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First Thoughts Blog

You Look Great!

I live with two high school students. As they got ready for the first day of school, what do you think mattered most to them? Memorizing the schedule? Discussing which figure from U.S. History would be the most interesting? Of course not! The big questions in our house were, “Who will I have lunch with?” and, most important, “What am I going to wear?”

Guys seem to dispense with the whole clothes issue pretty quick—the main thing is to not look like a goober. You want to fit in, but the concept of fashion is not really a driving force. Guys are mainly dresssing to be just part of the guys. For the girls, though, how you look is a bigger deal. Friends must be consulted. Choosing which outfit gets worn on the opening day is a huge decision. Then there’s the whole hair thing. Do I wear it down, or back, or up? Should I get it cut before school? Highlights? Which make-up, perfume, jewelry, and accessories? There aren’t many guys worth the effort my daughter and her friends put in to getting ready. It’s safe to say there are none who fully appreciate it.

But then, the disorienting swirl of these incredibly coiffed girls creates a whole new effect on the boys in their class: am I man enough to approach someone who looks as good as THAT? Except for the rare guy who develops so early he has a moustache in seventh grade, most boys in high school aren’t nearly as mature looking as the girls. And, believe me, they feel it. Beneath the gruff, “Whatever?” exterior are boys feeling very unsettled about how much they look like, well, boys--and not men. I suspect, too, that though these girls are entrancing the guys all around them (who never show it or admit it), they still feel not beautiful, not lovely, not pretty enough.

What’s the deal? Of course it’s hard when not only your body but your mind, your soul, and even your face is changing in adolescence. You’re becoming you but you’re not there yet. So you wonder if how you look now and how you’ll look then will be enough. Meanwhile, there are all those magazines with Ashton and Avril, Justin and J. Lo who look so great. There are all those ads with those kids who have no acne, no fat, no problems living the cool life while wearing whatever product paid for the ad. And there are all those videos and shows where great looking teenagers start their own companies, play music to huge crowds and succeed in dating, academics, surfing and dancing. Who can possibly compete with that?

I saw a magazine shoot once. It did me a world of good. I could see the model from the back. That perfectly fitting shirt? It was done with about a hundred pins. That fetching look of life and love? She wasn’t like that off camera. That perfect hair? Constantly sprayed by a team of assistants. The whole thing is an illusion. A big fake set up to make us ache for what can never be.

God’s Word has a different take on looks. Have you ever seen how someone who falls in love seems to change in appearance? A rather ordinary looking person who suddenly finds herself loved, begins to radiate beauty. People who never found her particularly attractive all notice how great she looks. Love confers beauty on people. God said that to his own people in Ezekiel, “…the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect” (Ez. 16: 14). Jesus Christ confers on each of us the splendor of his love. We are his bride, and he adorns his beloved with gifts of grace, forgiveness, acceptance, peace and tender regard. He gave his life for his bride, and he still gives us his very life by pouring the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Jesus is the one who accepts us as we are, and then begins to cleanse away our faults, to change our flaws, and make us shine with his love. When we know that, in personal experience, we’ll look differently on the outside. We will have the look of those who know themselves beloved.

Another passage declares, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3: 3-4, NIV). When we know ourselves to be accepted by Christ, beloved by him from all eternity, and chosen to be his forever, our looks will be affected from the inside out. No longer needing to look at those wretched fashion magazines to see what we are not, we will look at the Word to see all that we are. In Christ’s eyes, you look great!

Next Day Stretch

Don’t look in the mirror today. Instead, look at these passages from God’s Word. See yourself, not in a glass on the wall, but reflected in the loving eyes of God: Isaiah 43: 1-5; Colossians 3: 12; I Peter 2: 9-10; 1 John 3: 1-2. See how great you look to God!

Posted in: Devotionals

If You Never Get Out of the Boat…

Do you ever feel like your faith is a yo-yo, jerking up and down though you don’t know who’s pulling the string? One Sunday at church, you might feel like you have it all straight: Jesus is Lord. God became human in Jesus and dwelled among us. So when we look into the face of Jesus, we are seeing who God is. Then the next day at school, someone says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere. God is a mystery, beyond our knowing, so anyone’s guess at faith is as good as another’s.” Everyone nods. You nod, too. But later, you wonder, “Did I just betray my Lord? Did I fail to stand up for the truth about Jesus?”

One night, saying your prayers, you have enough faith to trust God. There’s a situation with your friends. You feel really jealous about a new person in your group, as if they’re going to choose that new girl over you. You pray, and give the whole concern to God. The next morning, you wake up ready to trust that there’s room in your friends’ hearts for both you and the new person. Then when you get to school, you see your friends gushing about what a great outfit this girl has on, and how cool she’s done her hair. Before you know it, a cutting remark comes from your jealous lips. Everyone looks at you in shock. What happened to your faith? Some Christian you are, trusting God when it’s easy, and wilting the first time it gets hard.

You drive to volunteer at the nursing home, then turn off at the mall instead because you just can’t face those wrinkly, scary elders. You start to speak to someone about Jesus, then close your mouth, afraid you’ll sound like a fanatic. You see someone going down a bad path, and you want to tell them to stop, but then you don’t want to be pushy. You have a brochure about a mission trip on your dresser, but just can’t bring yourself to fill it out. What’s the matter with our faith? We think we believe, then we fail to live it out. Is that normal? Will we ever get stronger?

No disciple talked a bigger game than Peter. No disciple except Judas proved to be a bigger failure than Peter. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” said Peter, just a few hours before he denied even knowing Jesus three times (Mt. 26: 35). Earlier, when Jesus had asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16: 15), it was Peter who responded immediately, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16: 17). He got it right, like no one ever had. Then, the next thing we read, Peter is protesting that Jesus must not suffer and die on the cross, and Jesus has to rebuke him so strongly that he calls him “Satan.” Peter soared in faith, then crashed hard.

Once, when Jesus came walking across the water to the disciples, Peter called out, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water” (Mt. 14: 28). So Jesus answered, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, and began walking on the water towards Jesus. He did what was humanly impossible. For a few seconds, he did it. Then he looked down at the waves, panicked, and began to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cried. Jesus, of course, stretched out his hand and saved the poor disciple. But he was disappointed, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter lived large. He confessed his faith bravely. He failed big, and a lot. But Jesus never gave up on Peter. Ultimately, Peter lived up to his potential. He became the leader of the early church. He preached magnificent sermons in which many people came to faith. He endured persecution without wavering, and testified boldly in front of hostile authorities. He wrote magnificent, encouraging words of Scripture.

Stumbling in faith is never the last word on our lives. In fact, failing God is part of truly trying to live for God. Sure Peter sank in the waves, but who else even tried to get out of the boat? Yes, he failed to see how Jesus had to die on the cross, but who else declared so boldly, “You are the Son of the Living God”? On that terrible night before his death, Jesus said to Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk. 22: 32). Jesus prayed for Peter then, and he prays for you now. He sends us his Spirit to strengthen us. He prays at the right hand of his Father on our behalf. As Paul wrote, “The one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1: 6). Our faith may fail from time to time, but Jesus does not give up on us. He uses even failures to make us become more and more like him.

After all, if you never tried to get out of the boat, you’d never walk on water….

Next Day Stretch

Make a list of your three or four all time biggest failures in faith. Note what happened. Consider why you failed. Then make a note about what happened after that. Did God use your failure in some way? What did you learn? How have those fallings in faith made your stronger?

Posted in: Devotionals

Soul Friends

“Whatever it takes.” You hear that in sports, or in relationships, whenever people are determined to reach their goal. “I’ll do what I have to do” to keep you with me, to score a goal, to make the grades. These heroic words mean people are totally committed. They will abandon themselves for someone else.

David and Jonathan were friends like that. Jonathan was the son of Israel’s first king, Saul. David was the young man who had been selected by God to be the next king. Both, then, were princes. They could have been jealous of each other. Jonathan had the bloodlines; David had the prophecy of his future reign. Instead, they were best friends.

Now King Saul was given to fits of jealous madness. Saul knew that because of his own earlier disobedience, the Lord had chosen David to succeed him. So instead of rejoicing in David’s military victories for Israel, Saul only hated him more. Watching David win was like watching his kingship slip away. So Saul plotted to put David to death. But Jonathan warned David, and did all he could to persuade his father to give up his violent plans.

As the story unfolds in I Samuel 20, David met secretly with Jonathan to share his fears that Saul was still after him. He needed Jonathan to find out Saul’s intent. Though it meant being a spy in the king’s court, Jonathan said to his friend, “Whatever you say, I will do for you” (vs. 4). In other words, “Whatever it takes. Whatever I have to do to get you to safety, count on me to do it.” In fact, it took a lot. For we read later that when Saul cursed Jonathan and disgraced him publicly for defending David.

In turn, David swore to do “whatever it takes” for Jonathan. He promised his love and faithfulness to Jonathan. This was a much bigger deal that it might seem. The two friends were not likely to see each other again. When the dispute between David and Saul became an all out war between two sides, the ancient code dictated that the winner should slaughter the entire family of the loser. But David promised by his love that if he won, he would break the code and yet remain to Jonathan and his family all his life.

The story tells us that David loved Jonathan “as he loved his own life” (vs. 17). That’s a soul friendship, a deep-down, in-your-bones love between friends. Some people never have such a friend. The most blessed of us will still have only one or two friends like that their whole lives. Still, what we see in David and Jonathan, rare as it is, provides a great model for the kind of friend I want to be to all my friends.

David and Jonathan looked out for each other. They spoke up for each other, even if it cost them. I want to speak up for my friends even if it means that I lose social standing, or even if I lose other friends. Because real friends are loyal. They speak the truth to each other. They defend each other.

When we read Psalm 55, we learn that David knew all too well how painful it is when friends turn such loyalty into cruel betrayal: “It is not the enemies who taunt me—I could bear that…But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company” (vs 12-14). We expect enemies, and maybe even strangers, to be disloyal. The world (especially school!) is a hard place. We can take that scorn. But when our friends cut us, the pain is terrible. For we are not only mocked, but our trust is betrayed. I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I like to think that I’d rather take abuse from others than turn my back on a friend in time of need.

David and Jonathan dealt honestly with each other. They shared their fears with each other. They held each other accountable. They made promises and kept them. Each one put the other friend ahead of himself. Jonathan risked the wrath of the king to protect David in the short term. David promised to risk breaking the whole code of the nation to protect Jonathan and his family years later. Each thought more of the other than of himself. “He loved him as he loved his own life.”

We can’t be this kind of friends with everyone. And we’ve got to be careful not to be this loyal to those who don’t share a commitment with us to doing God’s will above all else. (Our first loyalty, after all, is to our Lord). But still, this story offers us an example of what friends can be. Even more, it tells me how to act toward my friends, looking out for them, defending them, and thinking of their interests first.

Next Day Stretch

Make a list of all your friends. Then place a star by the two or three whom you consider to be the most loyal, the closest to your heart. Thank God for them, naming their best qualities aloud. Finally, considering how you can be a better friend in the coming days.

Posted in: Devotionals

Surviving Snakebite

No problem. It’s easy to say when somebody bumps you in the hall and says, “Sorry.” No problem. I’m OK. Even if my books did spill all over the floor. But what about when it’s worse? Your friend may swear she won’t say a word and then an hour later everybody knows, and you burn with embarrassment. Even if she apologizes, you’re still hurting from what she did.

Sometimes in a break up hard words get said. The person you thought you loved yesterday now stabs at you like your worst enemy. You trusted him and welcomed him into your heart. He waltzed in and threw daggers of criticism right at your most tender places. How do you say “No problem” to that??

It can cut even deeper than that. Dad may have walked out on your Mom, even for another woman. And everything that seemed normal and stable in your world fell apart. Years later, you’re still hurt and still mad. No amount of rationalizing can ever excuse this.

Forgiveness for little stuff is relatively easy. If it doesn’t cost us too much, we can pay the price to let someone else go free. No problem. But what about when the hurt is too deep to let it go? What about when the person you have to forgive is yourself and you can’t do it? Somehow, all that hurt has to be sucked up and taken away.

Long before the Crocodile Hunter, Bill Haast was a man in Miami who used to handle cobras, rattlers, and coral snakes in front of people. Sometimes he got bit. In fact, three times he fell victim to the fangs of the king cobra. But each time, after getting really sick, he recovered. People noticed that he got better faster from the third bite than the first one. Haast’s blood was developing an anti-venom. It could survive, then neutralize, the poisoned bite. His blood cleansed itself so that he was quickly restored to health. Haast then began to donate blood. If someone received a potentially deadly bite, his blood would be flown to them for a transfusion. Haast’s blood would mingle with the victim’s blood, and the anti-venom would go to work. The poison was absorbed and health returned.

That’s a lot like what Jesus does for us when we need to forgive. We get hurt and we feel poisoned by the pain and anger that results. The venom threatens to ruin us. We need a transfusion. Jesus’ blood, his life, contains the anti-venom. Somehow, when sinful people touched Jesus, he was not contaminated. When wicked people spat in his face and rammed a crown of thorns on his head, he took it all silently. When they nailed him to the cross and his back, raw from the lash of the whip, met the rough, splintered wood, he prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He took the rage and sin of the world onto himself; he sucked the poison of the snake bite of sin in the whole human race right into his own being. It killed him. But only for three days. On Easter, he rose, a new man, restored and whole. Now his risen life is the anti-venom to all the hurt done to us in the world.

We need the blood of Jesus in us when we are wounded. We need his life that can suck up even the worst violence and turn it into forgiveness. How do we get this spiritual anti-venom?

Only in mystical union with Christ. We go to him in faith and ask for his life to be in ours. We ask him to take our hurts and put them on his cross. We ask him to take our sins and the guilt we feel as well. Then we pray that he would return to us his forgiveness, his healing, his powerful life. Somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit causes the transfusion to happen. Jesus takes our hurt and makes it his own so we do not have to bear it alone. He takes our guilt and gives us his forgiveness. The venom gets sucked into Jesus, and the strong, rich lifeblood of the risen Christ gets poured into us. That’s wild. It just happens to be true.

Of course it may take some time for the lifeblood of Jesus to begin replacing our poisoned blood. But he will do it. Bring your hurts, bring your bitterness, bring your guilt to him day by day and see what he does!

Next Day Stretch

Identify a place where you have been hurt by someone. Visualize how the poison of that hurt courses through you. Now imagine that hurtful action, those hateful words, being done to Jesus. See him take those blows on the cross. They are enough to kill him. But watch as he rises on the third day. His risen life is now anti-venom. Visualize him handing you the cup in communion. He says to you, “This is my blood poured out for you.” Drink from the cup and invite his cleansing, poision sapping life to come within.

Posted in: Devotionals

Finding Confidence

First day going to a new high school. I’m in the line for the bus. Got on my new clothes and my cool new shoes, so I look good. Wrong! “Stupid shoes,” says a voice behind me. The cute blonde freshmen sliced up my confidence. I get on the bus. Where is a seat? Nobody wants the new kid to sit with them. Get to school. New locker. Can’t figure out how it works. Kids come and go all around while I sit there helpless with my books. What a goober I am!

I remember needing to rely hard on the Lord those first days. In myself, I was nothing. I felt stupid, ugly, unable. The Spirit of Christ Jesus within me is what got me through. On the bus seat or at night on my bed, I had to go to that place in my heart where I sheltered under God’s wings. It was a small place, for I wasn’t very big. It was a quiet place, for my voice was pitiful. It was a safe place, for God met me there and gave me courage to face the frightening hours.

How do we gain confidence when everything in our lives only makes us feel weak and fearful? The story of Joshua tells of a mighty warrior who did great things for God. Joshua was the leader who led Israelfrom the wilderness into the Promised Land. The book in the Bible named after him tells how he defeated mighty armies, confronted evil among his own people, and even brought down the walls of the great city of Jericho. Surely, of all people, Joshua must have been full of confidence, right? Hardly.

Joshua must have been one insecure guy judging by how often God had to encourage him. Over and over in the first chapter we hear the Lord say things like, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1: 9). You don’t tell someone all the time not to be frightened unless they are scared! Joshua’s insides had turned to mush thinking of the task before him.

So God gave Joshua confidence. But not by telling Joshua how great he was. Courage would come as Joshua looked away from himself to God who promised, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (1: 5). God told Joshua he would succeed, but the source of his strength would not be his own power or intelligence. Joshua’s confidence came only from the Lord who promised to be with him every step of the way.

That’s the first key to gaining confidence. We don’t just try harder to believe in ourselves. We look away from ourselves, weak and pitiful as we are, to our God, the one who alone is strong, mighty and utterly reliable. In God alone is my courage.

We see the second key to gaining confidence as we look more closely at what God told Joshua: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go” (1: 7). Success and courage came to Joshua not because he followed his own dreams, but when he gave himself to do God’s will above all else. Confidence arises when we determine to do what God wants first.

But how do we know what God wants? God gives Joshua the secret, “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it” (1: 8). God told Joshua to learn the Scriptures so that he would know who God is and how he was to act. This knowledge would shape his actions and keep him in God’s way as he led the people.

Confidence comes not from ourselves, but from God. Yet to receive God’s courage and comfort, we have to know who God is. We meet God in the Word, in the pages of Scripture. There we find that God is our refuge, our shelter, our strength and our hope. There we find how we may stay in God’s will throughout the day. I’d never have made it through those first awful days of high school without knowing the Lord who kept whispering to me, “Be strong. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Next Day Stretch

Read Psalm 91 aloud. Then think of a situation or a relationship in which you lack confidence. Hold up that situation to God as you read Psalm 91 aloud again. Imagine yourself going into God’s shelter as you pray. Visualize being gathered under the warm, soft, yet mighty feathers of God’s wings. In that safe place, give him your lack of confidence and receive his words of strength.

Posted in: Devotionals

We Want Our Children to Live for Him!

The Scriptures testify to the supremacy of Christ Jesus, and this affects everything about Children’s Ministry. I recently read through the Old Testament and was delighted to discern the many ways that the Law and the Prophets anticipate the coming of Jesus. As I moved on to the New Testament, I also began reading a short book on redemption by Sandy Willson (yes, the father of our beloved Mary). This was no coincidence. I could not help but humbly ponder the redemptive work of our Savior at the center of all our blessed work we do here in Children’s Ministry at First Presbyterian Church.

The cry of our Children’s Ministry is, “that in everything Christ might be preeminent!” (Colossians 1: 18) Here at First Presbyterian we teach our children what it means to have a Christ-exalting life by equipping them with the tools they need to get there: prayer, gospel love and theologically sound lessons that point our kids to Jesus in every story. We want our kids of First Presbyterian Church not just to know about God but to know him in a deep way, such that they would rely upon him in all things. We want our kids to know that Jesus is our all and all so that they may turn to him, pray to him, believe him, trust him and live for him! This is our mission and our prayer.

We teach our children of First Presbyterian about our Triune God, so that they may learn how God the Father creates and watches over us, how God the Son saves and sustains us and how God the Holy Spirit plants faith in our hearts in order to grow it. Our children see the healing mercies of Jesus and how he provides for his people. We, as a church, model this to our little ones and model it well, by God’s grace. We show our kids what it means to engage in his mission and what it looks like to take up our cross in order to serve him wholeheartedly. Our church loves our children and they flourish in this place where they are "so loved" and nurtured! Just as our beloved Pastor Gerrit teaches our congregation to return the blessing to God by boldly reading Scripture aloud, the children are reciting and reading Scripture out loud. What music to the ears of our Father in heaven this must be!

So as you observe our Children’s Ministry program here at First Presbyterian Church, look for Christ. He is on the move! You can see him through our many volunteers pouring into the lives of our little ones. You can see him when you see prayer cards the children have written out on Sunday mornings. You can see him when our children are offering their only coins and dollars, or simply touching the offering plate giving himself or herself to God. You can see him in the attentiveness as they receive gospel-centered teaching in Sunday school. Their hearts are hungry and we want to all take part in equipping these little ones early so that they may know him and accept him as their personal Savior.

I am honored and truly blessed to take part in the life of each child—your child. My family and I reap the blessing of this God-given mission every day. I am grateful to walk alongside you as a sister, parent and friend. May Jesus Christ be praised!

Change Through God Via Community

How do people change? We talk often about going “deeper into Christ,” but it’s important to remember how it happens. How do people come to know Jesus, and how do those who know him get to know him better? How do we begin to see change in our lives, in our communities and in the society around us?

One of the most fundamental claims of the Christian Church for the last two millennia is that God’s revealed Word, the Bible, is the foundation for change in people, communities and societies. David writes these words in Psalm 19:

The Law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes.

He goes on to say that God’s Word is sweeter than honey and more desirable than gold. Why? Because God’s Word has the power to change us for the better. The New Testament echoes the same teaching. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3: 16 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness…” And in Romans chapter 1, we read these wonderful words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The Power of God is in the Gospel! God’s Word has power to change us!

But there’s another piece that we also need to remember. As a preacher, I wish the formula looked like this—preach the truth and everyone will change. Unfortunately that is not always the case. We know that for change to happen, the Holy Spirit must be at work enabling that change. And what we see throughout the Bible is that the Holy Spirit most commonly works that change in community. It’s in people learning, working, loving, crying, questioning together that God’s Word seems to take the firmest hold. In his loving wisdom, the Lord created us to need each other, even in the process of Spiritual growth. So we can revise the formula to look more like this: The Truth, when processed and experienced in community, leads to change.

If this is true, what should we do? That part is actually pretty easy: we connect. First, connect to the Truth; read his Word, be active in gathered worship and focus your attention on the person and work of Jesus Christ revealed through the whole Bible. And secondly, connect to others; get into a group to study the Bible, pray or just fellowship. Connect to your neighbors and to those who don’t share your faith (God works through them as well) and welcome them in to the hope that you have come to know. And thirdly, look for gradual change in your life and the opportunities for change around you. Serve. Create. Empower.

That’s how people grow. The Truth of the Gospel at work in, among and through the community of God’s people. Truth. Community. Change. Amen!

Hit the Road!

How’s this for a planning a move:

“Grab the wife, stuff a suitcase, get in the car and drive out of town.”

“Where are we going?

“Just drive. I’ll tell you when we get there. By the way, it make take a few years.”

As crazy as that sounds, it happens all too often to parents who work in the corporate world. The company decides they need someone in another town, so they transfer your mom, or your dad, with no notice and no questions asked. Next thing you know, your whole life is on the move. It happens, too, when all of a sudden your folks announce you have to move because granddad can’t care for himself anymore. Or worst of all, your parents are splitting up and they can’t afford your home anymore. So your family and your house are being left behind. We can get yanked out of our lives with very little warning.

In of the wildest Bible stories, a man named Abram and his wife Sarai got sent packing far away from everything they knew and loved—by God! It was supposed to be part of being incredibly blessed. One day, the Lord suddenly spoke to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The couple had to pack up and leave immediately.

Years passed before Abram and Sarai were able to settle in the land they were promised, the land of Canaan, and even more time went by before the child promised to them, little Isaac, was born. But in the end, everything worked out and the people of God multiplied in order to be a blessing to the whole world. From Abram and Sarai came all the great heroes of faith: Moses, Miriam, David, Esther and even Jesus!

The keys to success in the long move were Abram’s faith and God’s faithfulness. The words we translate as “the land I will show you” can also be translated as “the land I will provide.” God provides. Abram believed God would provide even though it took years to get to a place called home and see all the promises come true.

He hung on through all the miles and all the changes. God was in control. God had sent him on this journey. God had promised to provide. So Abram journeyed on in faith that God would be as good as his word, even when it seemed that word had gone silent for a long time.

When you have to move, especially when it’s not your choice, Abram and Sarai can be your travelling companions. They tell us that no matter what strange lands we get sent to, God is still there while we journey, and God is there when we arrive. We cannot be lost from God’s care nor travel outside the circle of his love. It just can’t be done. And we cannot be separated from the promise of God to us in Jesus Christ. God has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13: 5). The Lord really does provide—not always the way we’d expect, but always the way we need.

That means all our moves and all our quiet days at home, all our journeys and all our routines, are adventures. For God is going to show up, and provide what we need. The adventure is discovering how God does it.

Next Day Stretch

Many of us have known what it’s like to have to go to a “foreign” place, whether we’re moving permanently or just travelling. Take a moment to consider what difference it makes whether you’re going alone or with someone. Consider what difference it makes when you arrive in a strange place if you’re with someone who knows where you are like the back of your hand. Psalm 139: 9,10 says “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand will shall hold me fast.” In your prayers today, invite God into all the strange and difficult places you must go. Remind the Lord of the promise made to Abram, “The Lord will provide.”

Posted in: Devotionals

Directing My Path

Recently challenged to give a testimony/devotional during staff meeting on a favorite or meaningful Bible verse, I discovered that I can’t really pick a favorite verse…I have different go-to verses for different situations. The above wouldn’t normally even make the cut as a favorite but I used it because it is the verse that has been a part of my life for the longest time.

The plaque pictured has been hanging on my wall since the third grade. I won it for memorizing the most Bible verses in a summer group called “Good News Club” that some kindly ladies ran for kids in my apartment complex.

In considering this verse in light of a devotional, I began to wonder why God would have this be the one verse that was in front of me for the bulk of my life? Somehow that plaster plaque has survived multiple moves, college, graduate school and the years I was a devout non-believer. It has always hung on my wall in whatever apartment, dorm room or house I was living in. Why did this plaque matter so much to me when God didn’t? When I won the plaque, I was already being asked to bear heavy burdens that most 8 year olds didn’t have to bear. So why this verse in all those difficult times? Why not the "peace that surpasses all understanding" or "he will be there through all the fires" or some other seemingly more relevant verse to my circumstances??

Now I know God was thinking long term…not just something for the moment. God knew how independent I was going to be. I was forced to be independent far too young and I desperately clung to that independence as I got older. It has always been about me.

When I think about this verse now, as a maturing believer, it gives me great comfort to know that from the beginning of my life, he knew me. He wouldn’t have put this particular verse in my life if he didn’t already know I was going to need it in my face, on my wall, day after day, year after year for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know him. He knew me. I’ve always found comfort in knowing that he knew me before I was formed, but the way this verse has been in my life proves that to me without a shadow of a doubt.

These days, I am always repenting of my independence idolatry. The crazy thing is, if I wasn’t a Christian, I would be applauded for it. Today's society is all about independence! However, I’ve had this plaque in my face telling me something different for years and years. Quietly preaching to me from my wall…quietly just there waiting for me to acknowledge it. To acknowledge him. He knew my sinful pride long before it began to rear its ugly head. For “your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 16)

Today it’s a discipline to ask for a spirit of humility and then yield to his will. I am freer to serve him, to receive him and to recognize the work he began in me before I was even conceived. Praise, and thanks be to God. 

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Belonging to God Is the Truest Thing About You

God has been working deep in my heart and soul over the past 100 days during a sabbatical, a Romania Mission Trip, Fuller graduation, General Assembly and the Transforming Community Retreat.

This quote from Wilderness Time by Emilie Griffin describes part of my journey: “Times come when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.” The past few months have been healing for my soul as I reflected on Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus in Mark 10: 51: “What do you want me to do for you?” My desire is to be in God’s presence but this has been difficult over the past year. The German theologian Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “The reason we do not see God is the faintness of our desire.”

Normally shying from emotion, I have learned that it is important to let yourself feel how deep your desire goes. Desire is the fuel that drives the spiritual journey. Bartimaeus was able to cry out and throw off his cloak, get up and follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus has invited me in during the sabbatical to help heal my heart and soul. When was the last time I felt a longing for God and a desire to awaken my soul?

God does heal us, and I have felt this process beginning. The safest thing is to be open with Jesus. I have asked myself several questions lately: Am I able to feel Christ’s compassion for the part of me that yearns for something I do not yet have? Am I able to be compassionate with myself? Who attempts to silence my desire?

Desire is the truest thing about you — desire to belong, to contribute to God’s kingdom, to live with the people you love and to live well with God. When I am in touch with desire, a myriad of opportunities begin to open up. Questions often come to my heart: What does Christ want to show me about myself if I am really honest about my desires? What parts of my desire seem to come from my ego-self or from my true self? Is there something Christ is inviting me to do in order to live out my heart’s desire? What aspects of my desires are something only Christ can accomplish? And am I really willing to keep owning my desire in Christ’s presence if I can trust in his timing?
 
These are questions I will continue to bring before God. Spiritual transformation is a process that only Christ can accomplish in us for the sake of others. God is the only one who can transform my heart and soul. I am learning what it truly means to be still and know who God is in my heart and soul (Psalm 46: 10). This spiritual transformation journey is for the rest of my life.

Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of City Ministry