Monday, November 30, 2009


Many people – dare I even say MOST – feel they've been wronged by at least one of the following: God, the Church or an over-zealous Christian. A perfect, infinite God works His unfathomable plan through imperfect people. Somebody's bound to get hurt, right? But the Safety Net is the “perfect, infinite God” part. Here's an example. When I was a teenager, my mom prayed and believed that the Lord would heal her near-sighted eyes. Standing on faith, she took off her glasses and peered at the eye chart at the DMV – no go. She lost her driver's license and spent several years listening to her smart-mouthed, rebellious daughter taunt her about trusting a God, who failed to answer prayer. Yep, each time my mom needed a chauffer or an errand-girl, I'd roll my eyes and mumble complaints, while she faithfully trusted the Lord to fulfill a promise she felt certain was hers. During these difficult years, my parents tried desperately to fend off the tidal wave of sin that threatened to drown me. With the heightened emotions of a teenager, I interpreted their attempts to draw me to holiness as violations of my freedom. Every time they used “God” or “the Bible” as a reason I couldn't do something, my anger toward them and God intensified.

One weekend I came home from college, and my mom asked that I drive her to the DMV for another attempt to read the eye chart. I parked the car but left the motor running, certain Mom's eyes would see no better this time than they had the hundred other times she'd looked at line #4. Minutes passed, and my patience waned until I looked up to find my mother standing with a DMV official. Her face was beaming, and she didn't need to say it…but she did. “The Lord healed my eyes, honey. Could you step out of the car, so I can take my driving test with the instructor now?” Years of cynicism balled up in my throat. The Spirit rescued my mom that day from my hurtful darts, and He began the slow chiseling of my stony heart. Eventually, God shattered my hard heart completely and rebuilt it with moldable flesh. I became thankful for the holiness my mom lived out before me and finally asked her forgiveness. Sometimes only God can heal the damage we inflict AND experience in the name of holiness. Today, my mom and I share an intimate friendship - trusting enough to tandem parasail on her 74th birthday!

Gen. 21:10 – “[Sarah] said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'”
Gen. 21:11-13 – “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, 'Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.'”
  • Does God sound uncaring to you? Should the LORD have let Ishmael remain in camp with Abraham? Remember that God is all-knowing and then consider the rivalry, bloodshed and tragedy that may have been averted because Sarah made this unthinkable demand on Abraham. Sometimes we must simply rely on our unwavering trust in God's infinite knowledge and goodness.
Gen. 21:14-16 – “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.”
  • A parent‟s provision or a human‟s intellect can only provide so long. Eventually, we run out of answers and strength, and circumstances beyond our control overwhelm us. The real test begins when human provision is gone. How do we respond then? Anger? Despair? Or humble petition to the only One who can help?
Gen. 21:17-18 – “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.'”
  • Notice that the LORD spoke to Hagar – the woman – not to Ishmael, the receiver of the blessing. Again, God shows immeasurable grace to the lowly of this culture in order to mend her broken heart. More than likely, this was the first time Hagar had heard of God's promised blessing for her son. Can you imagine the shock and relief of this frightened mama?
Gen. 21:19-21 – “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.”
  • God opened Hagar's eyes to a well that was already there. God honed skills Ishmael already had, making the boy a great archer. And then God provided Ishmael a wife from Egypt, his mother's homeland – probably a family Hagar already knew. So often the Spirit provides our salvation from sources already in front of us – sources we couldn't see until we've been hurt by holiness.
Lord, it's hard to take a stand for holiness, when it hurts someone. It's hard to bear the pain of holiness and remain teachable and loving. Help me to trust You enough to obey You – even when it hurts…me and others. Secure my grip in Your hand. Lead me all the way down the path to the end of human answers, where I find the salvation of Your Spirit for every hurt.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I received a phone call, the man's voice on the other end asking for a donation to his charitable foundation. I very politely said, “I don't think we're going to give this year, but…” The voice replied, “Thank you anyway, ma'am. We never want to argue or press after someone says 'no.'” And then, before I could tell him to keep us on the list for next year, I heard Click. Well! I started to get my pajamas all in a bunch because this telemarketer hung up on ME – but I paused at a sobering thought. Maybe it wasn't about me at all. Maybe he'd been hearing Click all morning, and I was his first opportunity to win the hang-up race. You see, all too often I forget it's not all about me. I usually think the slow car in front of me is just driving like that to make ME late for MY appointment. Or the grocery line purposely has a price check or spill just to annoy ME. Perhaps you're on the other side of the battle, and you have friends or family members that seem to think the world revolves around THEM. Each time you're together, all they talk about are THEIR issues, THEIR problems, THEIR joys and sorrows. I think the woman in the picture illustrates pretty well what so many people do with their own words - love themselves. Only a few country music songs capture my heart, but Toby Keith's, “I Wanna Talk About Me,” is one of my favorites. Here's the chorus:
I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my, me, my,
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, you, usually;
but occasionally I wanna talk about meeeeee!
I wonder if Abraham would have sung Toby Keith‟s song to his wife Sarah? This woman seems pretty egocentric, but I suppose a woman experiencing her first pregnancy at ninety years old deserves a little attention…

Gen. 21:1-5 – “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” (emphasis added)
  • Notice that the author of Genesis uniquely worded the realization of God's promise. First, came God's gracious fulfillment to Sarah, and then to Abraham. Imagine the significance of crediting Sarah before Abraham in a culture that most women were esteemed barely more than slaves or livestock. Yet God gives her significance in spite of culture – because God was GRACIOUS, not because Sarah deserved it.
Gen. 21:6-7 – “Sarah said, 'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.' And she added, 'Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.'”
  • Sarah should have stopped talking after that first sentence because when “she added,” then she subtracted. In claiming that SHE bore Abraham a child when HE was old, Sarah stole a little of her husband's dignity and a portion of God's glory. She began well by praising God but ended poorly by drawing attention to herself.
Gen. 21:8-10 – “The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'” (emphasis added)
  • You'll find Sarah's picture in your local post office as one of the ten most-wanted party killers. Yikes! A life continually focused inward tends to randomly strike out at others. Contentious Sarai still lurked beneath God's gracious re-formation of princess Sarah, and the sin of unforgiveness was feeding her self-centered life.
Lord, living in a self-focused world is fertile ground for sin to grow into ugly weeds that choke out any attempt to serve others and praise You. I too often joke about my self-centeredness, but I need to take serious steps toward an outward-focused life. Let my heart be softened toward others, living a life of grace and humility.

Monday, November 16, 2009


If parents tried to referee every squabble between their children, hospitals across the country would need to double their psych wards and add more padded rooms. From toddlers to teens to tumultuous adults, we watch from afar as our kids fuss and feud until that moment when they cross the line. Every parent has a limit. Roy and I had a pretty low tolerance for arguing, but when a real fight broke out between our girls…we waited for violence or profanity before stepping in. Now, when they were toddlers, violence was a little slap, and profanity was, “Shut up!” The picture above raises the our kids ever really grow up? As teens and tumultuous adults, we extended the meaning of “violence and profanity” to include: anything that causes harm – physical, emotional or spiritual.

Just days before writing this, as the Lord was massaging the message into my heart, our older daughter visited a new church with Roy and me. We sat behind a single father with his two young daughters. The girls were about four and six years old, and when their dad was called out of the service for a few moments, the girls immediately began to squabble. The younger girl hit the older (not too hard), and the older responded the same. The younger gave an angry face and the older dissolved into tears. I saw Trina, watching them intently, and wondered what she was thinking. She elbowed me and giggled – no doubt remembering those days with her sister. Or maybe she wanted me to DO SOMETHING. I thought about stepping in, but no real violence had been committed, and so far no profanity. Then I wondered how often our Heavenly Father watches His children mess up and mess around, all the while holding back until we cross the line. Well, in today‟s Scripture, one of God‟s children made a choice that could have damaged God‟s ultimate plan, and that crossed the line. So God stepped in.

Gen. 20:1-2 – “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.”
  • Isn't this eerily, awfully similar to Abraham's earlier sin in Egypt, when he lied to Pharaoh and said Sarah (Gen. 12:13) was his sister? But don't get caught up in the theology. Get caught up in the moment. El-Shaddai promised Sarah would bear Abraham a son – within a year. Abraham lied to save his life, and Sarah is taken to another man‟s harem. You're Abraham. Can you say, “Uh-Oh!” God needed to step in – not because Abraham deserved it, but because God purposed it. Abe messed up – again.
Gen. 20:3-7 – “But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.' Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, 'Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn't she also say, “He is my brother”? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.' Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.'”
  • Notice that God's parental safety net extended both to the chosen (Abraham) and the “unchosen” (Abimelech). There is no indication that Abimelech had recognized El-Shaddai before this moment, yet God extended mercy to him and protected Abimelech from doing a detrimental thing.
Gen. 20:8-13 – “Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, 'What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.' And Abimelech asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?' Abraham replied, 'I said to myself, "There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife." Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother.'”'”
  • Can you see the squabbling children – Abim and Abe? Instead of obeying God and talking to Abraham right away, Abimelech calls in his friends for their opinions. Then, he publicly accuses Abraham, who makes excuses and justifies his sin instead of owning his deceit. If God could get a heavenly headache, this might do it.
Gen. 20:14-16 – “Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, 'My land is before you; live wherever you like.' To Sarah he said, 'I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.'”
  • God moved in Abimelech's heart to: 1) let Abraham remain in the Land (Abimelech had no idea) God had promised to give his descendants; 2) add to Abraham's wealth; and 3) honor Sarah (who was ignored in Egypt's restitution).
Gen. 20:17-18 – “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah.”
  • God moved in Abraham's heart to pray for the man who had stolen his sister/wife, and in doing so Abraham saw God's hand not only work on his behalf but through his prayers. Abimelech may not have fully understood why the wombs in his household were closed, but Abraham most certainly knew. Imagine God's power now evident in Abraham's mind – to close wombs…and to open them.
Lord, You can turn even our spiritual failures into amazing lessons and triumphs. My foolish sins and/or mistakes are never beyond Your ability to redeem. Give me wisdom to know when I am rationalizing a sin, calling it a mistake or less. Give me the courage to confess and repent. Soften my heart; break my pride; preserve Your plan.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Childhood is shaped by many factors, but the places of residency and the people we encounter in those places echo throughout our lives like the ripples after a stone is thrown into a pond. When Roy graduated from seminary, our fervent prayer included a ministry position in a place our daughters could call “home.” A place where they could feel safe and accepted. As you can imagine, the odds of a pastor‟s family remaining in one location for the duration of his children's school-aged years are about the same as a polar bear‟s vacation in Hawaii. Still, we prayed. And God provided Nappanee, Indiana. During our fourteen years in that quaint little community, we served two churches – one five minutes from our home, the other twenty-five minutes away. Both congregations were filled with loving people, who shared the vision for our daughters' formative growing-up years. Pictured at left are folks from both of our churches, who helped load our moving trucks, when the Lord called us to leave Nappanee in 2007. We know now more than ever, it's not just the PLACE that helps us raise our kids. It's the PEOPLE that impact our children's lives as well.

Nappanee was surrounded by Amish farms, and many of the Amish children attended public school until they entered the factory workforce after completing eighth grade. Much to our girls' dismay, the Amish children often excelled in reading. “Of course they win the reading contests,” our girls would often complain. “They don't have a TV or computer!” Emily still turns crimson when I mention "Linda," an Amish girl, who won all the “Book-It” contests in her elementary classes.

But it wasn't just the PLACE or the PEOPLE responsible for building our daughters' godly character. Ultimately that duty – that privilege – fell to us, their parents. As I read the Scripture for today's devotional, I was deeply saddened for Job's daughters. Yes, they sinned. But I believe it was their father, who committed the greater sin of omission.

Gen. 19:30 – “Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.” (emphasis added)
  • Lot is standing in the middle of this little town with a pillar of salt wife and his two daughters. Why is he suddenly is SO AFRAID that he decides it‟s better to live in a cave after all? Why wasn‟t he sufficiently when God first instructed Lot to go to the mountains? Perhaps Job is like so many of us and requires a “bulldozer” of circumstances to get his full attention.
Gen. 19:31 – “One day the older daughter said to the younger, „Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth.‟” (emphasis added)
  • After we recover from the shock of this daughter‟s repulsive thought, notice that the intimate act of marriage is no more than just a “custom all over the earth.” There seems to be no recognition of godly intent or intimacy, no inkling that Uncle Abraham‟s teachings have made their way past the gateway of Lot‟s mind to his daughters.
Gen. 19:32-33 – “„Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.‟ That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
  • Consider the sordid nest of sin these verses represent. Who do you believe is responsible before God for which wrong act? Lot became drunk. But what about his neglect of godly training for his daughters? Where should the line be drawn between the daughters‟ choice and their ignorance? Thankfully, you and I will never judge Lot or his daughters. We judge only our own actions. Am I doing all I can to inform, model, and train those in my household, in my church, in my community about the love of Jesus Christ?
Gen. 19:34-35 – “The next day the older daughter said to the younger, „Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.‟ So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
  • Sin grows and multiplies, when there is no foundation of conscience laid for checks and balances.
Gen. 19:36-38 – “So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.” (emphasis added)
  • Moab sounds like the Hebrew for from father, and Ben-Ammi sounds like the Hebrew for son of my people. Lot‟s daughters chose the names of their sons, and the names left no doubt of incest. Think about the chain of Lot‟s decisions that led to this legacy. Lot chose the beautiful plain of Jordan, when Abraham said they needed to separate their wealth. Lot delighted in city life, associated with sinful men, and became a judge at the city gate. He argued with God‟s mercy at Sodom, but at the last minute chose to obey out of fear and live in a mountain cave. Imagine Lot‟s life through his daughters‟ watchful eyes.
Lord, remind me that I‟m being watched. My children and the children of others are learning from my choices, my words and my actions. Not just children, but those young in the faith are also watching and learning from those of us who have walked with You for many years. Father, teach me to hold up each decision, study it, examine it in the Light of Your wisdom…and grace.

Monday, November 02, 2009


I think I missed my calling. I should have been a genetic scientist, searching out the great mysteries of why people do what they do. (Other than loathing science, math and philosophy, I could have been fabulous, right?) What makes a person argue incessantly? Why do some people say the sky is turquoise, when others say it’s blue – just to start a quarrel? And why are there others like me, who would rather swallow a porcupine than debate an issue? If it’s a category five hurricane, and you say the sky is blue, I’ll search the heavens to find the faintest shade of agreeable sapphire. Why? Well, if I was a genetic scientist, maybe I could tell you; but alas, I can only say I THINK it’s innate – wired in at birth. My mom’s dad was a prosecuting attorney. My mom got the debate gene and passed every chromosome to my argumentative brother. I got zilch, nada. However, I married a debater, and his questioning gene hit our firstborn with whirlwind force. From colic as a newborn to refusing naps as a toddler, Trina was born to argue. But she was so darn cute while doing it! At age three, we would tell her a bedtime story and tuck her in for the night. Ten minutes later, she’d peek around the living room doorway. “Just one more question,” she would say, holding up her chubby index finger. For those who love a debate, there’s always just one more question, one more good reason their way makes more sense. So it was with Lot, the great debater…

Gen. 19:1-3 – “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’ ‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’ But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.” (emphasis added)

  • Notice that Lot’s strong insistence prodded the angels to stay in his home, but from his first greeting to the “bread without yeast,” Lot’s intention was to move God’s angels out of his city quickly. His first response to God’s visitation was his own hurried, unyielding agenda. Angels spoke. Lot argued.

Gen. 19:4-11 – “Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’ Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, ‘No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.’ ‘Get out of our way,’ they replied. And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them.’ They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.”

  • Lot didn’t just argue with God; he argued with everyone – sometimes with good reason. When evil knocks on your door, it’s good to argue. Right? But when our arguments leave no honorable outcomes and deteriorate to deplorable solutions, it’s time to turn to God for help. Lot didn’t. Still, God in his mercy intervened.

Gen. 19:12-14 – “The two men said to Lot, ‘Do you have anyone else here--sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.’ So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, ‘Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!’ But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.”

  • The first tragedy is that his sons-in-law were in the Sodomite mob outside the door. The second tragedy is that their pathologically debating father-in-law, Lot, couldn’t convince them he was serious about God’s judgment. Folks give little respect to someone with many words.

Gen. 19:15-17 – “With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.’ When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, ‘Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!’” (emphasis added)

  • Hesitation is an argument, when we know God’s clear direction.

Gen. 19:18-26 – “But Lot said to them, ‘No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it--it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared.’ He said to him, ‘Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.’ (That is why the town was called Zoar. By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah--from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities--and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (emphasis added)

  • Though God sometimes allows us to argue and gives us the desire of our hearts, that questioning and rebellious spirit can seep into the hearts of others around us and cause them to stumble.

Gen. 19:27-29 – “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

  • Unless God revealed more to Abraham than Scripture records, he didn’t know at this point that Lot had been rescued from Sodom. He would have assumed that God couldn’t find ten righteous people, and his nephew’s family was destroyed with the city. But God’s mercy was at work even when Abraham couldn’t see it, and no amount of arguing could thwart or improve God’s perfect plan.
Lord, why would I presume to argue with an all-knowing God? What makes me believe I could have a clearer answer, fuller knowledge, or a better way? And when circumstances cast a dark shadow on Your righteousness, strengthen my faith to whole-heartedly trust Your love, Your mercy, and Your truth.