Knowing God

  • Approaching the Word of God

    With warm tea in hand and a Bible open, I was excited to start my favorite time of week. It was an encouraging time when our friends from a Muslim-only country would come to our house, and we would study the Bible together. It was a joy to see their hearts leap with excitement as God revealed Himself to them through His word. Together we would read a passage of Scripture and discuss it. Then, because they were voraciously reading their Bibles at home, they would come with questions about what they had been reading.

    On one particular Sunday afternoon, the woman posed a question that I never thought of before, but impacted me greatly. “In the Muslim religion, before we begin reading the Quran, we have to shower and clean ourselves before we open the book. As a Christian, is there a ritual we should follow before reading the Bible?”

    The Bible doesn’t lay out a specific ritual we should follow, but in light of what the Bible is, is there an attitude we should have when we read the Bible? Before we answer this question, we need to think about what the Bible is.

    What is the Bible?

    In simple terms, the Bible is the written Word of God. As God communicated with people over the centuries, those people wrote those words down. Now, we who live today, can be blessed by words God has spoken through the centuries. The words found in the Bible are a testament to the character of God and how He wants to live in relationship with His creation. In other words, they are the actual words of a loving, powerful, creator God.

    At first glance, the Bible can appear to be just words on a page, but when those words are read or heard, those words become active and powerful. We first see the Word of God in Genesis, when His word spoke creation into being. The word of the Lord caused the sinful nation of Nineveh to turn from their wickedness (Jonah 3:6-9). Jesus hushed the storm with his words in the Gospels. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead with his words in John. The outcast Samaritan woman, whom Jesus met at a well, was transformed by Jesus’s words. The list goes on and on. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It has the power to create worlds, control nature, bring life from death, and transform people’s lives.

    How should we approach the Word of God?

    In light of knowing that God’s Word is actual words from the ruler of the universe, in light of knowing these words have life and power in the here and now, what should our attitude be when we approach reading the Word of God?

    We want to first approach reading the Bible with joy. God desires to communicate with us. He longs to be in relationship with us. He could have just left us to our own devices, but He didn’t do that. Instead, He chose to share with us what is good, what is not good, and how much He loves us. His desire to reveal Himself to us was so great, His word became flesh in the form of Jesus, and walked among us (John 1:14). The words written on the pages of the Bible are a labor of love from our God, and spending time in His word can fill us with incredible joy.

    We also want to read God’s word with hearts that are open, pliable, and ready to listen. If we know the Word of God is living and active and has the power to change us, we want to sit before the Word ready to hear what God desires to say to us.

    The attitude of our heart is important

    In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus shares with us how the soil of a heart impacts how the Word of God can change us. If our heart is unengaged or hard, the word has no way to grow. If our heart is open and pliable, the word is able to grow into a harvest that blesses not only us, but those around us.

    When we sit down to read the Word of God, we have to be ready to accept the words of love and encouragement written there, even if we don’t feel love for ourselves. We have to know those words are true, because that is what we base our identity on regardless of whether or not our feelings agree.

    We also have to be willing to allow the words of God to reveal the sinful parts in our heart that need to change. Knowing that the Bible is a revelation from a good God that desires to bless us, allows us to courageously make room for Him to change the unrighteous behaviors in our lives.

    When we come to the Bible with grateful joy and an open-heart, it honors the God who wrote it. As we honor Him in reading His word, He blesses us. I have seen this to be true in my own life. The word of God encouraged me when I didn’t know if my sick kid would ever get better. It was His very words, found in the Bible, that let me know He was walking with me during that difficult time.

    When my mind spins on sinful negativity, it is His word that renews my mind and helps me set my mind on truth, instead of my negative perception. I could name countless other times where His Word has helped me navigate times of conflict and anxiety with wisdom and hope. I have truly been blessed by spending time listening to God’s loving voice as I read His word.

    There are plenty of books and articles out there vying for our time and attention. Many of them promise to help make our lives better or to offer encouragement, but none can provide us with the love, wisdom, and challenge that the Word of God brings when we read it with a joyful, open heart.

    While we may not have to shower and prepare ourselves with physical rituals, like my Muslim friends did with the Quran, we should come to the word of God with a heart ready to honor God and eagerly anticipate hearing from Him. My hope is that time in God’s Word will become something you look forward to. The Creator of the universe loves you so very much and has gone to great lengths to talk with you. As you spend time with Him in His Word, I know you will be greatly blessed.

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  • How Do You Picture God?

    Have you ever stopped to think about how you picture God? Not what you know about Him, but how you picture Him. People are very visual and even if we have never seen God, our minds will still conjure up an image that we picture when we come to God in prayer.

    Sometimes when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him sitting on this magnificent throne. When I was 5th grade my family took a trip to Washington D.C. I can still vividly picture all the monuments and places I saw. They definitely left an impression on me. My favorite one by far was seeing the Lincoln Memorial. The vast proportion of the size of Lincoln sitting on what seemed like a big throne. It was so big in fact that I barely came up to the middle of his shoe. He sat there with his arms on the sides of the throne chair looking so majestic and dignified.

    Ever since then, when I think of God on His throne, that is what I picture. That He is so vast and so magnificent that I am grateful to be able to gaze upon Him. Even though this picture might make Him seem a little more distant like He is watching from above, there are times when I need this view of Him. When I am facing something so big in my life that I can’t see a way through it. I need the God who is big enough to handle it—who is on His throne in the Kingdom of God and who is in control.

    Other times when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him receiving me like a loving father. When I was a kid one of my favorite things was to curl up on my father’s lap when he was sitting in his recliner chair watching tv. I would climb into the big oversized chair and snuggle into his big strong arms. I felt safe and I felt loved. Now, when my heart is feeling tender and vulnerable and afraid, I come to my Heavenly Father, picturing Him as a loving Father opening His arms up wide and allowing me to snuggle into His embrace. There I find shelter from the storm, a peace in my soul that everything is going to be alright, and that I am loved by Him.

    What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

    A.W. Tozer

    What we think of when we think of God is one of the most important things about us. Our view of God and his relationship with us, especially how he deals with us when we stumble and fail, is critical to us growing in our faith. If we don’t have an accurate view of God or how He sees us, then it will keep us from coming to Him. The way we follow Jesus, how we read the Bible, how we live out our faith, how we see ourselves, all revolve around and are influenced by how we see God.

    Sometimes we struggle with coming to God in prayer because we are afraid of His reaction. The more we walk with Jesus, the more we try to actually do what He says, the more we are going to start running into our weaknesses, limitations, and sins. Unless we are equipped with grace, shame will rear its ugly head and we will give up.

    This is why what we think of when we think of God is so important. Do we picture Him looking upon us with disappointment? Do we see Him looking angry and ashamed of us because we just can’t get it right? Maybe we just see Him as aloof and uninterested, or even simply absent.

    Dear friend, making us second-guess God’s love is one of the devil’s oldest tricks. He will twist our thoughts and parade our failings before us until we shrink away in shame and self-doubt. He’ll tie us up in knots, until we are prisoners of self-loathing. He wants to make us forget who we are, and believe that we’ve wandered beyond God’s reach. It’s the biggest lie ever.

    We need to confront the lies of the enemy with the truth of who God is. This is why it is so important that we have an accurate view of God and of His character. The God we carry around in our minds needs to align with the God we see in the Bible. We read about Jesus interacting time and time again with compassion for the people He encountered, but it can sometimes be harder to see God this way. It is easier for us to have a screwed up picture of God, to see him more distant and stern and upset with us. What we need to remember is, if you can picture Jesus doing it, then you can picture God doing it, because Jesus is an exact representation of God (Colossians 1).

    When we approach God for help and go to Him in prayer, we need to know who we are encountering. Scripture tells us that He is a God of love, and more specifically—of grace. Remember the song? Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We know this in our heads. But how far down into our hearts does this go? Do we truly believe this to be true about us?

    Here’s what we know to be true….God is love and it is the defining thing about him. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.”  1 John 4:16

    God is not just loving but He is the embodiment of love itself. He knows no other way. Born out of His great love, He chose to create us and give us life. Out of His love He also chooses to give us His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

    The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)  

    If you have children or a niece or a nephew, how do you feel about them? You probably have a fierce love for them–the feeling that you would do anything for them. Now, If they came to you upset because they messed up or feeling repentant, how would you respond? If it were my kids, I would want to receive them well and be a safe place for them to come and tell me anything. I would want them to know that their mistakes don’t change the love I have for them. That they are now and forever will be my children and nothing can change that. Now imagine your best version of yourself and how you want to be or respond as a parent, aunt, grandparent, etc. God is this times 100 million.

    God does it the right way every time. He doesn’t look at you with scorn or disappointment. He isn’t shaking His head because you messed up again. When we see God this way, it is because it is how we see ourselves. We end up making God in our image, assuming He would feel as we do or act as we would. We end up transferring our shame on Him, because of how we feel about ourselves.

    What’s so amazing about God is that He isn’t us and He isn’t a broken human–His love is not dimmed by the Fall. He is love itself! He knows no other way.

    Ephesians 1:5-8 reminds us of the truth:

    “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (NLT)

    Dear friend, I want to invite you to take a moment today and think of how you see God. Are there insecurities or broken places in your heart that are affecting how you perceive God’s love for you? Are you projecting how you feel about yourself onto God and how He feels about you?

    Take stock of some of the things that come to mind and then go over the Scriptures in this devotional again. Meditate on the truths of God’s character and how He loves you. Sit in that space with Him for a little while and ask Him to help you form a more accurate view of Him.

    I pray that as you begin to see the truth of who God is and how He sees you, that you will not fear coming to Him. Invite Him into your mess. Bring Him all your fears and your doubts. May the truth of His love settle deep in your heart. Your Heavenly Father delights in spending time with you. You are God’s beloved daughter, and you are so very precious and loved.

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  • Fully Known & Loved

    As my toddler, Daniel explored our backyard, I could feel my leg muscles starting to burn a little as I followed him around in a weird, traveling half-squat. Watch anyone with a toddler at the park and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. As silly as I looked, I wanted to keep Daniel within arms reach in case he ventured into terrain he wouldn’t be able to handle quite yet. At the same time, I also wanted him to enjoy the victory of conquering the yard without too much help from Mom. So I told myself the traveling half-squat would be my workout for the day and around the yard we went.

    I watched him closely, keenly aware of his every move. I anticipated potential trips and stumbles, steered him around obstacles, and was ready at a moment’s notice to scoop him up in my arms or let him take a soft landing so he could learn what he can do under the safety of my watchful eye. It didn’t matter if Daniel was my third kid or my first, nobody knows him better than I do. I’m his mama, and I know him like the back of my hand.

    We played in the yard for a while and after Daniel went down for his nap, I curled up on the couch with my coffee and my Bible. In this rare and precious moment of quiet, I was especially moved as I read Psalm 139:1-5.

    O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

    You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

    You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.

    You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.

    You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (NLT)

    It is a verse I must have read a hundred times, but today, it just struck me in a way that felt more real. You see, there are lots of days when it is easy to feel unseen, invisible, or unappreciated. But I realized reading this passage of Scripture, that today would not be one of them.

    Instead, today would be a day when I could settle down into the truth that God knows everything about me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. While there was a time in my life that would have felt like a scary prospect, today I could rest comfortably in the knowledge that there’s not a moment in my day when I am not seen and loved beyond measure by my Heavenly Father.

    He knows when I am going to sit down or stand up. He sees the obstacles in my path and steers me around them. He’s ready to scoop me up in His arms and rescue me from danger or let me take the soft landing so I can learn under the safety of His watchful eye.

    Because of this, I can lean into the love of a God who knows my every thought, even before I have found the words. I can rest in the comfort of a Father who never gives up, who welcomes me with open arms, even after seasons where I may have wandered far away from Him. He is the God who knows my daily rhythms. He sits with me as I sip my coffee in the stillness before the chaos. He sees me when I am changing diapers, wiping noses, and folding laundry. He is there when I succeed, and when I cry in the shower after a hard day.

    The truth is, I can go through every day secure in the One who goes before me and follows behind me, in a Divine traveling half-squat, lovingly leading me at every turn. And at the end of the day, He places His sweet hand of blessing on my head, as I close my eyes, safe and secure because my God never sleeps. He watches over me day and night and tomorrow, He’ll do it all over again.

    My friend, there is not a moment that God does not see you fully, know you completely, and love you beyond compare. He’s got you, more than you can comprehend. You are safe with Him. You need no explanations with Him. There’s no place too far that He cannot reach you, no height or depth that He cannot go to save you. Lean into His love. Hunker down in that truth, wrap up in it like a warm hug. You are absolutely precious to Him, simply because you are His.

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  • The Day Jesus Wept

    Jesus wept.

    The shortest sentence in the Bible yet one of the most profound statements ever uttered.

    These two words can seem so insignificant–they are just two words in the midst of a bigger story. In fact, it’s so easy to even blow right past them as we are reading the story of Lazarus. They are just two simple words but they have been speaking volumes to my heart.

    In recent days, I find myself understanding the depth of those words more and more. They are resonating with my soul. My heart has been so heavy these past several weeks. The shooting in Uvalde has me weeping for all the mothers and fathers. I’m a mother and I can’t even begin to comprehend this horrific tragedy and so many like them. As I see the news and hear reports from missionary friends in the Ukraine, my heart breaks yet again for the people who are experiencing such great suffering and loss. Two weeks ago, I lost my Aunt who has been struggling with multiple sclerosis for many years. She was too young to die.

    It’s not supposed to be this way. Every time I face the death of a loved one, every time I hear of a tragedy on the news, every time a friend gets bad news from the doctor, these words ring in my ears. It’s not supposed to be this way.

    I can feel deep in my soul–this ache that is more than just heartache, it is a deep longing for what God had intended for this world. He never intended for us to have to live in a broken world full of such suffering and loss. As I struggle with all the emotions that come with the heartache of this world, my heart has found comfort in the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Starting in verse 17 it says:

    On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

    Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

    “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

    After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

    When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

    Jesus wept.

    Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

    Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

    Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

    When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

    Reading this story recently, I was caught off guard by the two little words, “Jesus wept”. When I usually read this story, I get so caught up in what is about to happen and how Jesus is going to save the day, that I miss the middle part where Jesus stops to weep with Mary and Martha. Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept?

    Jesus knew he had the power to fix this. He knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he still stood next to Lazarus’ loved ones, in front of the grave stone and wept. Why did he weep? Why didn’t he just turn to Mary and Martha and say, “now, now it’s going to be ok. No need to cry. I’ll fix everything.”?

    What I find so comforting about this story is that Jesus didn’t just rush past the grieving and move straight to the resurrection. No, instead he took the time to stand next to them and weep with them. He met them in their grief. He came alongside them, into the midst of their situation and wept with them.

    Lazarus was his friend too and he loved him dearly, but I believe that Jesus wept for more than just the death of his friend. Since he knew he was about to bring him back to life, there had to be more to his tears. I can only imagine that Jesus wept because it pained him to see those around him in such heartache. I believe Jesus wept over the brokenness in this world. He wept for the fall of creation, he wept for the pain his beloved were in, he wept over the heartbreak of death itself.

    It’s not supposed to be this way.

    I can imagine that was what was going through Jesus’ mind too as he stood there weeping. Weeping for the pain of the world, weeping for what had been lost.

    Heartache and pain was never God’s intention for the world or for us. Humanity sinned in the Garden of Eden and death stole in–decay, destruction, evil, malice and the like. The world is now broken, we are broken and our hearts break again and again each time we are reminded that the world isn’t as it should be.

    Maybe your heart is breaking too. Please know Jesus is right there beside you. He is strong enough to stand in the midst of your grief and weep with you too. Your heartache is his heartache. God longs for so much more for his children. When we grieve, He takes the time to comfort us but he doesn’t stop there. God has been at work since sin first came and broke the world, to restore everything to the way it was supposed to be.

    Even though Martha had hope of the resurrection someday, Jesus gives her even greater hope. He sits with her in her grief and isn’t content to leave her with the hope of someday, but gives her hope in the present by revealing that he is the resurrection and the life. Through our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have hope right now that death does not win. It may think it has won but the story isn’t over.

    Jesus has already conquered death and defeated the evil powers of this world and will return someday to complete the restoration and resurrection he has started. Like me, maybe you have a deep longing for that day! We long to see God finish His glorious work of restoring this world to its original intention. To bring us to the day where He will wipe every tear from our face. A day where there will be no more need for tears because He has made all things new again.

    Revelation 21:2-4 paints a beautiful picture of the hope that God is bringing about:

    I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    Until then, we wait in hope knowing it’s not supposed to be this way—and it won’t always be this way. Just like when Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, he knows that there will be a day when he is coming back to make things right again. And until that day comes, we can be comforted by a God who will stay by our side through the trials of this life and weep alongside us in our grief, reminding us that the day is coming when there will be no need for tears anymore.

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  • Dinner With Jesus

    Life before the pandemic seems like such a blur. Not just because of how the world as we knew it completely changed, but because my own life changed so dramatically during the pandemic as well. While on lockdown, my husband and kids and I moved into a new house, had major job changes, and in case that wasn’t exciting enough, we also added a brand new baby to our family! 

    My parents came over to watch the kids and Jake and I drove an hour to a friend’s house for a French-themed dinner party. It was to be the first of several themed dinner parties with the group, with each night inspired by a place we had been or dreamed of going to someday. We were good friends with the host and his wife, but everyone else would be new friends in the making. I was excited and nervous, but most of all, I was totally pumped to be going to a grown-up function with my husband! 

    The evening was perfect. It was like something out of a scene from a romantic comedy. We all ate and laughed, listened to music, and played games. Everyone seemed right at home and everyone felt like they belonged, despite all coming from a broad variety of backgrounds and life experiences. It was the kind of evening that made you forget to check your phone, you were just having so much fun in the moment. 

    And perhaps I’m remembering it with slightly rose-tinted glasses because I know now what I did not then. It would be the last dinner with these friends for a long time. Just a month or two later, the world as we knew it seemed to turn upside down. 

    Even though we only had one evening with that particular group of people, my husband and I still remember it with such affection. There’s just something about breaking bread with folks that breaks down barriers and allows you to connect in a meaningful way. And the experience is one that lingers in your memory the way a sweet perfume hangs in the air. 

    Meals together have been significant from the very beginning. All throughout the Bible, God enters into covenant relationships with His people in order to rescue them. And one of the ways He keeps those covenant promises fresh in the hearts and minds of His people is through meals. 

    God called Israel to observe certain special meals throughout the year to continually remind His people of the covenants He has established with them. Time and time again, even though the Israelites fell woefully short on their end of the covenant, God remained faithful, pouring out His love and forgiveness on an undeserving people. The meals served as an intentional opportunity for God’s people to praise Him, be thankful, remember His love and goodness, and repent of anything that is separating them from life with God. 

    The Passover feast was just such a meal, and the Jewish people celebrated it every year with a symbolic supper of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine to remind them of the Exodus story and how God miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The lamb was especially symbolic because it was the blood of a lamb painted over the doorways of the Israelites that spared them from death, and from the final plague that convinced their captor Pharaoh to set them free. 

    The night before He was crucified, Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples. These poor guys had no idea that the world as they knew it was about to turn upside down. There was no way they could know then, what we know now: that this would be their Last Supper with Jesus for a long time. 

    But Jesus did, and He was about to introduce a new covenant that would change everything, once and for all. 

    When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

    Luke 22:14-20

    I can picture them all around the table, with the Passover feast spread out on the table, the smell of food and spices hovering in the air. In my mind I can hear the din of several conversations all happening at once, talking and laughing, remembering what the Lord had done long ago in Egypt and how He saved His people, and recalling Jesus’ miracles like that time He calmed the storm or raised Lazarus from the dead. I imagine John pulling up the seat right next to Jesus, scooting in as close as possible to hear what He would say and I can almost see Peter, laughing confidently, believing without a doubt that King Jesus would lead them victoriously through any battle.  After all, he saw Jesus walk on water and even took a few shaky steps of his own on the waves with Jesus. There was nothing Jesus couldn’t do. 

    I don’t think they ever could have imagined that Jesus would soon present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Or that it would be His blood that would be poured out this time and His body that would be broken like the very bread He shared with them that evening. Had they known what was coming, I wonder if they would have lingered a little longer, or leaned in a little closer, hanging on every word Jesus said.

    Over a simple meal, Jesus invited His disciples to participate in the most incredible covenant God has ever initiated. A new covenant that would give life and freedom like they had never known. Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice that would forever establish the forgiveness of sins and reconcile all people to God for all time. Through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, death would not just pass over us all, it would be defeated forever. The bondage of sin would be broken and eternal life in the Kingdom of God would be made available once again. 

    But the invitation wasn’t just for the disciples, it is for us as well. As Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup around to His disciples, He invited them to remember Him, knowing one day we would share in this meal and this covenant too.  

    As followers of Christ, when we take the Lord’s Supper, we remember and participate in the power of Jesus’ life. We celebrate this new covenant and are intimately connected to what God has done in the past, is doing now in the present, and will do in the future. The God that transcends all space and time wasn’t just picturing the 12 disciples sitting around that table, He was picturing you, and me. It was His love for us then and now that drove Him willingly to the cross, so we could gather around the supper table each week, and stand in His victory, love, and power. 

    We have been given access to the very same power that brought Jesus back from the dead and we are transformed and renewed to be more and more like Him. It is nothing short of a miracle.  

    And as wonderful as this meal is, it is not the final meal that Jesus has prepared for us. Jesus has promised that He will return and then He will invite people from every nation, tongue and tribe to dinner and we will sit at the table that He has prepared for us all and enjoy an eternally life-giving meal in His presence. 

    And when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we anticipate that final glorious feast. Shara Drimalla from the Bible Project says it beautifully, “The meal serves as a taste of what is to come—a taste of true life. As we practice this new covenant meal, may it stir within us hope for his return and thankfulness for who he is and what he has done.”

    So this Easter, pull up a seat close to Jesus, hang on His every word and remember what He has done. Sit in sweet fellowship with God’s people and invite others to join you. Laugh, share memories, and look forward to what is coming. Jesus is Risen and He is coming back again with an invitation to dinner.

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  • Even Though, Hope

    Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

    Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT

    This past month, I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend who’s been going through a challenging season. She told me that for the past few years it has been one thing after another. Her difficulties ranged from the things like COVID, unrest in the world, returning to the workplace, a serious medical condition for a family member, and inconveniences like her washing machine breaking down, finding new daily rhythms in life as her kids still do a mix of in-person and online schooling and feeling a lack of energy. She told me every time she thinks life is going to get back to “normal” something else happens.

    Have you ever experienced a season like that? I have and so did the prophet Habakkuk. In chapter 3, we read that Habakkuk is watching as the country he lives in keeps experiencing one setback after another. First, the fig trees didn’t blossom, which meant no figs to enjoy. Maybe not a huge problem, if you are like some folks who don’t like figs to begin with. Then they lost the grapes, which meant no wine to be had. Again, if you are not a wine drinker, you can live with this loss. However, losing the olive crop started impacting everyone because that meant no oil for cooking or lighting lamps. Then the grain fields didn’t produce, which impacts the food supply chain and the last blow is they lost their livestock. Things looked bleak. Yet, Habakkuk doesn’t end his writings with despair, but rather with delight.

    What caused him to have remarkable hope even though the world seemed to be falling apart? Habakkuk knew that his hope was not rooted in his circumstances, but rather in his Creator. Even though the crops and everything else may fail, Habakkuk knew that God never fails. Habakkuk drew joy and strength from his hope in the God of His salvation.

    Habakkuk’s hope was not built on wishful thinking or just positive affirmations, but on God’s character, acts and promises. So, what can you do if you are in a season in your life when things seem to be falling apart all around you and things on the horizon don’t look any better?

    1. Refocus on the Bigness of God: On my water bottle is a sticker that reminds me to “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2, NLT). I use it as a daily reminder that all of my “even thoughs” are just temporary and that even though they may seem impossible for me, for God they are not. The truth is, the challenges that we are dealing with might linger on longer than we desire, but God cares deeply about the hurts, the frustrations, and the annoyances we feel. However, we must intentionally choose to refocus on the bigness of God not the bigness of our problems or emotions. How do we refocus? By remembering who God is and the promises He gives like: that He is loving, that He cares about the details of our lives, that He promises to rescue us, that He is ever-present. As we hold onto and declare these truths, we can then refocus on the bigness of God who promises to always be with us no matter what season we are going through.
    2. Yield to Yet: In verse 18 Habakkuk utters three little letters, but together they produce a powerful word–”YET”. He says that even though all these challenges were happening “YET, I will rejoice in the Lord.” He creates a new perspective. So, the next time your day is falling apart, try this practice. Grab a scrap of paper and write out: Even though ___ and _____; even though ___ and _____; YET I will rejoice in the Lord! It might sound something like this: “Even though I am losing my job and income; even though my hot water heater needs to be fixed and I cannot get a repair man here until Friday; even though my kids are fighting and not getting along; YET I will rejoice in the Lord!” This can be your way of declaring your trust in the Lord and His faithfulness, even when you are feeling afraid and out of control.
    3. Grab on to Gratitude: I was listening to Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast recently and her guest talked about how she had been practicing gratitude for many years and because of this habit she was able to find something to be grateful for even as her family dealt with the tragedies from hurricane Harvey. She said that even though her house was filling with water, there were kind friends who opened up their house and gave them shelter from the storm. Gratitude allows us to turn our focus away from our problems and turn our attention to the ways that God is providing for us in the midst of the storm. Gratitude enabled Habakkuk to rejoice in a bad-to-worse situation. I know it has definitely helped me through some tough seasons. And it can help you with any challenging situation you are facing, too.

    There have been a lot of “even thoughs” these past two years globally and personally, but we don’t have to lose hope. Even though there is war, even though there are gas shortages, even though we may be experiencing loss or failure, YET we can return to joy in God and be lifted to new heights.

    Heavenly Father, please help us to remember that nothing is too big for you to handle. Help us to be grateful instead of grumbling when hard things come our way. Remind us of your greatness so we are not overwhelmed by the size of our problems. Thank you that you are with us always and that our strength lies not in ourselves but in you. Like Habakkuk, we choose to root our joy in you and rejoice in the God of our salvation! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Dawn Kaiser

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  • Be Still and Know

    As the war in Ukraine stretches on, my heart has been heavy for the friends I know there, for the families separated, for those mourning losses, all while fighting for their freedom. I’ve heard countless stories of people helping one another and of God working in their midst through neighbors and friends. Stories of neighborhood women feeding soldiers on the front lines, moms leaving strollers at border train stations for parents who had to leave all their belongings behind, and soldiers throwing a birthday party for a little boy who was waiting with his family to flee to safety. 

    From where I sit, in peace and safety, I feel helpless to intervene, and frustrated and overwhelmed by all I see and hear in the news. My heart breaks for the tragedy I see unfolding and I find myself longing for God’s comfort and reassurance that He is present and working in this terrible situation. 

    A friend of mine in Ukraine was recently sharing how much comfort and hope she, and other people in Ukraine are finding in the Psalms. Another missionary echoed her thoughts, saying  “The heartfelt pleas, angry outbursts, explosions of joy and moments of peaceful stillness -all match the rollercoaster of feelings happening within my own heart.” 

    One of my favorite verses that has brought me comfort and peace is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. In the past it has been a gentle reminder of God’s sovereignty, love, and provision, especially in times of stress and difficulty. When life feels overwhelming and I feel helpless to change my circumstances, this verse invites me to rest before the Lord and remember that God is already powerfully at work.

    Today, however, I read the whole Psalm instead of just my favorite verse and noticed some things I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite verse that brings me so much peace is surrounded by scriptures describing chaos and destruction. In verses 2 and 3, Scripture paints a picture of a world in tumult and crisis—mountains falling down, and oceans roaring and foaming. In verse 6 it speaks of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the state of the world today and all we are witnessing in Ukraine. This part of Psalm 46 that had once felt so removed and abstract in times of peace, now hit hard and close to the heart. 

    But all of this chaos described in Psalm 46 is also contrasted with the true and steady character of God. He is described in verse 1 as an “ever-present help” in trouble, our refuge, our safe place. In verse 7, we are reminded that God is with us. And in verses 8-9 our eyes fall upon the hopeful promise that God will bring about an end to fighting and strife and make wars cease. 

    The truth is, God is far bigger and more powerful than any worst-case scenario we can imagine, and I can imagine a lot! Even when the world seems out of control, God is always in control, so there’s no reason to be afraid. This amazing truth was exactly what my heart needed to remember. 

    In verse 10, God is giving a gentle but powerful command to us to “be still” and know that He is God. He speaks to our frantic hearts with the same loving authority that He commands the winds and the waves. He calls us to surrender, cease striving, and rest assured with absolute certainty, that He is God. 

    So dear friend, when our newsfeed is filled with turmoil and chaos, and we feel helpless against the overwhelming troubles of the world, be still and know that He is God. He is the same God who parted the Red Sea, who freed captives and delivered nations and is at work this very moment. He is a mighty fortress and faithful deliverer. He is an ever-present help and He hears our prayers. We don’t have to fear, He is mighty to save. 

    Almighty God and Father,

    Our world feels chaotic and overwhelming. As war and turmoil continue in Ukraine, our hearts are heavy with sorrow for those who are suffering. We pray for those who are weary and long to find refuge and rest under your wing. Be their ever-present help and hope. Be a fortress around them, and shield them from evil. Make wars cease, that you may be exalted in all the earth.

    When our own anxiety rises, help us to be still, and remember that you are greater than anything we will see or experience in this world. You alone are strong enough to hold us steady when the wind and waves threaten to take us down. Help us to lean into your loving arms and feel the power of your presence and peace. 

    In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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  • Tangible Hope

    Have you ever stayed up way too late reading a good book? You know, those stories where the characters seem to come alive and practically jump off the page? You can picture each one vividly and envision the landscape all around them as if it were painted on a canvas in front of you. That happened to me recently. I was so engaged in the book that time seemed to stand still and before I knew it, it was 1:00 am! 

    If you’ve ever been consumed by a good book like that, you know that by the end of the story, you can almost begin to predict what the characters will say and do. They feel more like familiar friends than just words on a page. And while there may be plot twists and turns, if the author is good, the nature of the characters is consistent throughout the entire book. 

    As Christians, sometimes it can feel challenging to get to know the character of God as well as we know some of the characters in our favorite books. I’ll admit, sitting down to read the whole Bible can feel intimidating. It can seem impossibly long and in many places downright confusing, but ultimately, the Bible is a book that reveals the very nature of God. From beginning to end, the Bible is a story of God’s tireless and unfailing love for us, and His willingness to stop at nothing to secure our future with Him.

    It is through the pages of the Bible, and especially through the life of Jesus, that we see God’s character unfold. We can see it in the way Jesus interacts with people and loves them. We can taste the dust in the air as the crowds shuffle and press in to see Jesus heal another person in desperate need of a miracle. We can smell the salty sea and feel the mist on our faces when Jesus walks on water toward the disciples and pulls Peter up from the waves. We can witness how Jesus turns society upside down, elevating the lowly and championing the marginalized. It’s thrilling when we notice that He is calling people to more than mere survival, He’s inviting them to live abundantly as citizens of God’s Kingdom. And it’s humbling the moment we realize that we are invited to that same abundant Kingdom-life too.

    In Romans 15:4 we read that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” 

    The Bible was written to help shape us and to give us hope! As we spend time in God’s Word, we begin to know Him better, and we see His character unfold in the scriptures. Before long, we begin to recognize glimpses of Him working in our lives all around us, because we recognize Him. This, my friend, is tangible hope. 

    It’s a hope that is perceptible, we can reach out and grab it and feel it and experience it because our relationship with God is a real one. We are not talking about placing our hope in a pleasant thought, nice idea, or imaginary friend, but in the one true and living God who sees you, and loves you, even as you’re reading this sentence. 

    The word remember means to relive, hold dear, to know by heart. When we keep the truth of God’s character close, we can know Him by heart and look back to see how He has worked in the past and is working now in our lives. Remembering God’s character grounds us in truth and gives us a hope that we can hold on to.

    There are reminders about who God is throughout Scripture:

    God is…Love (1 John 4:8)

    God is…Holy (1 Peter 1:15)

    God is…Steady and unchanging (Hebrews 13:8)

    God is…a promise keeper (2 Peter 3:9)

    God is…strong enough to carry you (Isaiah 41:10)

    God is…the Redeemer (Psalm 103, John 3:17)

    God is…Creator of all things (Isaiah 40:28)

    God is…Giver of all that is good (James 1:17)

    God is…perfect and true (Psalm 18:30)

    God is…present in our circumstances (Isaiah 41:8-10, Matthew 28:20)

    God promises that if we when seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him. He won’t hide, he wants you to find Him. He’s been pursuing you all along. 

    So take a little time this week to learn more about the character of God. If you need a place to start, pick one of the verses or stories in this devotional. Ask God to show you His love that is woven throughout Scripture, and to help you see where He is working in your life. As you spend time with Him, you will begin to know Him by heart, recognize His handiwork, and experience the tangible hope we have in God.

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  • Trust God In The Messes

    Let’s face it: Life can get messy. And we all respond differently when problems arise in life or when we are in the middle of a mess. Maybe you create a to-do list of things you can work on to try and fix the situation on your own. Maybe you reach out to your best friend and tell her the sob story all the while hoping that she has the solution. Sometimes you might be tempted to act like nothing’s wrong and avoid addressing the mess, hoping that it will magically disappear or resolve itself on its own. Other times you may turn to God and trust Him to handle your problem.

    There will be ups and downs along the way. Life can be going smoothly for a season and then suddenly life throws you a curveball. Isn’t that what happened to the whole entire world last year with the pandemic? Most people were going about life as usual and then the world shut down. The things we all felt secure in, all of a sudden felt shaky and uncertain. I know for me, in the first few weeks of the pandemic, I played the wait and see game and just told myself that this will be over shortly. As the year went on and things didn’t go back to “normal,” I started talking with friends about how they were dealing with being in the middle of the mess. We asked ourselves questions like “how can we trust God in this circumstance even when we cannot see a resolution?” or “how can we trust Him when we do not understand what is happening?”

    As I had more and more of those conversations, I began to realize that trusting God is more than a feeling; it’s a choice to have faith in what He says even when the circumstances around me would have me believing something different. Trusting God is not about ignoring the reality of the problem or my feelings about the mess. God doesn’t ask us to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t.

    Instead, God tells us that in the midst of our problems we are to:

    Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes”

    Psalm 37:3-7 NLT

    What I love about this piece of Scripture is that God clearly outlines our respective responsibilities when we face problems. Our responsibility when we face problems is to trust God by:

    1. Doing good;
    2. Delighting in His wonder;
    3. Committing our work to Him; and
    4. Waiting patiently and without worry.

    I don’t know about you, but that last part usually trips me up. I am always willing to ask myself how I can make someone’s day even when my day (or week for that matter) might not be going well. I can discover delight simply by looking out at the night sky, or at a flower growing in the garden, or another person’s smile and just wonder at all that God created. I can commit to doing my best and getting things done even during the hard times in my life, but waiting patiently and without worry, now that’s another story.

    Even though I have heard it thousands of times, “we are human beings, not human doings,” I still wrestle with the “be” part. How about you? Which of these responsibilities do you struggle with when you are in the middle of a messy situation?

    What I am learning is that God has commanded us to do these things not perfectly, but rather in partnership with Him. And that is what trust is all about. It’s about walking in partnership with Him, knowing that I don’t have to do it all on my own. Then I don’t have to worry, knowing that He is with me each step of the way.

    Psalm 37:3-7, tells us that when we trust the Lord by doing good, delighting in Him, committing our work to Him and waiting patiently and without worry, He promises to act on our behalf. When we do that, God promises to keep us safe, to prosper us, to give us our heart’s desires, to see that justice is done and that we will shine.

    So no matter the problem you are facing today, I pray that you hold tight to this Scripture and remember God isn’t just interested in some parts of your life, but rather every part of your life—the good, the problematic and the messy! He is trustworthy and always keeps His promises. So bring it all to Him and may you be still in His presence and know that you are not alone!

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  • God Is Always At Work

    “MOMMY! I HAD A BAD DREAM!” I could hear my 4 year old calling to me from his room and the fear in his voice was palpable. His little frame was shaking as the scary scenes from his dream were still fresh in his mind. I scooped him up in my arms and stroked his soft curls as I whispered, “It’s ok. Mama’s got you. You’re safe.” I repeated the words until slowly, his little body began to relax and his strained expression faded as a look of peace washed over his face. After a while, I tucked him back into bed with his favorite blanket, and as I began to rise to go back to my own bed, he looked up at me pleadingly and asked if I would stay with him, “just until he falls asleep.” I agreed, and within moments he was sound asleep, without a trace of distress left on his sweet little face, trusting that I was at work, watching over him. 

    Mom or not, we have likely all experienced a scenario similar to this. Perhaps you were the little one, pleading with a parent to watch over you while you slept. Maybe someone close to you just felt safer and more at peace having you there with them. Maybe you long to have that same sense of safety, peace and rest in your own life, knowing that someone is at work watching over you. 

    A couple nights ago before bed, I was feeling especially anxious. I always do my best worrying at night and true to form, as I tried to sleep, one thing after another kept popping up in my mind. 

    “That dental bill was expensive and there’s more work to be done. How much is that going to cost us?”

    “I have so much to do tomorrow. Call the repair guy for the grout, schedule appointments for the kids, plan a birthday party and schedule playdates…oh and I can’t forget to call back my friend that called me over a week ago. I hope she’s not mad at me…”

    “A lot of people are getting sick with this new Delta variant of covid…what if the baby gets sick? What if we all get sick?” 

    “What is school going to look like for the kids this year? Will anything ever feel normal again?”

    “I don’t think I’m spending enough quality time with the kids, I need to find ways for us to get more quality time in.”

    “Man, my hubby and I need a date night without the kids.”

    “I should go check on the baby.”

    And around and around I went. So I started making plans. 

    I lay there wide awake, troubleshooting plans A, B and C, hoping to engineer the best possible outcomes for all the things. In the back of my mind, I knew I trusted that God was working, but because it’s sometimes hard to see exactly how, I came up with plans X, Y and Z, “just in case”. 

    Now I’m not knocking a good plan, I think that’s part of responsible adulting and a normal instinct when things start to stack up and get overwhelming. But in that moment, my planning was a feeble grab for control in a world in which I have very little. It was coming from a place of self-reliance instead of prayerful dependence on God. 

    After a short while, I found myself wishing I could just put everything down and give my brain a rest from its ceaseless planning and fretting. I wanted someone else to stand watch over my fears and anxious thoughts and work through the problems of the world, so I could just close my eyes and sleep peacefully.

    I picked up my Bible. I had been reading the book of John and had just gotten to chapter 5 where Jesus heals a paralyzed man by the pool in Bethesda. The miracle happened on the Sabbath and when the Jewish leaders found out about it and began harassing Jesus for breaking Sabbath rules. Jesus’ reply to them in verse 17 commanded my attention:

    But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17 NLT)

    As I slowly repeated His words in my mind over and over, the weight of their meaning began to sink in and my shoulders began to relax for what felt like the first time all week. In that one sentence from Jesus, I was reminded of two very important things. 

    First, Jesus is stating with authority that He is the Son of God. As the Son of God, Jesus is much better equipped to solve life’s problems than I am. He has an eternal perspective greater than anything I can conceive, and it is His wisdom I should be depending on instead of my own. Through Jesus, I have direct access to the Father, and all the power and resources of a child of God. When I pray I have a personal audience with Him and the very best plans always start in a conversation with God. 

    Second, I was reminded that God is always at work. Not just part-time, not whenever He can get to it or when He remembers. Always! He is constantly at work, healing us, forgiving us and providing for us. He doesn’t phone it in or do anything halfway. He gives us His very best, putting into place detail after loving detail. God never tires or wearies. His strength is boundless and His stamina endless.  

    And because God is always at work, I don’t have to be. 

    My mind doesn’t have to churn out solutions to all of the problems in one night. I can hand God my worries, my stresses and my best laid plans and He will go to work. He will stand watch over my fears and anxious thoughts, so I can just close my eyes and sleep peacefully. I can trust Him to stay with me, and remind me that He’s got me, and that I’m safe. 

    And while I sleep He continues to work. He goes before me and makes plans and provisions. He works powerfully on my behalf, but He doesn’t stop there. Because God can see the bigger picture of all our lives, His plans always bring about the most benefit to the most people. If He works something out in my life, I guarantee that it will bring blessing to others as well. His goodness and love ripple out like waves in the water, touching many hearts and lives all at once. He truly is a good, good Father. 

    Dear friend, if you are like me and struggling with whatever is swirling around in your head today, know that you can set it all into the capable hands of Jesus. If you want, play the song at the link below and imagine Jesus right there beside you, gently whispering words of comfort to you. Picture God wrapping you up in His strong embrace as He lifts the weight of the world off of your shoulders and exchanges it for a peace that passes all understanding. You are safe and you can rest, because God is always working. 

    Cecie’s Lullaby song, by Steffany Gretzinger

    Read the lyrics here

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