Conntecting the Dots

Abe's Attitude

Abraham’s life is soooo inspirational to me. He was nowhere near perfect, but his heart, overall, was bent on knowing God.

This morning as I read in Genesis 22, I saw two verses that I’ve not noticed before. That chapter is about Abraham’s infamous test of obedience. He comes through that experience with flying colors. And then he hits a wall. Verse 20 says, “Soon after this, Abraham heard that Milcah, his brother Nahor’s wife, had borne Nahor eight sons. Verse 24 says, “In addition to his eight sons from Milcah, Nahor had four other children from his concubine.”

Why are these verses included? What’s the point anyway? Here’s my thought:

Abraham’s life had not been an easy one. He’d trusted God when He told him to leave everything familiar and go to a strange country. He’d trusted God for a promised son even though it meant more than 20 years of waiting. He’d taken a detour when he slept with Hagar, and later felt the pain of sending her and Ishmael into the wilderness to keep peace with Sarah. Most recently, Abraham had just come through the most challenging experience of his life, when God asked him to be willing to sacrifice Isaac. His actions had proved his faith in God and marked a huge spiritual victory. And then comes verse 20.

“Soon after this, Abraham heard that Milcah , his brother Nahor’s wife, had borne Nahor eight sons.” Add the concubine’s four kids, and the brother has 12 offspring.

How did Abraham feel when he heard that news? He’d been faithful to God, willing to obey to the nth degree, and yet he had only one son by Sarah. Nahor had eight sons by his his wife. I wonder if Abraham compared his situation with Nahor’s and felt a twinge of jealousy. Maybe hearing this news, shortly after his spiritual high, bred some questions: “God, this isn’t fair. I’ve done so much on Your behalf, and yet You’ve blessed my brother more than me. What’s with that?”

It’s common to hit a wall after a spiritual victory. Sometimes we hear of someone else’s blessings and, with a twinge of jealousy, we compare our situation to theirs. Perhaps our faith journey has been more trying than theirs. It seems as though theirs is a stroll down Easy Street while ours is an ongoing trudge through Deep Valley. One glimpse at their situation tells us that they appear more blessed even though we’ve gone through tougher stuff. “What’s with that? It’s not fair, God.”

Yes, I wonder how Abraham felt. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I have a hunch that he may have struggled a bit. After all, he was human like me and you. I can identify because I’ve struggled with comparison, too.

In the end, though, we have to trust that God knows what He’s doing. He sees the big picture. He’s just and righteous and makes no mistakes.

“God, please keep my (our) eyes on You. Make me aware if I begin comparing my situation with others. Give me a heart that rejoices when others are blessed, and help me trust You for every detail of my life. Amen.”

Abe Prayed

Back to Abraham and his relationship with God. Theirs was an intimate one as evidenced in their conversation about Sodom (Genesis 18) “God, You wouldn’t destroy the city if You found 50 righteous men there, would You? After all, You’re a just God.”

“You’re right,” said God. “I’d save it for their sakes.”

Abraham mustered his courage for round #2. “What if You found 45 righteous men?”

“I’d save the whole place for their sake,” said God.

“Forty?”

“If I find 40 righteous men, I’ll spare the city.” And so went the conversation, back and forth, until God agreed to spare the entire city if He could find 10 righteous men.

Verse 27 contains a word that describes Abraham’s approach. It’s the word bold. The dictionary says this word means, “without fear; daring.” Abraham was indeed daring in his prayers. I’m not convinced that he was without fear, however, because the passage sounds like he had to muster his courage before each request. Perhaps he was a little concerned that God might consider him a smart-alek for his approach. I think it was the opposite — it looks like God rather enjoyed the banter, otherwise He might have ended the conversation in disgust. Regardless, Abraham conversed with God in a way that’s possible only between friends.

This story encourages me in my prayer life. It shows me that God enjoys honest communication. He invites me to be daring in my requests and in my approach. That’s reinforced in Hebrews 4:16 — “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

May we all enjoy such intimate relationship with God that our conversations with Him reflect deep friendship!

Chatter

I’m back after a day away from my office. Spoke at a MOPS group yesterday morning — had a great time talking with these younger women about how to face the new year with confidence. On a side note, I felt like I was in Grandma Heaven, with all those nursing babies and toddlers in the room. Then I dashed off to a hair appointment — took a risk and had a few reddish highlights applied. Hmmm. Do I like the look, or don’t I?? I returned home, hunkered down in my office to respond to business emails, and then spent the evening with a family of five that’s considering volunteering with International Messengers this summer. It was a profitable day.

BTW, I’ve submitted two book proposals in the past month. I’ve spent up to 16 hours a day trying to get these done — sitting in my lazyboy chair rather than at my desk! I discovered that my neck and upper back can withstand a lot more writing time in the chair with my feet up and my computer on my lap rather than sitting at my desk with feet down and elbows up.

The acquisitions committee will meet next Tuesday at Harvest House to select the projects they want to recommend to the publishing committee. That committee will meet on Thursday. If the Lord prompts you, would you please pray that God will direct their thoughts to align with His? I only want to write these books if that’s what He wants me to do. Thanks!

Abe Believed God

Abraham believed God’s promise (Gen. 15:6). Do I demonstrate the same level of trust?

Take finances, for instance. How often have I heard God’s promise to provide our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus? And yet, how often have I felt afraid in money matters? The fear comes from my lack of understanding God’s ability to provide, not from His inability to do so. Heaven knows He’s more than able.

What about His ability to give me wisdom when I’m faced with decisions about the direction I’m to go? He’s promised to direct my steps if I trust in Him (Prov. 3:5,6).

For every issue I face, there’s a God-given promise. It’s up to me whether or not I choose to believe that promise is true.

Abraham chose to believe, and God was pleased. I want to follow his example. I know it’s not always easy, but it’s always the best thing to do because God cannot lie. He’s faithful. He will fulfill.

How about you? What God-given promise are you choosing to believe even though, humanly, the odds are stacked against you?

A Love Life Like No Other — part 3

No matter how busy our lives get, our obedience to God is of utmost importance. When He speaks, we must do what He says. The older I get, the more I realize how critical this is.

This morning I read the story of Abraham’s obedience — getting up and moving from the familiar into the unknown simply because God said so. I’ll bet that wasn’t easy. Actually, I know that wasn’t easy for him….you see, we’ve done it a couple or three times ourselves. Despite the angst that often accompanies such a move, there’s a strange sort of peace that goes with it when we recognize that God is the One giving the marching orders, and He’s in control of every detail.

Yes, there are certain times when God demands our obedience in the big things. But He also expects obedience in the little things — like telling the truth, being honest if the grocery clerk give us too much change, refusing to entertain lustful or critical thoughts, and so on. This kind of obedience is do-able no matter how busy our lives get. And it’s critical to our spiritual health.

Any insights out there? How has obedience (or lack thereof) impacted your relationship to God?

A Love Life Like No Other — part 2

Back to the question of how to keep relationship with the Lord as top priority in the midst of a busy life…

Yesterday I mentioned being sensitive to the Lord’s voice. In my case, I’ve been learning to listen to the message He’s giving me through the praise songs that are in my mind when I wake up. Without fail, the lyrics focus my thoughts on Him and one or more of His attributes.

This morning as I prayed, several songs entered my mind, one after the other. Each one focused on the name of Jesus: “Jesus is the sweetest name I know…,” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus….there’s just something about that name…,” and “Jesus, name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord….” It was amazing, really, how one song ended and the next began without me consciously directing my thoughts.

It was such a sweet experience, and it reminded me that relationship with Jesus supersedes all else in importance. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus — there’s no other like Him. When that realtionship is in order, all else falls into place.

A Love Life Like No Other

I think I’ll stretch this topic over a few days because there’s so much to it.

My friend Oce commented yesterday about the need to proceed into ministry opportunities with peace. I so agree. It’s ‘way too easy to assume that we need to accept every op that comes along, when in reality, that’s not always the case. Also, we don’t have to accept invitations immediately — rather, we need to take time to listen to God’s voice before saying yes. If we can do so with peace, then great! Move ahead. If there’s an uneasiness, then say no. Sometimes “doing” ministry can actually get in the way of our relationship with the Lord, and proceeding without Him is a sure-fire way for that to happen.

Here’s something that I’ve found interesting in the past week. I often wake up with a praise song running through my head. It never dawned on me until a few days ago that this could be the Lord Himself speaking to me, using the song as His instrument. Maybe I’m a bit slow to catch on. You see, He’s ministered to me many times through music, but those times have always been when I’ve been awake. This is different – the songs are already playing in my head when I wake up.

This morning I woke to the Newsboys’ “Amazing Love” — aka “You are My King.” Rather than brushing it off as simply a nice song, I considered it God’s way of speaking to me. I made a cup of tea, took my Bible and journal to my favorite spot in my living room, and spent a few quiet moments savoring the message in the lyrics, “Amazing love, how can it be, that You my King should die for me?” What a great way to start my day, being reminded by God Himself that He loves me and wants relationship with me!

Now that I’m aware of Him speaking through these early morning songs, I make a point of being quiet so I can hear them and understand what He’s trying to tell me.

How about you? Have you had a similar experience with a song?

What Matters Most?

The beginning of a new year is a good time to ponder what really matters. Life gets so busy that it’s easy to be distracted and miss the mark. That’s not the way I want to live, and you probably feel the same way.

This morning I read about Enoch — the guy lived to be 365 years old. Genesis 5 gives him more attention than the other fellows listed before him, but still, it says only two things: he had a son named Methuselah when he was 65 years old, and he had a vibrant relationship with God.

It’s interesting that the last fact is mentioned not just once, but twice. Enoch had close fellowship with God (v.22) and he enjoyed a close relationship with God all his life (v. 24). Oh yeah, there’s one more thing: he suddenly disappeared because God took him.

The Bible could have listed Enoch’s accomplishments and adventures, but it doesn’t. It simply stresses the fact that he enjoyed a close walk with God.

As I look into the upcoming months, I must admit that I feel a little anxious at times. The life of a writer/speaker isn’t as glamorous as it may appear on the surface — there’s lots of behind-the-scenes hard work and sweat. And judging by what’s on my plate, I’ll be sweating more than a little. But the bottom line is this — the quality of my walk with God.

That relationship must come first. That means carving out time for Him when I’m fresh and alert, not giving Him the leftovers when I’m too tired to recognize His voice. It means saying no to some activities so I’m available for what He wants me to do. It means being willing to do whatever He asks even if it seems illogical or too time-consuming at the moment. If that relationship is in order, the rest of my life will be in order, too.

I’m not going to live to be 365 years old like Enoch. I’ll have 80 or 90 years on earth, maybe. What will people say about me when I’m gone? Will they say, “She had close fellowship with God?” I hope so.

Tomorrow I’ll blog about how I maintain fellowship with God in the midst of a very busy ministry. I’d love to hear your thoughts — struggles and secrets — on this topic.

A Cover-up

I read today in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve sinned against God. Verse 7 stood out to me: “…they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves” after they’d eaten from the forbidden fruit.

Fig leaves around the hips, eh? I can almost see the couple cowering in an orchard, trying desperately to string the greenery before God shows up for their daily walk in the park. Their hands are shaking and sweat beads are forming on the foreheads. They know they’ve done wrong, and they know their actions have built a wall between themselves and God. And so they try to cover up, to pretend that everything’s okay. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

God walks onto the scene knowing full well what His kids had been up to. He speaks with them to make sure they understand the seriousness of disobeying Him, He levies the consequences for what they’ve done, and then…I love this part…He provides a cover-up for them.

Big difference between the first and second cover-ups!

The first is flimsy, inadequate, and manmade. The second is crafted by God’s hands and covers the nakedness completely. More importantly, it’s made from animal skins, which require a blood sacrifice. This cover-up is sufficient.

How many times do we sin, and then try to set things right on our own? We string fig leaves together — using flimsy excuses to cover our tracks — but our feeble attempts don’t work. God knows what we’ve done, and, because He loves us and wants nothing to interfere with our fellowship with Him, He has provided the perfect cover-up for us.

Like the animal skins that covered Adam and Eve, this one covers us. It, too, required a blood sacrifice — the blood of Jesus Christ. And it’s sufficient. Nothing else is needed — just our willingness to accept the gift of God’s cover-up for us.

What an amazing proof of God’s love for us!

The Secret to a Fruitful Life

Thursday, January 1

As the new year dawns, I’m filled with a sense of anticipation about what God wants to do in and through my life in 2009. While I don’t know the details, I’m confident that He wants me to enjoy a more intimate relationship with Him and to bear fruit that will last for eternity. And so, as I opened my Bible this morning, I asked God to bring this to pass.

Typically I use the One Year Bible in the New Living Translation for my devotions. This morning, I read Psalm 1, and its words seemed to leap off the page.

“Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the Lord wants; day and night they think about his law. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.” (vv. 2,3)

What’s the secret to having a fruitful life? One of the major keys is obedience. When God has a plan and asks me to participate, I need to say yes. And I need to do so with delight.

I think of a teenager being asked by his mom to take out the trash. He can respond in either of two ways. He could whine and moan and complain — “Aw, Mom, do I have to?” or he could say, “Sure, Mom. No problem. I’ll get right to it” and obey cheerfully. Which response brings greatest joy to his mother? The latter, of course.

And so it is with God’s children. When He gives us a task, we need to say yes with a cheerful heart — even if we don’t understand why He’s asking us to do a certain thing. By doing so, we show Him respect. We demonstrate our love for Him, and He is pleased.

The other key, I believe, is filling our minds with God’s Word. When we do that, we begin thinking His thoughts and valuing the same things He values. That will transform our behavior, and that will impact the world around us for Jesus Christ.

The natural result of living life with God’s values in mind is fruitful living. It’s not something we have strive for, it just happens when we’re walking in obedience to His will and thinking His thoughts.

That’s the kind of life I want! How about you?

“Lord, grant us hearts that take delight in obeying You even if Your directives seem difficult or hard to understand. Give us the strength to train our minds on You so that we will begin to think as You do. And give us the privilege of bearing fruit without fail. We love you. Amen.”