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God's Appearing

Genesis 28:17 He [Jacob] was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

When Jacob wrestled with God it was a rare thing. His grandfather, Abraham, experienced God more often, spoke with Him, had visions, gained direction. Even Jacob's own father Isaac had had his own revelation of God, had experienced God's miracles in his own life. But not Jacob. Here he was a young man in the prime of his life, at the point of marrying age, and he had never had a personal encounter with the God of Abraham and Isaac. But then God found him, and wrestled with him, and Jacob finally had his personal meeting with Almighty God, too.

When I think of this, I am amazed, for you and I are granted a privilege that Jacob never had. We have the privilege of coming into God's presence whenever we desire. It's a marvelous thing. We can come into Almighty God's presence anytime because God's Holy Sprit abides in us at all times. We don't have to wait for visions to hear from Him. We don't have to depend on our parents' or grandparents' stories about God to know Him. Indeed, because of God's great love for us, we can approach God's throne of grace at any time, with any need, and know that He hears us. That's His promise from His Word.

Rest assured, dear one. He hears you. He knows you. He sees you. And He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. Keep on trusting Him for the ride.

Bad News

Bad news can come in so many ways. Today I've had quite a bit. A dear friend's divorce will be final tomorrow. Another friend's daughter died after a prolonged illness. And the last phone call of the evening brought more bad news; the doctors can't do any more for my brother-in-law, so hospice has been called in.

It's true: bad news can come in many ways. But there is another corollary that is equally as true: you can choose your attitude. For this reminder I am indebted to James MacDonald, Chicago pastor and radio Bible teacher. I've been reading his book Lord, Change My Attitude and have found I've been choosing some bad attitudes lately. Teenagers often hear parents chide them to "check their attitudes at the door," but no one gets quite that punchy with their adult friends. Yet God does.

Consider the children of Israel as they stood outside the Promised Land before their 40-year trek through the sand. According to Numbers 11--14 these folks were gold medal bad attitude winners. Complaining and criticizing, doubting and rebelling came easily to this bunch, especially when 10 of 12 spies said the land God had promised to give them was ungettable. And God wasn't pleased. The Bible says the anger of the Lord burned against the people and many of them were killed--right there on the spot.

With their example in clear focus I looked at my bad news and wondered, was I any different than those folks? God has promised us joy unspeakable and full of glory. God has promised His presence no matter what. God has promised to love us with an everlasting love, to keep our tears in a bottle, to hear our sighs and to heal our sorrows. But by my choosing to criticize God's way of bringing about His plan in another's life, to fuss at God for allowing a parent to be left behind, to question God's healing of a loved one by bringing them through death's door, well, by my bad attitudes I was telling God that His promises for MY bad news were just not gettable.

Yet the Bible assures us that none of God's good promises has ever failed. The only failure in the midst of all my bad news was me and my way of looking at things. I failed to choose an attitude of faith, of submission to God's will, of thankfulness for His direction in the past and His assurance of His presence in the future. When today's bad news came faster than I could mentally process it, I forgot the very thing I've encouraged you to do: Keep trusting God for the ride.

So learn from my mistake today, okay? When bad news comes (and it will!), choose a godly attitude instead of a bad one. Choose to have faith; choose to be thankful; choose to remember how God has cared for you in the past. But most of all choose to keep trusting Him through the bad news, for the Bible says, He who promised is faithful.

It has been a while between posts--my apologies.

But the Lord is good; and I'm learning the blessings found in His provision. While I may want something different, the Lord is graciously reminding me that what He gives me is ENOUGH. And God's ENOUGH is more than sufficient for my needs. God's ENOUGH is oft times miraculous, too...

From one week to the next I can easily forget God’s miracles in my own life…the miraculous provision of a sermon with the very words I needed to hear…the miraculous provision of funds needed to attend my father-in-law’s funeral…the miraculous provision of an unexpected check in the mail that covered the house payment…the miraculous provision of good health when all around me were coughing and feverish with flu…and right now I’m sitting at my office window watching a red fox warm herself in the sun on a driveway culvert stone. She’s so peaceful, yet alert to the sounds around her. Now she stands, stretches, and lopes off down the neighbor’s driveway to catch a drink at his pond. What a miraculous reminder of the way God wants me to be—peaceful in His provision, yet alert to His direction, to move whenever and only when He speaks.

So I encourage you, right now, to find those pieces of God’s provision in your own life and build yourself a memorial. One gal I know keeps small pieces of embroidery floss hanging in her kitchen window; each one a different color to remind her of a different blessing. Another friend journals her blessings. A third has a collection of teacups. Whatever it takes, whatever is meaningful for you, build yourself a memorial to God’s faithful provision in your life, especially right now. The enemy of our souls wishes to destroy us and bury us under faithlessness, doubt, and fear--that old question posed to Eve, “Hath God said?” Without a means of remembering, Eve fell; you and I can easily fall, too, and “quickly forget His works” (Ps 106:13).

But God who is rich in mercy made us alive in Jesus (Eph 2:4), and He has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). He has called us to a life of contentment in His provision, for He has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). And, yes, that includes this time of unemployment.

So build yourself a memorial, and keep on trusting our loving Lord for the ride of your life. He loves you more than you can ever know. He even sings when He thinks of you (Zeph 3:17). Carry that in your heart today. And keep on trusting Him for the ride.

The Ram

Do you remember the Bible story about Abraham, Isaac, and the amazing sacrifice? It looked like God was going to let Abraham sacrifice his only son. The altar was built and laid with wood for the fire. Isaac was tied and positioned on the altar. Abraham had his knife in the air, ready to kill him. But then the Bible says Abraham heard a voice from heaven telling him not to harm the boy. And in that moment Genesis 22:13, ESV says, "Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns."

Did you catch that? The ram's horns were snagged in a bush. It couldn't get free and run off. And it's my guess it was making some kind of noise, too, bleating or thrashing about so that Abraham not only heard the voice from heaven, but also heard something else. He turned his head ever so slightly and saw something out of the corner of his eye. Something God had put there to provide for Abraham's need before Abraham even knew to look for it.

How wonderful that reminder of the ram. Too often on the roller coaster of unemployment our focus gets skewed. We turn our eyes and attention away from God's greatness and find ourselves staring at the storm, turning away from God's presence and focusing on fear, grasping at straws while all along God has already provided the sacrifice--the ram in the bush behind us. Yet God, in His kindness, recognizes our weaknesses. God made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. So He gives you and me something to relieve the fear, solve the problem, calm the storm, provide for the need...and He does it in such a way that, even if it is behind us, we can't miss it.

So, in the middle of this day when I don't know which way to go, I'll once again pray: Thank you, Lord, for the reminder. Thank you for forgiving my faulty focus. And thank you for providing my ram and helping me hear it, see it, and appropriate it. Amen.

My prayer journal entry for July 29, 2008, one month after our unemployment roller coaster ride began:

Genesis 18:1 -- "The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day."

It's strange, Lord. You show up at the most unexpected times...in the heat of the day at Abrahams' tent...in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee...beside a well at noontime in Samaria...in a stable during a census in Bethlehem...in a fiery furnace in Babylon...in an upper room after three days to calm the fears of some terrified disciples...on a rocky, dry trail at midnight to wrestle with a deceiver and put his hip out of joint....

Unexpected encounters, every one; and at unexpected times. But both in the Old and New Testaments you are the God who comes. And when you come, life changes, people and situations change, and blessing ultimately follows.

In a way, Lord, it seems like during this joblessness we're on your "Candid Camera" and that "somehow, some way, when we least expect it, someone may walk up to us and say" ...Smile--for this is the way, this is the job, the path, the answer, the surety, the direction, the whatever. For you, Lord, are the same yesterday, today, and forever. You don't change even though our circumstances do. If you came for all those who needed you in Bible times, you'll come for us, too.

So now, please come, Lord Jesus. In the midst of our circumstances and joblessness, please come. And I thank you in advance, dear Lord, for I know you will--in your unexpected time, in your unexpected way, and maybe even in the unexpected heat of the day.

(So, too, for you, dear one. The words may be a year old, but the thought is always timely. He who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps the Psalmist says. He's aware of your needs. Keep trusting Him--and He will come.)

Genesis 16 tells the story of Hagar. But it also mirrors our personal unemployment story, in a way. How so?

In Hagar's life, she operated in the background as a servant of Sarah, Abraham's wife. Because of some decisions and inabilities on Sarah's part, Hagar was thrust into the limelight. Though Hagar generated the desired results (she conceived a child with Abraham while Sarah could not), problems arose because of jealousies between the two women, and Hagar ran away into the desert.

While my husband didn't run away from his former place of employment but rather was downsized due to a tough economy, our time of unemployment has often felt like a walk through a desert. The example of Hagar's experience in that bereft place brings some reassurance to us as we trust God for this ride through joblessness.
You see Genesis 16:7 says "the angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert..." Hagar was pregnant and dying of thirst, but God knew where she was every minute. He found her, because He had never lost her. In similar fashion God has never lost us, either.

And what was Hagar's response to this? Genesis 16:13 says Hagar "gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me.'" Hagar saw God; and we seek to see Him today, too. We're different, but similar. The God who sees and knows the life of Hagar is the same God who sees and knows my lie, your life, the lives of His children going through joblessness and tough times.

If you read the rest of Genesis 16 you'll see that while Hagar waited at a nearby spring to rest up, God gave her clear direction what to do next. It will be the same for you and me and my husband. If we just wait where we are and trust God to lead us, His coming to us will be as clear as His coming to Hagar. His words and direction to us will be as specific and helpful as His words were for her. All we have to do is ask God to forgive our fears and thank Him for His faithfulness. Remember, He is the God who sees. And He will provide.

After This

Genesis 15:1 starts with the words, "After this." So what came before? Abram had just defeated Kedolaomer and his allies, had been blessed by the priest Melchizedek, and had refused a royal repayment from King Bera of Sodom for rescuing his people and goods. It was then that Genesis 15:1 says, "AFTER THIS, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.'"

Interesting. After everything that had happened to Abram, THEN God shows up and speaks to him. Was it a day later? A month down the road? The Bible doesn't say. All we're told is "After this." Abram had just lived through a mighty upheaval in his life, and then, "After this." Yet when God showed up on the scene He brought reassurance (Don't be afraid); a promise of protection and safety (I am your shield); and an assurance of provision (I am your great reward).

At this exact moment in time we can hear God say the same to us--don't be afraid; I'll protect you; I'll provide for you. And in this exact moment, I'm okay with that. But some days I'm not. Even as I write this I see my dog. She was resting on the rug in the center of the room, but something woke her. Her eyes got huge. Her body tensed. She snapped upright. She sensed there was something on the other side of the closet door. She was concerned that something might be coming through to get her. So, I went to the door, picked up the trinket that had fallen off a shelf, replaced everything, closed the door, and went back to my seat. Now the dog is once more resting peacefully. No fear. She knows she's safe and provided for.

In a sense I'm the dog; and I'm Abram. And so are you. We're standing in a place of change and uncertainty. But Genesis 15:1 reminds us, "After this." Because God is the sovereign Master of our "before's" and our "after's," we can also hear the Lord say to us, "Don't be afraid. I'll protect you; I'll provide for you." We can keep trusting Him for the ride and curl up by His side, resting there peacefully (like my pampered pooch!), and sighing our thanks as we stretch out in His presence. There will be an "AFTER THIS" coming in our lives, too. Trust Him. God bless you!

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