Wherever You Go

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I am always drawn to the story of Hagar the Egyptian slave girl who served as a handmaiden to the wife of Abram. She was pressed into service as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai. This caused much strife between the two women, as you can imagine. She ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7. Hagar may have been lost in the wilderness, but she was not lost to God. The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going. She was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.
One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9). In my almost sixty years, I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight. In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart in one of those seasons: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.” Whether physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.
Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – you are not lost to God. He knows exactly where you are now and where you are going. He has noted every step you’ve taken, even the ones that took you away from Him. God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He is there with you. There is no place you can go that He will not be.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

I Promise (part 2)

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith.  There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith.  Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath.   Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God.  There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible.  There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God.  The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives.  These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.

But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).

Wait. What?

They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.”  How does that make sense?

In the modern world, we equate success with outcome.  When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel.  In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins.  Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith.   They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39).  Why?  Because they believed God.  They believed He is good and righteous and faithful.  And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is.  As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.

Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith.  The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8).   Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5).  Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11).   Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.

By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah.  She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation.  She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.

My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period.  To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises.  Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise.  When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing.  It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise.  He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.

I Promise

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The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does” (Psalm 145:13).

The mothers of the nation of Israel, Sarah and Rebekah, both have stories marked by the power of God. They both saw God move in wonderful and amazing ways, in impossible situations. Wouldn’t you think they, of all people, would trust God completely?

Yet both women’s stories show them taking God’s promises into their own hands. Sarah heard God’s promise to give Abraham a son through whom He would build a great nation. When the promise was delayed Sarah devised a plan for Hagar to serve as a surrogate so that “through her I can build a family” (Genesis 16:2). The world is still suffering the consequences. The Lord told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older twin brother, yet when the time came for Isaac to give the blessing, Rebekah schemed to make sure her favorite younger son was in place under his father’s hand. Because of her actions Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother and she never saw him again.

I understand that tension. God has made promises to me and circumstances made those promises seem impossible. The truth is, I am as guilty as my ancient sisters of trying to manipulate God’s promise into fruition. And just as it did for them, my actions always led to frustration, heartache, and emptiness.  Sarah and Rebekah doubted God would keep His promise. So have I. They determined it was up to them to see God’s plan fulfilled. So have I.  Ultimately God did fulfill His promises to them and to me. He was and is faithful after all.

The Bible assures us that “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Unlike you and I, God does not make promises He cannot or will not keep.  Charles Spurgeon says, “God keeps His promises before He makes them.”  Think about that.  When God makes a promise, it is as good as done no matter how the situation looks. God can be trusted to fulfill what He has promised.

Now think about what God has promised to you.  Can you see the thing coming into reality right now?  Probably not.  Does that mean that God will fail to keep His promise?  Absolutely not.  It means you need to keep your eyes on Him and not on the circumstances.  It means God is going to do something amazing before your eyes.  In fact, the more impossible the situation looks, the bigger the miracle to bring it to fulfillment.  And you don’t want to miss that do you?

Beloved, you and I do not have to doubt that God will keep His promises.  We also don’t have to scheme and plot and manipulate to bring God’s promises to fruition.  It is completely His job and He doesn’t need any help from us.  Anything you and I may accomplish by our feeble actions will be empty and vain.  Everything God does to accomplish His promises will be extraordinary and beyond our wildest expectation.  I know this from His Word and from my own experience.  When I stand aside in faith and let God be God, He blows my mind!

Our only response to God’s promises should be “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) as we wait – not in frustration and doubt – but in eager anticipation.  God is faithful.  He will not fail you.  He always keeps His Word.

Always.

Holy Father, You are the great Promise Maker and the faithful Promise Keeper.  Sometimes You make such amazing promises we wonder if they can really be fulfilled.  Give us faith to watch and wait, knowing that when You do what only You can do, it will be more than worth the wait.  Amen

Okay God, Here’s Our Plan

Reading in Genesis this morning where God had declared His promise and covenant with Abraham to make him the father of a great nation. You know the story: Sarai grew impatient and nagged Abram into fathering a child by her maid Hagar. Several years passed and God came to Abraham and confirmed His promise – Sarah would still bear him a son. Abraham laughed to himself and questioned God’s promise: “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child? (Genesis 17:17). Then Abraham said, “Oh, that Ismael [his son with Hagar] might live before you!”
God had made His promise known to Abraham, but in the waiting Abraham and Sarah decided God could not be trusted and they would go to “plan B.” Even in the presence of God with the promise still ringing in his ears, Abraham pitched another idea out – as if God’s plan was not sufficient. “You know Lord, that’s quite a stretch – that two old people would have a baby. We’ve got Ishmael already – why don’t you just your thing with him instead.”‘
I am so much like them. “God I’ve got this situation, I need Your help. I need You to work on my behalf. You are the only one who can fix this.” Then – “Oh, and here’s my plan for what you can do.” Sound familiar? Why do we think we need to give God our advice? I’m speaking this to me as loudly as I am to you – God doesn’t need our input. He doesn’t need my solutions. He can take care of things without your human wisdom. What He wants is our trust. He wants us to give the thing to Him and let Him decide the best course of action. He wants us to believe that what He promised He will also accomplish – without our “help.”
Beloved, let’s make a commitment right now to stop trying to tell God what to do. Let’s give Him free reign with our lives and how to work in them. You know, I bet He will come up with a solution that will be “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

While You Wait

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I sat in the doctor’s office and grew more frustrated every minute I waited past my appointment time. “Why do they schedule me for 2:00 if they’re not going to call me back before 3:00?” I fumed in my head. I had things to do, important things, yet there I sat seething inside and  impatiently flipping through a 3-year old issue of People magazine. After I was finally called back, it was another 45-minute wait in a lovely paper gown before the doctor breezed into the room. I am a pretty patient person most of the time, but long drawn out waits really do me in. Whether we’re waiting for an appointment, for a job to open up, or your kid to come back home, or waiting for a long and painful season to end, waiting is hard.   I think what makes it hard is how we wait.

Genesis 16 tells us the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who was unable to conceive a baby. In the Ancient Near East, children were the mark of a man’s strength and a woman’s worth. A woman who could not bear children was disgraced in that time and culture. And as a woman who battled infertility for seven years, I can tell you the cultural disgrace was nothing compared to the agony in the heart of a woman with empty arms. To add to her despair, the Lord had promised them that Abram would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Twelve years had passed and there was still no baby. Tired of waiting, Sarah determined Abraham should father a child with her handmaid, and when Hagar learned she was pregnant, everything went sour. Sarah was jealous, Hagar was arrogant and Abraham was caught in the middle.   God permitted this act, but assured Abraham that this son, Ishmael, was not the heir He had planned. Sarah did have a child some thirteen years later, Isaac, who was the child of the promise. There was tremendous tension between the two half-brothers. The conflict between Ishmael and Isaac still rumbles today in the constant battles in the Middle East, all because a woman grew impatient with God.

By contrast, look at Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. While in prison, “The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison . . . because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Gen 39:22, 23).   One day, he thought he had found his ticket to freedom.  He interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, one of release and one of death. The cup-bearer who got the better interpretation promised to speak on Joseph’s behalf, but forgot his promise upon his release. For two more years, Joseph remained in prison. But the Bible gives no indication of resentment or despair on Joseph’s part.  In his youth, God had made promises to Joseph in dreams that showed him lifted up in a position of authority and status, and Joseph trusted the Lord and was sure those promises would prove true – which they did. When the cup-bearer finally remembered his promise, Joseph was released at just the point in Egyptian history that he could be used by God to save his family and the entire Israelite race – the people from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ would come.

You see, how we wait is as important, if not more so, as the act of waiting itself. And whether we wait patiently or impatiently has everything to do with our vision of God. For Sarah, God was not trustworthy and she took matters into her own hands to force God’s promise to come to fruition. But Joseph believed God to be faithful and trustworthy, a God of His Word. Joseph waited for God to act on his behalf and in the waiting he faithfully served and ministered right where he was – in a prison. He did not continually query the jailer to learn how close his release was. He didn’t sit and sulk and become embittered. Sarah failed to trust God and the result was disastrous – and has kept the entire world in turmoil ever since. Joseph trusted in God and as a result, his family was saved from famine, and salvation came to the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants – Jesus Christ.

Our key verse comes from Psalm 130, a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. The Psalmist says “my soul waits for the Lord,” and this is not just aimless waiting, it is from a Hebrew word that means “to hope in, to look for, to expect (emphasis added).” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sun rise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine in a glorious light and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who waited, confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment, and in the waiting gave himself to serve and minister wherever he was.

The biggest difference between Sarah and Joseph was that Joseph knew God to be trustworthy and Sarah did not. Sarah assumed that God had forgotten them and had forgotten His promise. Joseph knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise. Perhaps it was a hard-won lesson that Sarah passed down to her great-grandson, but it was a lesson that brought God’s salvation not just to a family, but to an entire nation and to the entire world.

So I ask you, what has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more glorious than you ever imagined.

Holy Father, it has taken me many, many years, but I am slowly discovering that You never forget your promises. You are forever faithful, even more dependable than the sunrise! Amen.

Lessons From A Woman Scorned

“The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

I’m spending some time in the Word this morning studying Genesis 16 and 21, specifically looking at one woman’s encounter with God.  Hagar was an Egyptian slave, serving as handmaiden to Sarai, the wife of Abram.  You may know them better by the names God would give them later: Sarah and Abraham.  A woman in Hagar’s position was bound by any request of her mistress, and Sarai needed Hagar to perform a service that was quite common in the Ancient Near East – to serve as a surrogate mother and bear a child for the barren Sarai.  Without being terribly indelicate, that meant Hagar would sleep with Abram. When she learned that she was pregnant with Abram’s child – something that Sarai couldn’t accomplish – Hagar “began to despise her mistress.” (Gen. 16:4b). In my Alabama home, we would say Hagar got uppity with Sarai.  This caused much strife between Sarai and Hagar, as you can imagine. Sarai returned Hagar’s attitude and began to mistreat the Egyptian, to the point that Hagar ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness

Lesson #1 – When God blesses you, don’t get prideful and uppity.  When the Lord initially called Abram, He made this promise: “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).  Pride is a dangerous thing before God, especially when we become prideful over the blessings God has poured out on us.  He blesses that we might in turn bless others

In the wilderness, Hagar stopped to rest.  Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7).

Lesson #2 – God will seek out His wayward children.  The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter,” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. Go with me to Jesus’ parables in Luke 15.  First the parable of the lost sheep – the shepherd goes out on a mission to locate and rescue His lost lamb (Lk 15:4-7).  The woman searches her house over to find her lost coin (Lk. 15:5-10) and the father searches the horizon continually, looking for his wayward son.  God doesn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going, because she was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.  (Note that her wounds all started out of her own pride and arrogance.  Even when we are the root of our problems, God still desires to restore us to Himself.

Hagar encountered God – and gained precious insight into who He is.  Through the angel’s assurances, she learned that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight.  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).  This was an awesome insight for the Egyptian, because the pagan gods gave no notice to humans, unless they displeased them in some way.  But here God revealed Himself as a God who watched over His people and tenderly cares for them.

Lesson #3 – God often reveals Himself to us in our times of struggle and pain.

Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know this tender heart of the God who saw her.  I know this lesson has been true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to pay my rent, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When my husband was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

After the birth of Ishmael (which means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah, because of Sarah’s jealousy.  Abraham gave them a little food and water and sent them to wander in the desert.  This was a certain death sentence, and sure enough the water ran out and as they became dangerously dehydrated, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God – once again – came to Hagar and assured her that they would not die, for God had a future planned out for the boy.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh see the beauty of this passage, El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of water, life giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

Lesson #4 – The God who see you and me will open our eyes so we can see Him. When your eyes are blinded with tears, God will come and tenderly wipe away your tears so you can see that He is with you and will comfort and care for you.  This is one of the most precious promises in the Bible to me “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9).  I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight.  In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.”  Whether they are physical places or emotional pits and spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Jos. 1:5)

If He went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.  Did Jesus not say, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I think of all the lessons we can take away from the life of Hagar, the most important one is this: Lesson #5 – God is forever faithful.  He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will be faithful to you and me.

 

El Emunah – The Faithful God, thank you for always keeping Your watchful and loving eyes on me.  Wherever I am Lord, I will trust in You.  Amen