Blessed Assurance

I sat beside a friend recently as she waited to learn if a wrong she had done would lead to jail time or a lesser consequence. She’s not the first person I’ve know to face legal judgment recently, and as I’ve been exposed to this microcosm I’ve realized how closely it resembles the views I’ve held about salvation for most of my life.

I grew up in a religious family; we never missed church on Sundays (check that box). Starting at a young age I was taught to serve others (another check). And I did my best to avoid committing a mortal sin… although it was unclear if all those little sins could glob together on my soul as one big, sticky, black mark.

Come on Heaven, No Whammies!

In my mind salvation played out something like this: After 80 or so years of living I would be called before the heavenly throne. God would then review my life — sins and good deeds balanced on a scale — and determine if I had lived a life worth saving or should be condemned for eternity for my wrongdoings.

His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12

I loved God, and I knew He loved me. So I struggled to reconcile how a good God could issue an eternal death sentence for a short life here on earth, no matter how failed. As I matured I began to look more broadly at the world and question who among us deserved eternal damnation? Most of the worst people had suffered greatly; behind their stories of evil was a story of brokenness….Did God take that into account?

It felt like a spiritual game of whammy, and it scared me.Whammy.gif

With no assurance I worked hard to build my spiritual resume. I controlled what I could and strived to be good enough; yet sometimes late at night I would be gripped by fear of going to hell.

How could a loving God condemn me for doing my best?

That was the question that plagued me. I found myself tempted to blame God; after all, He created us humans. If He made us flawed and sinful, then how could He be surprised when we behaved accordingly?

Good for Goodness’ Sake

As I reflect on the younger me and how I lived out my faith under this paradigm I know that even my good works were tainted by self-interest. Sure I wanted to help others, but I also wanted to become worthy in God’s eyes. If I served another in order to gain something for myself was that good at all?

The other thing this outlook created was a lot of judgment. Without understanding the heavenly standard for righteousness I was left with a comparative one: “Certainly I am better than that one.” “I never miss church like they do.”

If salvation relied on a quota system I was determined to finish in the top quartile.

For God So Loved the World

I cannot say for certain that God waited 40 years to answer me; He may have been trying all along and I just wasn’t listening. But then again, He did allow the Israelites to wander lost for exactly that long, so maybe it was divine timing.

Regardless, when I reached my forties God opened up two paths to truth on this question: The first came through a young pastor at our church who listened to my questions, fears and doubts without judgment. He offered me insight and resources in a gentle manner that allowed me the freedom to discover and discern the answers for myself.

And then a neighbor invited me to Bible Study Fellowship.* There I began to see God’s Word come alive, creating vital connections between Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and my personal salvation. Passages like these took on rich, new meaning:

  • “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:1)
  • For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
  • It is finished. (John 19:30)
  • If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
  • He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God so loved the world that he sent his only son

that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

One Way to Be Saved

Slowly the truths I had heard all my life began the long journey from my ears to my heart and mind: Indeed, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not in that “no-other-religion-is-good-enough” way that the world seeks to characterize it. It is richer than that: Jesus loves us so much that He offers a free invitation to eternal life that allows us the freedom to choose:

To accept this gift of grace is to say “yes,” to Jesus’ offer to cover our sinfulness in His righteousness. When I stand before God Jesus will be by my side, and He will testify that my sin, my debt, has been paid by His sacrifice.

To reject this gift is to choose to be your own god, to live for yourself and your desires, to stand or fall on your own merits. I heard it suggested recently that no one in hell asks to leave. Perhaps this perpetual, self-determined rejection is the road to hell. (Read The Rich Man and Lazarus with this idea in mind, and you will see that the rich man never does ask to join Lazarus in heaven, he simply seeks to continue to be served as he was in life.)

So if all I need to do in order to be saved is accept Jesus’ gift of grace, then why worry about sin or even about doing good? (James thoroughly unpacks this question.)  In my life it has come down to three things:

  1. Gratitude. As I gain a fuller understanding of what God did for me I have a deep desire to express my gratitude in whatever small measure I can. Loving others is the one thing Jesus asked us to do and the only acceptable offering we have to give.
  2. Gospel = Good News. When I discover something that makes my life better I feel compelled to share it with others. So how could I possibly keep this a secret? After all it is infinitely better than the secret of Dawn + hydrogen peroxide, the best-stain remover on the planet, and I must have told at least 100 people about that! As we live to be His hands and feet in the world we do so in the hope that they will see the good that we do and give glory to God. (Matthew 5:16)
  3. Love. And the last of these is the greatest and underpins the rest. As we come to know Him better and love Him more fully, our desire is to give more of ourselves to Him: He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

 

 

* A brief plug: BSF International is a unique, powerful bible study that serves both men and women, skeptic and scholar. Even if you’ve never opened a Bible consider visiting a welcome class this fall!

Grace and Truth: An Eternal Question

all things are possible with God

He’d been waiting for this day. He hopped out of bed and quickly washed and dressed. He chose one beautiful, ripe piece of fruit from the assortment on the table and headed out the door.

He had heard about this teacher for months, and today, word was, he’d be passing through the village. He needed to meet him. He had a question that needed an answer.

He was the son of one of the most influential men in town, a sign of favor by God. Whenever he asked a question to the religious leaders in his town, they told him exactly what he wanted to hear. He was smart enough to know it, and keen to continue seeking the truth.

If fortune was a sign of righteousness, he reasoned, it was his responsibility to look the part. He had learned the commandments by the age of four, and had done his best to keep them. Yet in the quiet of the night he was plagued with doubt:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Romans 7:15

He hoped this teacher would be different, and that he would be the one to finally give him assurance. He walked the streets with growing urgency. As the sun rose higher in the sky his clothing, and his resolve, dampened.

He made a final turn, ready to give up and go home, when he saw them: A crowd following after a stranger. He was shocked by the sight of him; surely this was not the one they said might be the promised Messiah? Why, he was nothing but a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause anyone to take a second look. (Isaiah 53:2, The Message)

He brushed his doubts aside and stepped through the path they cleared for him. “Good teacher,” he said reverently. The question on his heart burst from his lips as if it would be contained no longer:

What must I do to get eternal life?

Mark 10:16

Why are you calling me good?” the man they called Jesus replied.

“You too?” the young man thought, relieved to find someone else harbored similar doubt.

“No one is good, only God,” Jesus said. “You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

“I do,” he said excitedly, his confidence growing. “Teacher,” he said, “I have kept them all…from my youth!”

“There’s one other thing,” the teacher said.

“Here it is,” he thought. “Finally.”

“Go, sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

The man’s heart skipped a beat.

He hadn’t seen this one coming, but he’d recognized it as true the moment he heard it. His mind raced with defenses and denials, but he remained silent, struggling to process what he had heard.

Could he really just walk away from it all? He had never known hunger or scarcity. He had never been regarded as less than. His gaze fell to the dirt between them. It was a lot to ask.

He had no words. Slowly he turned toward home. His life may not satisfy his heart’s desires, but it satisfied most of them, more than he had realized, and more than he was willing to sacrifice.

Jesus, his heart filled with love, felt the pain of his divided heart; he knew this man had many things.

“Do you have any idea,” he said to the friends gathered with him, “how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?”

They couldn’t believe what they were hearing; it was the opposite of what they’d been taught all their lives, but it wasn’t the first time he’d turned convention upside down to reveal an undeniable, if shocking, truth.all things are possible with God

“You can’t imagine how difficult,” he continued. “I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

“Then who has any chance at all?” they asked one another and him at the same time.

Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

 

The Next Step

How often in our own lives do we give God everything…except?

What stronghold stands in your way of a closer walk with the Lord?

Ask Jesus to search your heart and reveal the truth you’ve worked so hard to hide from yourself. (Read Speaking Grace and Truth for more on this.)

Pray that your response will be to trust and obey so that you may move every closer to the One who saves.

 

The 15-Second Challenge

15-second challenge

“Leave an extravagant tip.” 

“Offer to pray with him right now.”

“Buy her coffee.”

“Share the story of what I did for you.”

You’ve heard these whispers, felt these prompting to do good. Usually it’s something that costs you little more than a couple minutes of time and a bit of vulnerability. How consistently do you obey?

My teaching leader at Bible Study Fellowship said recently that we have about 15 seconds to respond to such promptings or our likelihood to act drops precipitously. Since hearing that factoid I’ve challenged myself to listen more closely and say yes more often.

So far the Lord has not asked me to “sell everything I have and give it to the poor” (Matthew 19:21). Rather, it’s a daily stream of little nudges. Of course, it’s obedience in such small matters that He uses to prepare and equip us for greater responsibility:

‘Well done,

good and faithful servant!

You have been faithful

with a few things;

I will put you in charge

of many things.

Matthew 25:21

Wouldn’t you just love to hear the Lord speak such words to you? I know I would. And thus the dilemma. Why don’t I act with consistency? What holds me back?

When it comes to speaking boldly and sharing my faith it’s simple: Fear. I fear what someone might think of me, fear being labeled a “Jesus freak” or a kook.

This selfish, self-absorbed objection is a great reminder that I am overlooking what is really at stake. If someone’s physical life was at risk I wouldn’t hesitate to alert her by any means necessary, without worrying at all about how my frantic yelling and arm waving might look at that moment. My only focus would be on her well-being. There would be time later to reflect on, and even laugh about, how far I was willing to go in that pursuit.

As someone who has said yes to a relationship with Jesus, I am called to be a fisher of men, inviting others to experience “life to the fullest” (John 10:10) as I do in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Why would a lukewarm or even skeptical reaction to such an abundant and life-saving offer deter me from continuing to extend the invitation? Good questions...and yet far too often I do.

Other times my reluctance is pure selfishness. I receive a $10 tab in a restaurant and I get a nudge to leave a big tip in Jesus’ name (@tipsforjesus). I can talk myself down from $50 to $5 faster than an auctioneer, rationalizing that $5 is a really good tip on that tab, ignoring the voice that reminds me $50 barely registers on my monthly grocery bill for my family of six.

Imagine giving your child $20 to treat him and his friends to snacks at the movies, and then finding out that he bought himself a giant drink, popcorn and candy, and gave his friends only a small popcorn to share. As the giver, wouldn’t you be astounded by such selfishness? Wouldn’t you have expected your child to honor your will for how that gift was to be used? He may have complied with what you asked, but he clearly missed the spirit behind the gift. That’s how I think God looks at my petty selfishness when it comes to financial gifts.

The good news is, while I as a parent am likely to respond with a lecture about selfishness and a threat to not be so generous in the future, God is a perfectly loving father.

God’s kindness leads

us to repentance.

Romans 2:4

When I whiff at such moments I am tempted to self-condemnation over my failure; it’s then that I encounter the God of second chances. I know I messed up, but God just smiles (and doubles down), putting endless opportunities before me to do better the next time, and the time after that.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself to help embolden me to step forward with increasing eagerness and less fear in His name:

  1. What if I am the only one who will bring Christ’s light into this person’s life today?
  2. What if my words are the last nudge this person needs to finally commit her life to Christ?
  3. What if this person is approaching a breaking point and needs assurance of God’s love for him?

Jesus couldn’t have been more clear in his parting words to those of us who profess to love Him:

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them

in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Matthew 26:20

 

This week I encourage you to join me in taking the 15-second challenge:

  1. Stop: Pray each morning (before you get out of bed) for God to put someone in your path whom you can serve that day.
  2. Look: Be more aware of those around you and open your heart to their needs.
  3. Listen: Know that if you ask God He will be faithful to put opportunities before you. Listen for those Spirit promptings…listen and obey.

Then share (ideally right in the comments section here) how your simple of act of obedience provided an opportunity for you to be a blessing to others and to be blessed by being His hands and feet to a brother or sister.

About the Crown

crown of life

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

I shared this verse with a friend who is facing a difficult season of trial recently…and God’s promise stuck in my craw. I thought to myself, “How would I receive this verse in such a time? Would I find comfort is some ethereal promise of a ‘crown of life’? What the heck is that anyway, and is it tangible and powerful enough to fortify me in times of trouble?”

To be frank, I actually somewhat regretted sharing the verse; I figured if such a promise was lost on me it would come across to my friend as one of those Christian euphemisms that doesn’t apply to present reality.

I haven’t seen anyone in a crown lately, and I would probably laugh if I did. After all, a crown is not something an American gives weight or value to; we are rebels of the crown.

It’s in these times that God is like the Verizon guy for me, putting  the notion of crown in front of me relentlessly every day since, and whispering, “Can you hear me now?” Both in my own reading of the Word and as part of my Bible study I’ve encountered crowns everywhere I turn:

  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
  • I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. Revelation 3:11
  • He has sent me …to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:2-3

There are several Greek words used to refer to crown. The one used in all of these texts except Isaiah is stephanos, which refers to a literal crown, a mark of royal or exalted rank, the wreath or garland given as a prize to victors in public games and “the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ: the crown (wreath) which is the reward of the righteousness.”

The other words for crown are nezer which refers to consecration and priestly separation, also a woman’s hair; and diadema, which was a blue band marked with white and worn as a turban by Persian kings. It is similar to the word used in Isaiah, pe’er, or turban.

If this is all Greek to you, let me share with you what God has shown me this week. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul teaches:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Our lives are defined by striving and competing, whether as students, athletes, professionals, parents or in other roles. Whatever vocation you’ve been called to it is human nature to execute and excel to the fullest of your potential, and when you’ve hit your max to buckle down with discipline in order to increase your potential.

The question becomes “Why?” Why do you do what you do? Why do you strive so hard? Where do you find your reward? (I can already hear the whispers of conviction gaining strength as the dots begin to connect.)

When I strive for a worldly crown I typically come up short of the mark, not capturing the grade, title, salary or recognition I hope will validate my worth.

On the other hand when my striving is to serve the Lord I am showered in His abundance. For example, God recently called me to lead a small group in prayer. Like manna in the desert God is faithful to provide a scripture passage daily that aligns with the need at that time and focuses us in unity. The process of studying His word and meditating on it with “other-centeredness” stokes my endorphins more than any race I’ve run.

Do you remember when you were a child and you did something that delighted your parents? I remember those moments as some of the happiest of my childhood. It was the joy of pleasing them, of feeling their joy wash over me, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment by earning the approval of the only authorities who mattered in my life at that time.

That is what God invites us into with his offer of the crown of life, the stephanos. Whatever it is He is calling you to do today, whether to serve, to witness to another, to persevere and endure, or to soar, look to Him as you do so.

What you will see is a Father who delights in you, who approves of you and whose joy will wash over you in trial or tribulation because of His great love for you, his very precious child. That is the true, unmatched and unsurpassable pleasure available to us in this life, and miraculously offered.

crown of life

  • What is the motivation for your choices, activity and words today?
  • What is God calling you to do today?
  • What would it look like if you made God’s delight the goal of your work, suffering or service?
  • Will you allow yourself to feel His pleasure and lower your head to accept the gift of His crown of life?

 

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown (stephanos) of thorns, and put it about his head.

Mark 15:17

May I Have a Word, Please?

brokenhearted

Brokenhearted. It wasn’t the word I expected. But I’ve learned that element of surprise can be a good indicator that God is the one doing the talking.

The question that led me to this word was a lot less clear cut than the response. In fact, it wasn’t even my question; it was prompted by Whitney Capps, the closing keynote speaker at Proverbs 31’s She Speaks conference. My prayer sounded something like this: “Lord, I’m not sure what she said to pray for right now. I don’t know what I’m asking or hoping to hear. But I think it’s about my ministry call; I think I’m praying for a word, one word, for where you would have me serve.”

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

The idea of one word had been popping up a lot. First a friend told me about the book One Word and how it had changed her life. Then a woman I met spoke extensively about this concept, although it turned out she was unaware of the book. And now the keynote speaker had just directed 800 women to pray for one word from God to guide their ministries. She instructed us to write that word with a Sharpie on one of the rocks on our table.

The still small voice rang quickly and clearly: brokenhearted. As I wrote it on my rock I found immediate confirmation right in the palm of my hand: Had I held onto the small rock I originally selected instead of accepting the bigger rock my friend insisted on swapping because it is my company namesake (Big Rock Marketing), I would not have had space for my long word. Then several recent scenarios sprang to mind supporting this word:

  • I was in the midst of a Bible study with a friend who has suffered much loss in her life. The study we chose? “The Mended Heart.”
  • I recently reconnected with an old friend who, among other struggles has had a child diagnosed with a heart condition.
  • And one of the book ideas on my own heart has been “God’s pursuit of the orphan’s heart.”

Personally I’ve never felt much affinity for the word brokenhearted; okay it’s worse than that, I don’t even like the word. Along with adolescent angst the word conjures unwanted images of 80s romance movies like “Ice Castles.” But the truth is I often wish for a more empathetic heart. I used to marvel at my coworker who cried regularly while reading the daily newspaper. My response to such stories is a sense of urgency to do something; I want to drive awareness, speak truth or create change. But empathy is a critical first step that I too often miss.

Brokenhearted comes from the Greek words syntribo (break, to break to pieces) and kardia (heart, denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life). These words appear in together only twice in Scripture, first in Isaiah 61:1, foretelling the coming of Messiah, and then in Luke 4:18 when Jesus claims Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

A sentence later it says, “He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Synonyms to brokenhearted appear in several Psalms, but this specific combination only: in reference to the coming of Jesus and in the proclamation of his arrival. Perhaps that is to make it clear that only Jesus can restore the brokenhearted. Paul instructs those serving in ministry: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

My return home after She Speaks illustrated the importance of being the hands and feet of Jesus as clearly as, well, glass. The joy I felt from the conference and the anticipation of returning to my family quickly drained as I walked into a kitchen strewn with empty glasses, a laundry room brimming with clothes and plants drooping from neglect. It was a relief to see the dog still alive. I had been gone for just three days. My hope, my desire, was that my teenage children would “be my hands and feet” and serve my will by caring for our home, showing their love for me through service. I did not “expect it” as a test or proof of their love, but I hoped for it as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgment of the many ways I strive to serve and bless them. But alas, my kids are messy sinners just like me. With a few exceptions they could not see beyond the end of their own fingertips to see the need.

How often God must feel this way when I am so consumed with my own wants and desires that I fail to see the many ways, large and small, to be His hands and feet, even in my small corner of the world. My hope is that a commitment to be attuned to the “brokenhearted” will lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to live wholeheartedly. I am committed to write about the journey over the coming year.

More on the call to serve:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake2 Corinthians 4:5

And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

I am a Runner…for an Everlasting Crown

 

I am a runner.

Even though I have run 12-20 miles a week for more than seven years, including many races, I don’t refer to myself as a runner. I’ve recently given some thought to this reticence:

1. I don’t consider myself good enough to be a runner. Runners are faster than I am, and they look more natural.

2. Saying I’m a runner commits me to a level of performance I’m not sure I’m up to. If you saw me run, you might wonder how I call myself a runner, especially if you run a sub-eight mile. I never know how I will perform. I have my worst runs on days when I start out feeling fast; and I surprise myself with a smooth, easy run on days I struggled to get out of bed.

3. I didn’t start running until I was 40. I never ran track or competed, other than in recreational races. Real runners have scholarships, records and medals to prove it.

Running is one of the most consistent parts of my week; yet I find myself sometimes pursuing failure. I look for excuses not to run: it’s freezing; it’s raining; I’m too tired. When I do take a break, however, I quickly find my body and mind yearning to return, especially when the sun is shining and I see other runners seizing the day.

I am a Christian.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of six (I recently found the quote in my First Communion program to answer that question for me), yet I feel  unworthy and vulnerable when I lay claim to this title too. And, my rationale is similar:

1. I don’t think I’m good enough to be anyone’s example of a Christian. Christians are better people than I am. They live better lives than I do, and their wisdom and witness come more naturally than they do for me.

2. Telling you I am a Christian commits me to a level of performance that I’m not sure I’m up to. If I step out in faith, what will you think of me – or worse yet, my God – when I fall?

3. I am not an accomplished follower. I didn’t start reading the Bible until I was 40. I don’t have a notable cross to share with you of trials I have faced with courage, or things I have overcome by my faith. In fact, my story – like my running – is quite unremarkable.

Yet I have committed to stand up for Jesus. I have promised to share what Jesus has done and is doing in my life through this blog and in any conversation that allows it.

So here I go: In two weeks, I will leave a job I’ve worked in for a decade. It’s a good decision for all the world-based reasons that have guided my other big decisions. But, it’s also a God thing. This is the first time I’ve given my career over to God’s sovereignty. When people ask what I am going to do next, I can honestly say, “I don’t know,” because God has not revealed that to me yet, but He has promised to provide. He has communicated to me clearly His timing for my departure,  and asked that I give Him four weeks as a sabbatical. These four weeks will be shaped by prayer, listening, goal-setting and more prayer. I am ready to hear and heed God’s call on my life at a level I have not done before.

And that is why I feel so vulnerable in sharing this with you. What if four weeks pass and I have no clarity about what’s next? What if I run down a path and fall flat on my face? Do I compromise your faith in God if that happens?

It was in the midst of these questions that I read Genesis 24 this morning. I learned of the faithfulness of Abraham’s servant in honoring his master’s request to find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s line. As the servant arrives in Abraham’s homeland and rests by the well, he asks God to reveal the woman who is to be Isaac’s wife by leading her to offer water to him and his camels. Enter Rebekah who wastes no time in making the offers that confirm her as God’s choice. And if that’s not enough, she reveals that her family is of Abraham’s line. The servant is overjoyed by how swiftly and abundantly God answers his petition.

When he asks Rebekah’s family for her hand, he recounts in detail the Lord’s path to Rebekah. The family’s response is simply, “The LORD has obviously brought you here, so there is nothing we can say. Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son as the LORD has directed.” (Genesis 24:50)

As I seek to follow God’s will for my life, my prayer is to follow the example of this humble servant by asking God to confirm His will clearly, sans supernatural feats, because I trust who God is. And, as I witness that I am a Christian, I will strive just to share my stories of His faithfulness.

In applying these thoughts to your life:

  • Do you feel unworthy of God’s call on your life? (May we display the faithfulness of Abraham’s servant who came to know his master’s God through obedience.)
  • Will you ask God for confirmation of how He will reveal His glory through you, and then step out boldly for Him?
  • What stories will you tell of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty in your life?

Read more about running for Jesus:

Isaiah 40:31 (the team name for my next race): but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I Corinthians 9:24: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly…

Hebrews 12:1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

Seeking Trail Markers to Heaven

33 Single Track loblolly
Loblolly Trail, Raleigh, NC

I ran a wooded trail alone today for the first time. It’s remarkable only because I have no sense of direction, so I typically enlist a friend or my husband to navigate so I can enjoy the run. In tow, I am free to focus on my surroundings and my usually clumsy footwork. Alone, I found myself obsessed with the next trail marker. I tried to take in the sun glinting through the trees, the creek running by my side and the shuffling of leaves underfoot, but a current of anxiety taunted me that I would not find my way home. My pursuit of Jesus parallels this journey, with each new trail marker leading to a greater sense of joy and confidence. Each time I spy a new one, my  impulse is to cry out, “I see you, Jesus!”

I’d like to share a couple of the recent trail markers the Lord has placed along my path. And, I would love to hear yours as well.

When I wake at night, which I do often now that I’m over 40, I listen to sermons online. Right  now I’m in a series called “Blood,” which explores why blood is necessarily central to our faith; a topic I’ve struggled to understand. It begins with the first covenant God makes in blood, to deliver the promised land to Abram, in Genesis 15:8-9 :

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

While God’s reply to Abram’s question seems non-responsive, Abram immediately recognizes it as an invitation to covenant, and in his culture, he knows what to do next.

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

He is entering a contract with the Almighty, and it will be sealed in blood. In Abram’s day each party walked through the blood of the carcasses, symbolically stating that to break the agreement was to invite the fate of these animals on oneself. But here’s the catch: Abram never walks the walk; God does it for him. As he lay in appropriate dread of inking a deal with the creator of the universe, God accepts both sides of the deal in a Biblical, “heads you win, tails I lose” proposition:

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram….

The fix was in from the beginning. Even as God chose Abram to become the father of His chosen people Israel, He knew fully what He was signing up for. He knew we would fall away again and again. He knew our salvation would be up to Him, and He knew there would be blood.

Another, more lighthearted but equally provocative trail marker popped up recently during my self-study of Max Lucado’s “Experiencing the Love of Jesus.” After reading several citations from Genesis, I resolved to look next for a study of Genesis; afterall, who starts any book in the middle? The next day my friend shared with me her lesson from Bible Study Fellowship, an international study I introduced her to, and participated in until about two years ago. “What are you studying this year?” Her answer of course: “Genesis.”  Immediately I felt the warmth of God’s smile and could almost hear Him chuckle, “Do you hear me  now?”(I start BSF again next week.)

These trail markers illuminate the character of God, and fill me with awe, first at how all the pieces fit together so divinely, and second in gratitude that He cares enough  to reveal each new truth. And all He asks in response  is that I take another step forward on the path he lays before me.

  • What trail markers has the Lord illuminated on your path recently?
  • Do you seek His markers in a spirit of love and confidence or fear and anxiety?
  • Have you thanked God lately for leading you home to Him in ways that are both small and large?
  • Who needs to hear the story of your trail markers to step forward on their path to heaven?

Read more about the paths of the Lord:

Job 24:13: There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths.

Job 33:11: He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths.

Psalm 17:5: My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled.

Psalm 23:3: He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Psalm 25:4: Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.

Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light on my path.