider the whole word and look at all of what He has to say.
In this discussion of God's mercy and how it relates to Jacob and Esau and to our own lives, we can understand much more when we look at the context of Romans 8, 9, AND 10. Perhaps it is the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the promised children of Israel that God speaks of in Romans 8:29 as 'those He foreknew'.
Maybe its not you and I.
Could it be that THEY are the ones who were predestined to be conformed? Not just predestined. But predestined to be conformed. Conformed to the likeness of His Son. So that he (Christ) might be the firstborn among many brothers (you and I). Think about this for a minute. My good friend made this statement as she was struggling with the issue of God's mercy. God made Israel His firstborn son so that through them (the children of Israel), Jesus would come, so that we too, through Him, would become sons.
Paul states clearly that his prayer and his heart's desire for the Israelites is that they might be saved. Christ is the end of the law which they failed to follow. They did not know God's righteousness, so Christ became righteousness for everyone who believes. The word says, 'all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
So we too, like the children of Israel are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, in order that all people will come to know God through Christ. Because of the mercy shown to sinful Jacob, we too  have been shown the way to God. God sacrificed much in order to redeem us.
All of us.
You and me and all the nations of the earth.
The inheritance of the firstborn was sacrificed in order that we might be redeemed and adopted into the family of God and receive the promises made to God's children.
The mercy of God came at a high price.

As we struggle with issues of faith it is important that we accept and believe that God's word is the Truth. If we approach God with our questions, believing the Truth of His word, He can help us sort it out. If we do not accept the word of God as Truth....well, that is the end of the road. God can't show us anything. Jesus prayed for his disciples asking God, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is Truth." Jn. 17:17.

Who are we to question His ways or His word?
What is man that God is mindful of him? Ps. 144:3.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him for everyone who comes to God must first believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Heb. 11:6
Even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were sinful men.
But God....
God reveals His nature and character to us through His Names. Since the day He created the world, His character will always be consistent with what He has revealed about who He is. When we find ourselves asking the hard questions let's not forget who we are talking to.
Remember God Almighty, El Shaddai who takes care of His creatures like a mother taking care of her infant baby. Who pours himself out for His creatures giving them His lifeblood through Christ Jesus.
Remember El Olam, the everlasting, eternal God.
We must also remember the sovereignty of God
and the sinfulness of man.
God is the Most High God of the universe. El Elyon. God who created and possesses both heaven and earth.
And remember YAWEH, the unspeakable name? The name that is so holy the Israelites dared not say it aloud.
He is the covenant keeping God.
The God who does not change. Who was, and is, and is to come.
He keeps His covenant of love for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham, swore to Isaac, and confirmed to Jacob and to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Does God Answer Prayer

I was doing a little word study this morning as part of a new bible study on Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. I started by looking up the word pray in my KJV concordance. I was looking for a couple of things. First, I wanted to find the first occurrences of the word pray in the bible. And second, the Hebrew meaning of the word pray and it's synonyms. The definition of the Hebrew word for pray is: to judge, by extension (either officially or mentally), to intercede, to make supplication. Another word that the KJV used as a synonym for pray was intreat. The definition of the Hebrew for intreat is: to burn incense in worship; intercede; listen to prayer; make prayer.
How interesting that by definition, listening to prayer is part of prayer itself. Two-way communication.
The first uses of the word pray in the bible are found in Genesis 20:7 and 17. These verses refer to a time when Abimelech, King of Gerar, had actually taken Sarah to have relations with her, not knowing that she was Abraham's wife. God came to him in a dream to tell him she was married. God tells Abimilech to return Sarah to Abraham and Abraham would pray for him. Abraham did pray (intercede) for him, and God healed Abimilech and his wife so they could have children. (It is interesting to note that this incident took place several chapters after God had clearly promised that not only would Abraham have a son in his old age, it would be Sarah who was barren all her life, that would give birth to Isaac when she was ninety. If Abimilech had had relations with Sarah, that would have made a mess of God's provident plan.)
The next occurrence of the word pray is in Genesis 25:21.  (The KJV uses the word  intreat this time.) Isaac prayed to the Lord, or intreated the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was barren.
He pleaded with God, interceding for her.
The Lord answered his prayer,
granted his plea,
intreated him,
and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.
I'm sure it felt to Abraham, while he waited for God to fulfill his promise for Sarah to have a baby, and to Isaac, all the years that Rebekah was barren, that the answer was 'NO'. Clearly, based on what we know about the story, God's answer was 'YES'. God's covenant with Abraham would be fulfilled through Isaac, his son Jacob, and his twelve sons who would become the chosen Nation of Israel.

Isaac prayed for twenty years for Rebekah to have children!
But...notice that God answers that prayer in the same verse that Isaac asks.
It was all part of God's perfect timing and provident plan.

In the next verse, Rebekah inquires of the Lord, asking, if all is well, why did she feel this struggling within her. The Lord answered her by telling her there were two 'nations' in her womb. She would give birth to twins who would become the nations of Israel and Edom (which is located in modern day Jordan).

What I have learned from all this is that
regardless of which word is used or which translation of scripture,
prayer involves two-way communication.
Abraham and his son Isaac both knew to turn to God in prayer. Rebekah, Isaac's wife, did too. I imagine that Isaac and Rebekah both learned from the example that had been set for them by their father Abraham. The prayers in the verses that we have looked at were all centered on child bearing. In their day this was probably the most important issue of the times.
What is the most important issue of our day?
In our time?
For me?
For you?

God honors their obedience. He shows grace for their disobedience.
Much like He does for us.
In our day. In our time.

When they inquire, intreat, pray, God answers.

Much like He does for us.

When we inquire, intreat, pray, God answers.

Two-way communication.

God's plan for their life unfolds one prayer at a time as they seek God's guidance and favor.
God meets their need right where they are in their walk with Him. He doesn't say clean up your act and get it right, then I will answer.
The answer was always 'YES'.
His answer is always in line with His plan and His timing.
His answer came in the same verse as the request....but Abraham,Sarah,Isaac, and Rebekah
had to wait
for the joy
that came
with the answer.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus Saves

The other night I had a hard time falling asleep. I stayed up later than normal, reading, and when I finally crawled under the covers and turned out the light I couldn't fall asleep. I tossed and turned for a long time as thoughts rolled around my head. I was thinking about Fritz, remembering the night of the calling hours, the funeral, standing at the front of the room greeting friends and family who came to see us. Crying with some, laughing with a few. I was thinking about our neighbor Skip. I was shocked to learn that he died of a heart attack in his sleep a few days earlier. The girls have been friends with his daughter for years, and I would frequently stop and talk with Skip when I was out walking the dog. We would always talk about God. The girls and I felt like we should show them our support by going to the calling hours. It was hard. As soon as we pulled into the funeral home I was fighting to hold back the tears. Same funeral home. Same gentlemen at the door. Same room where Fritz had been. I was frozen. I felt like I couldn't move to walk up the aisle, to stand in front of the casket and to greet his wife and daughter. Everything came flooding back to me as if I had been transported through time and I was back where we were six months ago. The thoughts and memories tossed and turned in my mind as I tossed and turned in my bed that night.
Skip never spoke as if he thought of himself as a Christian but he always had lots of questions and seemed to like talking about God with me. I enjoyed talking with him as well but knew the worst thing I could do was to say something that caused him to walk away from God instead of to God. I wanted Skip to know that God loves him and that He saves His people.
A few months ago Pastor Daniel was teaching from the book of Romans. Romans chapter eight. One Sunday I fervently scribbled notes about 'no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.' Rom. 8:1. Skip is so hard on himself. He would mention that he is doing better than he used to but he would slip back into his old ways. Skip is really intense. Highly emotional. But he had such a compassionate, tender heart for those he loved. I would tell him that God is gracious and extends His love to all. (Sometimes we find ourselves in the most unexpected circumstances when we realize we are right where God wants us in order to use us.)
As I listened to the sermon that Sunday and scribbled my notes as fast as I could, my mind kept going back to the conversation I had with Skip the day before. We stood talking for a long time. I came home from church and took out a notecard and began re-writing my notes from the sermon in a letter to Skip. God had put Skip on my mind that day and I knew if I did not immediately obey....I would disobey. I tucked the note I had written about our freedom in Christ and tucked it into a Lifepoint Church bible to give to him. I just wanted him to know that if he indeed is in Christ, then he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. And there is no condemnation. I leashed up the dog and started out walking  towards his house. That afternoon the neighborhood was quiet, no one to talk to. So I decided to stick the note and the bible in his mailbox. As I walked away I wondered when I would see him again and talk some more. I never did.
As I lay there trying to sleep the other night I was praying for Skip's wife and daughters that God will fill their lives with the peace of knowing Him, the God who saves His people. I was also thinking about my friend Sue. She is battling cancer for the second time. I pray that God will do a miracle in her body and save her. Afterall, that is God's specialty, saving His people. That is exactly what His name Jehovah Y'shua means. God who is saving His people. You could translate it to say, Jesus saves. Romans chapter eight teaches us that He doesn't always save people from disease or heart attack, but he saves people from sin, a life of eternal separation from Him. He doesn't always save people from the death of the body, but he does save people from the sinful nature which leads to the death of our spirit. The sinful nature is in each of us from the time we were born. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. The sinful nature is hostile to God and does not submit to God. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. In this hope we are saved.
We are saved by placing our hope in Jesus. Jesus who saves. Jesus saves. Y'shua is the God who is saving His people. He saves us because He loves us! Neither death nor life, not angels or demons, the present nor the future, nor any powers. Not height or depth or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He promises life and peace.
As I tossed and turned these thoughts in my mind that night I thanked God that He is saving Fritz, and Skip, and my friend Sue, and me and you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Embracing the New Year

The Christmas tree was dragged into the woods leaving a thick trail of needles on the floor behind. Boxes of lights and ornaments have been pushed far back into the closet under the stairs. The fireplace is now bare, stripped of the colorful cards that have adorned it for weeks. Dick Clark looks and sounds as if he is plastic, dressed in a tuxedo, spray tanned and propped up in the midst of Time Square. The confetti went up and the ball came down at midnight. Right on schedule. Christmas is gone. The new year is here. I am faced with finding and embracing a new season. A new life. The wonder and magic of Christmas, the peace and joy of times spent with family, the hope of seeing the ones you love are now fading into last year. I don't feel happy.
I must walk into my new year, my new life.
I have been studying the life of Abraham with the ladies in my bible study group. On the morning of Christmas eve I was reading and praying when God spoke very clearly to me. I had been thinking about the long journey Abraham had been on. He started out in Mesopotamia, the land of Ur which is where modern day Iraq is located. After God told him He wanted him to go to a place he did not yet know, he left Ur and traveled to Haran (modern day Turkey) and then headed south to Canaan (the land that would become Israel). Because of a famine in the land, he continued further and went to Egypt. After a long stay in Egypt, he turned around and went back to Canaan where God came to him in a vision. God promised to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham had arrived at his destination. Not once, but twice. Traveling with his wife, Sarai and his nephew, Lot and all their possessions, over thousands of miles he had finally reached his destination. Setting out to obey a God he did not know, he learned to follow through his disobedience as much as his obedience. The  traveled on donkeys and camels, through deserts and mountains, for years looking for a place they did not know. Where did they sleep at night? What did they eat? What kept them from being food for the jackals at night? Where was God and why was it so difficult to know where he wanted them to go and what he wanted them to do? They had no children of their own. Their nephew, Lot was an orphan. They had no place to go and they didn't know where they were supposed to be heading. They only knew one thing, that God had said 'go to a place I will show you', so they went looking. When they arrived in Canaan the second time, after taking a side trip to Egypt which was the result of disobedience and not fully trusting in God they had acquired much livestock and many possessions. Abram and Lot felt it was necessary to go their separate ways so they would each have enough space for their flocks and herds. By this time Abraham and Sarai were old, well passed childbearing age. God came to Abraham in a vision at night and promised that not only would the land belong to him but that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This was unbelievable. Outrageous. But Abraham believed Him.
In all the years that had passed while on this journey, Abraham had been getting to know God. As God revealed Himself to Abraham, he began to understand God's character, first as the creator God, then as the provider and protector. Abraham began to worship God as his understanding deepened. He built and altar and called on His Name. As Abraham called on the Name of the Lord his heart was strengthened and his faith grew. He had not always been obedient, but he learned from each mistake and continued on his journey with God. He came to know God's sovereignty and called on Him as The Most High God. He recognized that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. He also came to understand that God is the One who could rescue him from his enemies and give victory in battle. When Abraham and his men went to rescue Lot from the hand of the enemy, God was his shield and his reward.
As Abraham stood with God under the stars that night, Abraham knew he had arrived at a new place in the journey. God had big plans for him. Even though the road had been long, and the journey hard, Abraham knew it was God who had been with him along the way to strengthen and help him. He was ready to embrace the new life God had for him.
'He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Gen. 15:6
He believed God for descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. He believed Him for the land, as far as he could see; to the north, the south, east and west. He believed God for a new life. A new beginning. A new year.
On Christmas eve morning I was pondering all that I had learned about Abraham. I began praying, telling God that I wanted to believe Him like Abraham did. My journey has been long and hard, like yours I'm sure, and like Abraham's. Also like Abraham, God has revealed Himself to me along the way and I have learned to call on His Name. I too have arrived at a new place in my journey. A time of new beginning. New  hope. New life. Perhaps you have too. I asked God what I was supposed to believe Him for. I am certain that neither land nor descendants is what God is promising to me, so I asked Him. "God what promise do you want ME to believe you for?" I no sooner finished asking the question before God spoke the answer to me. As clear as day I heard His Word say to me, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
Let that sink in for a minute.
When I was tired from the journey,
feeling alone and afraid,
maybe even a little resentful and angry that I have to leave my old life behind,
God spoke to my heart and said, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU."
As I step over the bridge,
over the threshold into a new year, into a new life,
God has promised He is with me.
I am believing God as I step forward into 2012.