July 20, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 232: God of David

God of David

"The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23:1-6 NLT)

The Lord was David's shepherd because He is Yahweh-Rah, the Good Shepherd: "God...has been my shepherd all my life to this day" (Genesis 48:15).

The Lord let David rest in green meadows because He is the Resting Place: "This is the resting place, let the weary rest" (Isaiah 28:12).

The Lord led David beside peaceful streams because He is the Living Water: "Lord, you are...the spring of living water" (Jeremiah 17:13).

The Lord renewed David's strength, because He is our Strength: "O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love" (Psalm 59:17).

The Lord guided David along right paths because He is the Divine Leader: "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way" (Deuteronomy 8:2).

The Lord was close to David even in the dark valley because He is the Lamp: "You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light" (2 Samuel 22:29).

The Lord protected and comforted David because He is our Refuge: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

The Lord made a feast for David in the presence of his enemies because He is the Victor: "Now I know that the Lord gives victory to His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with mighty victories from His right hand" (Psalm 20:6).

The Lord honored David by anointing His head with oil because He is the One Who sets up kings: "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever. to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:20,21).

The Lord filled David's cup to overflowing because He is our Portion: "God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26b).

The Lord pursued David with His unfailing love and goodness because He is the Faithful God: "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

The Lord gave David a place in His house forever because He is our Home: "Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Before the mountains were born and before you created the earth and the world, you are God. You have always been, and you will always be" (Psalm 90:1,2).

And all God was to David, He is to us.

* * * * * *
God, You are my Shepherd and my Home and everything in between, as you were to David. Break and heal and mold and shape and change my heart as you did his, so that my heart, too, might look like Your heart.

July 19, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 231: God of Hannah

God of Hannah

"'As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.'" (1 Samuel 1:26-28 NIV)

If, when we get to heaven, we're permitted a little Q&A session with some of the ancient faithful, I'll be adding my name to Hannah's sign-up sheet straight away. 

Here is a woman who not only does not have the children she desperately longs for (and we must always remember the stigma attached to childless women in that culture), but she has to watch her husband's other wife (and we must just accept that there are certain normalcies of life in ancient times that are always going to be tough to swallow) get what she herself wants—and taunts Hannah to boot! Talk about adding insult to injury.

Then, after "this went on year after year" (1 Samuel 1:7), when poor Hannah is so heartbroken and so mistreated by her rival that she cannot eat for all her weeping, her husband asks her, essentially, "What's the matter with you? Why are you upset?" (Elkanah, PLEASE: work with us, here.)

Yet after all this, Hannah still believes in the goodness of the Lord enough to pray to Him and pour out her soul to Him (1 Samuel 1:15) and to offer to give back to Him the thing she wants most in the world, if only He will give it to her in the first place.

This vow of a woman who trusts in the loving-kindness of her God comes after years of not getting what she wanted. Years of not getting what other people had. Years of not getting something God Himself said was good: "Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him" (
Psalm 27:3). Hannah's story would read entirely differently if she had been begging God to give her something He was on the record as opposing. But the longing of her heart was for something God had repeatedly indicated His favor toward. 

And then there is the fact that we are clearly told, "The LORD had closed [Hannah's] womb" (1 Samuel 1:5). Hannah's barrenness was not the result of living in a broken world that sometimes comes with bodies that do not do all we wish them to do. It was the result of the intentional act of the Lord Most High. Whether or not Hannah knew God had "closed her womb," she certainly knew He could open it if He wanted to but had chosen not to.

I think this is one of the stickiest, trickiest part of faith: acknowledging that God often does not do things that seem to us to be good, that He, for whom nothing is impossible, is capable of doing.

Hannah did not only trust God "if." She did not only trust Him "when." She trusted Him. Hannah's story shows us that God can open what He closes. He can lift up what is downcast. He can bring life from death. But if He does not, He is still good, and He is still God. 

When (not if) there are good things on this earth that, for reasons I cannot understand, God chooses not to bless me with, I have to get to the point where I understand that this world is not my home. I am not supposed to feel completely content here. And if the longing for something I do not have on this earth causes me to turn again and again toward God Who is the ultimate Fulfillment, then the loss of that longed-for thing has led me to the greatest gain.

* * * * * *
God, let Hannah's song be my song, too: "my joy is in your salvation."

July 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 230: God of Lydia

God of Lydia

"On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us." (Acts 16:13-15 NIV)

When my daughter Lydia was not quite five years old, she told her grandma (my husband's mom) that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. My mother-in-law says she remembers thinking maybe it was something Lydia should do with my husband and me, but she decided her granddaughter's heart was ready and so led Lydia in a prayer of salvation.

All these years later, I'm so glad my mother-in-law seized that moment, because Lydia has never turned back from that decision. It was a deliberate, informed, intentional choice born out of a lifetime (short as it was at the time) of hearing truth about who God is at home, from her grandparents and other trusted adults, in Sunday School and junior church, at vacation Bible school, at preschool. 

God opened her heart...and our Lydia invited Him in.

Our older daughter's Biblical predecessor, Lydia of Thyatira (a city famous for its purple cloth), is considered the first recorded convert to Christianity in Europe. Lydia knew of God, believed in Him, reverenced Him. But that day, when she went down to the river to worship the God she knew, she met the Living Water she did not yet know—and invited Him into her heart. 

Up until that time, Lydia had visited God's house, so to speak. But in that hinge moment, she took her seat at the family table as God's adopted daughter.

One line in the page of Lydia's story recorded in Scripture informs all our stories, too: "The Lord opened her heart to respond." Paul delivered God's message, but the Holy Spirit moved Lydia's heart to take possession of it.

When I'm sharing God's story with someone, I always feel a burden to "make" them believe it and respond to it. But of course that is not my job. It is not the job of any of us. Our job, like Paul's, is to lay the wood for the fire and then to trust God Himself to ignite it. Our job is to plug people in and then trust God to supply the spiritual current. 

This should be comforting and freeing, and in some ways, it is: it is not my responsibility to save anyone (as if I could). And yet the control freak in me dislikes this necessary letting-go. It leaves too much to someone else's will: God's will (perfect though it is) and free will, which can always choose to walk away. I want God's best for the people I love and care about. I want their hearts to be moved toward Him.

But then I hear God's gentle voice: "Don't you think I want that, too? I love them more in one second than you could love them in a lifetime. I love them most, in fact. But this is not a contest. I am already the Victor of every race. You just keep running toward me and invite others to join in along the way, and one day, we will cross the finish line together."

* * * * * *
God, thank You that You still open hearts. Help me to share your message and then trust You to do the saving.

July 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 229: God of Anna

God of Anna

"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." 
(Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

Anna was a lady in waiting. 

But she was not an attendant to a princess or a queen; she was a prophetess—a mouthpiece—of the High King of heaven.

She had been waiting a long time. Decades. All her life, really.

The NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible says that Anna "recognized and proclaimed [Jesus] as Messiah." The minute Jesus was brought into the temple, she knew He was the one she'd been looking for.

But many other babies would have been brought to the temple to be presented to God, according to Jewish custom: "as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord'" (Luke 2:23).

How was it that Anna recognized the long-expected Jesus the instant she saw Him? 

Maybe it was because in the waiting, she worshiped. 

While Anna was waiting for God to show up in the flesh, she was pursuing Him in spirit, through prayer and praise.

I often find myself waiting for God to show up in the flesh. To do something. To answer some prayer. To meet some need. To fulfill some earthly desire. He is always with me (Matthew 28:20), but while I am waiting for Him to make a grand entrance in the place where I am, what do I do? Usually, I fret, stew, and worry.

Anna, though, shows me a better way. In waiting and watching for Jesus, if only I will praise and pray, I can be part of the worshiping throng that stands in the gap between Anna—"she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying" (Luke 2:37)—and the four living creatures gathered around the throne: "day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come'" (Revelation 4:8). 

*   *   *   *   *   *
God, let Anna's example remind me to worship in the waiting. While I am looking for you, let me give my praise to You.

July 16, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 228: God of Joshua

God of Joshua

"Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.' On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, 'Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!' When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.(Joshua 6:1-5,15,16,20,27 NIV).

"Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." ("Miracle on 34th Street," 1947)

Common sense must have told Joshua that Jericho—the last thing standing between the people of God and the long-awaited Promised Land—was too big, too towering, and too fortified to be overtaken by a bunch of weary travelers whose God-given battle plan was just to make a bunch of noise.

But uncommon faith told Joshua that God always keeps His promises...and the land they were entering wasn't called "Promised" for nothing.

Uncommon faith told Joshua to see what God told him to see—"I have delivered Jericho into your hands"—rather than what was literally in his line of vision.

It's not that we check our reasoning and intellect at the door when we put our faith in God; it's just that sometimes only faith will open the door in the first place.

Common sense may tell us there's no way we can do something big and hard we've never done before. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Way-Maker.

Common sense may tell us a relationship is too broken for there to ever be any hope of reconciliation. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Builder.

Common sense may tell us a diagnosis is a death sentence. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Healer.

Common sense may tell us we do not have the resources to accomplish some lofty goal. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Provider.

Common sense may tell us we have reached the end. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Beginning.

* * * * * *
God, help me to think and reason and process and use the mind You've given me. But when my common sense tells me I'm staring down a Jericho that's too big to be felled, help me go forward on faith in my uncommon God, with whom nothing is impossible.

July 15, 2019

365 Days of the Names of God, Day 227: God of Elijah

God of Elijah

"Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come here to me.' They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, 'Your name shall be Israel.' With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, 'Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.' 'Do it again,'he said, and they did it again. 'Do it a third time,' he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!'" (1 Kings 18:30-39 NIV)

The last time I tried to build a fire using wet wood, things didn't go so well.

My friend Sarah and I were camping in Shenandoah National Park a couple summers after we'd both graduated from college and were working together at our first "real" jobs. We were not novice campers, having grown up in camping families. But there's a difference between roasting a marshmallow over a fire that someone else has built and tended down to optimum coal stage (thanks, Dad!) and building one yourself out of wood you bought in the park at the mercy of its seller. (Read: not Dad.)

After Sarah and I had worked valiantly but ineffectually on our poor smoldering fire, an older guy from a nearby campsite took pity on us. "Looks like you're having some trouble," he said and poured gasoline or lighter fluid or something similar on our wet wood...which subsequently produced enough flame for a marshmallow or two (I think).

Why did God want the pile of wood Elijah called on Him to ignite that day doused with water? Of course you know it was for the same reason He wanted Lazarus good and dead before He stepped in and took obvious action: to make a point. To show off His power. To more fully display His glory. 

If you and I did this, we'd run the risk of being cocky or self-absorbed, but God, who has no fault in His ways, does it to increase our faith. He does it to leave no doubt about what's happening and Who's making it happen. He does it because, in His longing for relationship with us, He wants to make it all but impossible for us to deny Him. He leaves the final choice up to us and to the free will that makes us human, but He leads us right up to the point of dropping to our knees and declaring, "The LORD He is God! The LORD He is God!" And, having recognized this, He then wants more than anything for us to get up off our knees and cry or whisper or sing or shout, "The LORD He is my God. The LORD He is my God."

Is there some wet wood in your life right now? Maybe a relationship or a job or a decision or a longing of your heart that just will NOT catch fire? Maybe Elijah is a good reminder that God is more than able to ignite it, for the display of His splendor. Ask Him to set it ablaze, stand back, and watch His glory burn.

*   *   *   *   *   *
God, here is my pile of wet wood. Sometimes I'm not sure if it's wet because it's worthless or wet because You've drenched it in Your Spirit and are just waiting to fire it up. Either way, ignite it with Your power, and if ashes are all that's left, bring beauty out of them.

July 14, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 226: God of Lazarus

God of Lazarus

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, 'Lord, the one you love is sick.' When he heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.' 
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,' he said. 'But, Lord,' said Martha, the sister of the dead man, 'by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.' Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?' So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'" (John 11:1-4,38-44 NIV)

If ever there was a guy who could have counted himself out of commission for God, it was Lazarus.

Lazarus wasn't just slow of speech, like Moses.

He wasn't just doubtful, like Thomas.

He wasn't just disobedient like Jonah.

Lazarus was dead. DEAD.

God was careful to inspire the Apostle John to record these words in his account of Lazarus' death and subsequent resurrection: "there is a bad odor" (John 11:39)...or, as many versions bluntly put it, "He stinketh."

This was the stench of decaying flesh, lest anyone try to explain away Jesus' power by insinuating Lazarus was merely sleeping or unconscious.

So Lazarus was dead. DEAD. Game over.

Except that with our English equivalent of three words that were not merely life-changing but life-restoring—"Lazarus, come out!"—Lazarus was back in the game for God.

Jesus called him out of the grave, ordered a wardrobe change, and sent him on his way. But it had to be a new way: the way of a person who has witnessed firsthand God undoing what is done, restarting what is finished, beginning what is over. The testimony of Lazarus' (new) life still revives us all these centuries later because of how far toward death it had gone: all the way.

Sweet friends, are you feeling dead today? I ask this question with gut-wrenching awareness that some of you are so drenched in death, you're barely breathing. Others of you may be smelling the stench of rotting dreams or relationships or plans or desires of your heart. 

I never want to minimize this kind of pain and suffering or to brush it away by suggesting "all" it takes to move from death to life is some quick, three-step process.

But Lazarus' story is proof that "God's specialty is raising dead things to life and making impossible things possible" (Beth Moore).

So I pray that however deep in the cave you might feel you're buried, you'll soon hear God put your name in the blank—" ___________, come out!"—and that you'll take off your grave clothes and go a new way.

*   *   *   *   *   *
Oh, God, today I pray for those who count themselves among the walking dead. I ask you to take away the stone sealing them in the dark of hopelessness or grief or despair and let them hear your loud voice calling, "Beloved, come out!"

July 13, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 225: God of Martha

God of Martha

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' '
Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

Today I am going on the record as a proud member of the Martha Defense Council.

Whenever the story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary is told, it usually seems to be presented as a good-versus bad, right-versus-wrong, do-this-don't-do-that scenario, with Martha representing the bad/wrong/don't-do-that side of things.

But I think this is a story about good versus better. I think Martha was showing her love for Jesus in a good way (by caring for His physical needs), just not in the better way.

Jesus loved both Martha and Mary (John 11:5). In His gentle "redirecting," I believe He was letting Martha know that He wanted her to be with Him more than He wanted her to do for Him.

I love Martha not only or even mostly because I am a Martha myself but because I find in her example confirmation that most decisions we make in our daily lives as we try to walk with God do not come down to strictly right or wrong, good or bad, sinful or holy. If they did, it would be a lot easier than it actually is to walk rightly. The road to Christlikeness would be a lot wider. Black and white, after all, are easily distinguishable from each other.

But Jesus made it clear that the road that leads to true life is narrow (Matthew 7:14). There is a lot of gray involved. And so I look at Martha and ask myself: what is the better way? Am I settling for a good thing when there is a best thing in the next room? Am I getting so fixed on the tangibility of doing things for God that I do not do the deeper work of simply being with God?

In my mind, I hear my Savior say, "My dear Elizabeth, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about." And I ask Him to help me choose that one thing.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, show me where I am spending my time pursuing good, to the loss of what is better. Help me to see the one thing...and to choose it.

July 12, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 224: God of the Thief on the Cross

God of the Thief on the Cross

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don’t you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

My family and I recently had the joy of seeing my oldest niece in a production of the musical Les Misérables, based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.

Two central characters drive the show's complex and multi-layered storyline: Jean Valjean, a prison parolee whose crime was to steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister's child; and Javert, the officer of the law who hunts Valjean through the ages after the man known during his imprisonment (and even after) only as prisoner number 24601 breaks his parole to try to break free from his past.

Again and again, Valjean and Javert meet up, with Valjean always escaping to try to do one more good deed for one more person in need. Late in the story, Javert at last finds himself at the mercy of Valjean. Javert is bound, tied up, and Valjean has the knife. Valjean raises it to Javert's throat—then moves it behind him to cut his bonds and set him free. 

"There are no conditions...no bargains or petitions. There is nothing that I blame you for. You've done your duty, nothing more," Valjean tells Javert and sends him on his way.

But Javert has not been saved by this. He has not been freed. He is unable to merge Valjean's mercy with his strict moral code and so takes his own life rather than live under a debt of gratitude.

I've seen this show many times, but at this most recent production, as I watched Javert take his final leap, I thought, "He never got the grace." 

Javert was never able to let go of the law he held in his hands and take hold of the gift offered to him.

The first criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus at the place called The Skull never got the grace, either. He lost his life because He would not let go of the hatred and scorn he had for Jesus.

But the other thief...

Somehow, the second thief understood that his hands were empty of anything that really mattered, and so he grabbed onto Grace—and gained paradise.

* * * * * *
God, please help me to let go of anything I'm holding onto that's keeping me from fully grasping Your grace. Help me to take hold of that gift and then give it away to others.

July 11, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 223: God of Esther

God of Esther

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13,14 NIV)

Several years ago, my Bible study sisters and I spent many months in the book of Esther. Eight months, to be exact. We (happily) spent so long there that one of my ladies' granddaughters took to saying, "Are you STILL in Esther?" (Yes, we still were.)

After all that time, if I had to summarize the entire book in one phrase, it would be this: reluctant obedience still counts.

And/or: God is not restricted by our reluctance.

Much as I love a hero like David who charges boldly into battle against a giant armed only with a little bit of ammunition and a lot of faith, I'm so grateful the Divine Author also wrote Esther into His story.

Esther is a leading lady I can relate to. Faced with God's call on her life, she initially balked, stalled, and looked for an out (Esther 4:10,11).

But then, after fasting and praying, she came to the place we all have to get to: the place where we want to be in line with God's will more than we want even our own lives.

At this point on her timeline, Esther took what could be viewed as a fatalistic attitude: "if I die, I die" (Esther 4:16).

Here again, though, we find an example to follow. Dying can look like so many things. In order to live for God, we might have to die to ourselves. (Okay, not "might." We do.) We might have to die to our dreams. We might have to die to our comfort. We might just plain have to die to what we feel like doing.

Facing the very real likelihood of actual physical death, Esther approached the king unbidden—and watched him extend his scepter of mercy (Esther 5:2). Whatever reluctance had been behind her, the queen's obedience lay before her and with it "for such a time as this," the salvation of her people.

"This" is "such a time" for us, too. What is God asking us to do in it, with it? Reluctant though we may be, may we take that step forward toward the King who bids us come, then watch Him extend His scepter of mercy and see the salvation to follow.

*   *   *   *   *   *
God, thank You that You are not restricted by my reluctance. Show me the step of faith You want me to take. Help me to take it bravely if not boldly, with faith that "this" is always the time when you bless obedience.

(Song suggestion: "Born For This;" Mandisa; from "Music Inspired by The Story;" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZvZWUZFevI.)

July 10, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 222: God of Elizabeth

God of Elizabeth

"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!'" (Luke 1:39-45 NIV)

"Blessed are you among women."

Five words. A single handful.

How much good can one half of a sentence do? How much difference can five words make? Can they really turn sorrow into joy, fear into hope, doubt into certainty?

The biblical Elizabeth is resounding proof they can.

Mary, God's chosen vessel for bringing His Son into the world in the flesh, must have been cloaked in every first emotion in the pairings above as she "hurried" to her cousin Elizabeth's house: sorrow, fear, doubt. She may not have been afraid that her life was literally about to end—even though death by stoning would have been the usual punishment for someone in her condition and situation; after all, God's angel had told her she would give birth to a son. But she must certainly have understood that her life as she had previously known it had already ended. I'm not sure she felt so much blessed as burdened at that point.

Carrying this load on her teenage shoulders, she walked into Zechariah's house and heard the greeting that still echos throughout history: "Blessed are you among women!" 

Can you imagine it?

Such reassurance. Such confirmation. 
The Holy Spirit speaking using Elizabeth's voice. Five words of divine encouragement. No wonder Mary burst into song after she heard them.

"My soul praises the LORD and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...for the Mighty One has done great things for me"  (Luke 1:46, 47, 49).

Author and former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning wrote that "in every encounter, we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange."

There was nothing neutral about Mary and Elizabeth's exchange at this hinge moment in history. By her words, Elizabeth gave life.

I want to be like Elizabeth, and not just because I share her name. I want God to be able to trust me enough to give me words to speak that will give life...words that will make someone sing.

* * * * * *
God, show me who in my life needs to hear that they are blessed by You today, that there might be a fresh round of leaping for joy.

July 9, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 221: God of Boaz

God of Boaz

"Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. 'The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,' she said. 'The LORD bless him!' Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. 'The LORD has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.' She added, 'That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.'" (Ruth 2:19,20 NIV)

Why is the story of Ruth a story worth telling?

Of all the books God could have inspired, and of all the books that could have made the canonical cut, how did a simple little love story like Ruth end up in the Bible as we know it?

One reason, maybe, is that the leading man in this drama—Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer—is quite the hero.

He is kind, observant, charming, respectful, honorable.

But all of that pales when compared with this superlative fact: Boaz points us to the greatest Hero of all.

What Boaz hints at, Jesus is the Whole of.

What Boaz starts, Jesus finishes.

What Boaz suggests, Jesus fulfills.

Boaz was kin, a blood relative, which was necessary to his redemptive work; Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh as the Son of Man and redeemed us through His blood.

Boaz was able to redeem one family; Jesus was (and is) able to redeem the entire family of God.

Boaz noticed one woman in need; Jesus noticed a whole world in need.

Boaz was struck by how Ruth left her homeland and came to live with a people she did not know; Jesus left His home in heaven and came to live with people who knew Him not so that He could strike down death forever.

Boaz was generous; Jesus gave everything.

"This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah" (Matthew 1:1-6a,17).

Oh, dear ones, trace the line from Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, to Jesus, the Redeemer King! Connect the dots. See the line from beginning to end. We are also on a line. Like Boaz, we may see only the dot we're on. We have no idea, really, where our line may lead. But our job is not to figure that out. Like Boaz, our job is to be faithful, steadfast, and true on the dot we're on. And if we are, we, too, will have a story worth telling.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, when I am tempted to have short-sighted vision and see only the dot of life You have me on today, remind me of the story of Boaz. Broaden my view, and help me to see that I am part of Your long line of redemption that stretches to eternity.

July 8, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 220: God of Ruth

God of Ruth

"Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go back, each of you, to your mother's home.' But Ruth replied, 'Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.'" (Ruth 1:3,4,8,16 NIV)

For the past 14 years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating women’s Bible study at my church on Tuesday mornings. A couple years ago, as we were nearing the end of our season together, I asked if anyone had ideas for the next study. One of my ladies said, “I’m thinking Ruth.” At which point, I started thinking Ruth.

A couple days later, I was standing at my kitchen counter when my then-13-year-old daughter walked into the room and, without preamble, declared, “Ruth is SUCH an interesting book to study.” Which is when I decided my study sisters and I were most definitely going to do Ruth, because when your teenage daughter announces that a book of the Bible is “such an interesting book to study,” you pay attention.

Right away, only a few verses in, we unpack a crucial fact about the book: namely, that its leading lady was a Moabite woman. A Moabite woman.

If you’re like me, you might be inclined to gloss over that fact or think, “Yeah, so what?” Which is completely understandable, except that when we view this detail within the whole context of God’s Word, we start to understand that it impacts almost everything else about Ruth’s story. 

As part of the nation of Israel—God’s chosen people—Naomi’s boys were not supposed to be marrying Moabite women. God went on the record about His feelings on the matter in Deuteronomy 7 and in 1 Kings 11, where He listed Moabites among the “nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods'" (1 Kings 11:2). God’s priority is always our loyalty, because He knows that’s what's best for us. Anything or anyone that diverts our gaze from His face and His character and His will is going to be something He’s against.

But now we hear one of the most beautiful refrains sung all through the book of Ruth: no matter what our past is, God can redeem our present and our future. Maybe your history or your family tree or your heritage has some ugliness to it. Really, all our pasts do because we are sinful people living in a broken world. But the Great I AM is also the great “I can” and “I will.” In His grace and mercy, Yahweh brought Ruth out of her history and into His story. And He can and will do the same for you.

Through the tiny book of Ruth, God shows the big truth that He uses the individual sentences of our lives to write His master tale. While she was faithfully following a god—THE God—she barely knew, that same Almighty God was using Ruth to paint a picture of redemption so huge, it would result in salvation for the entire world.

But you see: Ruth didn’t know how her story was going to turn out while she was being faithful. We do not know how our stories will turn out when we’re in the middle of the middle of them. Ruth, though, allows us the opportunity to stand back and read the finished work. And it is glorious.

Whatever you’re doing today, dear friends, ask God to help you be found faithful, because you can’t imagine the scope and sanctity of the story God is writing with and for you. But it will be glorious.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, I know Your story is complete from beginning to end. Help me to faithfully live the page you have written for me today.

July 7, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 219: God of Naomi

God of Naomi

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi...'" (Ruth 1:1,2a NIV)

“The days when judges ruled” were not happy days for the children of God. They kept forgetting about Him when things were good, then crying out to Him when things were desperate. (It reminds me of someone I know pretty well...her name starts with “Eliza” and ends with “Beth.) The people needed a godly king to guide them to God, but in the absence of one, God raised up judges (think less gown-and-gavel, more governor) to rule over them.

Against this backdrop, we meet Elimelech and his wife, Naomi. Note where they were from: “Bethlehem in Judah.” Right away, we have a Big Deal Fact. With the whole of God’s Word at our disposal, we know what Naomi and her family did not: Jesus, the coming Messiah, would be the Lion from the tribe of Judah, and He would be born in Bethlehem. God was using the story of their lives to write His much grander story.

But when we first encounter Naomi, she is still very much living in the land of not knowing how her story was going to play out. She has left her homeland and her people and settled in a foreign land with foreign people and foreign (and, more to the point, false) gods. There, she has acquired two daughters-in-law but lost her husband and sons. Bereft, she travels back to her hometown with a tag-along Moabite daughter-in-law in tow.

When she gets into town, her people greet her enthusiastically, but she tells them (and I'm paraphrasing here), “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me ‘Bitter,’ because the Lord has ruined my life.” 

"'Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me'" (Ruth 1:20, 21, NIV).

I know Ruth is the leading lady of her own book, but I have to say Naomi is my personal nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Biblical Drama. I believe the fact that God inspired this portion of His Word gives us permission to feel and express the full range of our emotions to Him. After all, Naomi changed her own name (normally, name-changing was God’s domain) and blatantly blamed God for her misery. The book of Ruth does not record any response on God’s part, but can’t you just imagine Him thinking, “Naomi, my precious daughter, just wait. I’m not finished yet.”

And He’s not finished with you yet either, my friends. Maybe God is asking you to move, too. Maybe to a new home, or maybe to a new job, new church, new friendship, or new ministry. If you are willing (or even willing to be made willing), God can and will use you to sing His song of salvation. You don’t have to understand how; you only have to trust Who. After all, when Naomi set out from Bethlehem in search of food, she had no idea she’d one day be returning to her hometown with the woman who would be part of the family tree of the Bread of Life.

"When suffering shatters the carefully kept vase that is our lives, God stoops to pick up the pieces. But he doesn't put them back together as a restoration project patterned after our former selves. Instead, he sifts through the rubble and selects some of the shards as raw material for another project—a mosaic that tells the story of redemption" (Ken Gire).

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, when I am bitter about something You have taken from me, help me to trust in Your goodness and hold on for the something better you have for me.

July 6, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 218: God of Daniel

God of Daniel

"Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." (Daniel 6:10 NIV)

I've never really bought into the whole "practice makes perfect" bit. In this imperfect world, perfection is a taskmaster who is impossible to please. At the risk of being over-dramatic (though I'm not one of my church's "Drama Mamas" for nothing), I believe the carrot of perfection is something the enemy likes to dangle in front of us to distract and discourage us (both being a couple of his favorite weapons to render us less effective for God than we might be otherwise).

I'm a bigger fan of "practice makes possible." When my daughter was a high-school clarinetist, she spent a lot of time practicing ordinary things like scales and fingerings so that the extraordinary—superior ratings at competitions and, once, a chance to play at an arts festival surrounded by the best young musicians in our state—might be possible. There were never any guarantees that her practice was going to pay off in the ways she hoped, but by her practicing, she set herself up for the possibility of success.

Daniel's practice of some ordinary things made something extraordinary possible. Three times every day, he "got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God." When his jealous enemies sought his undoing the only way they could—by tricking the king into making a law that decreed that anyone who prayed to "any god or man" except the king for 30 days should be thrown into the lions' den—Daniel's response was familiar: "Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." His ordinary habits made extraordinary faith possible.

The time for me to decide if I trust God and am on His side is not when I'm facing the lions. When faced with persecution, Daniel fell back on practice. There was no 
"am I with God or not?" decision to be made, because even though Daniel's circumstances may have changed, his God had not.

This thread of consistency and continuity is reflected powerfully in King Darius' question to Daniel at the mouth of the lions' den: "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?"

"Continually." Not once-in-a-while. Not when it's convenient. Not when I'm desperate and don't know what else to do. Continually. So that practice may make impossible faith possible...and put God's perfection on full display.

* * * * * *
Oh God, please weave threads of consistency and continuity into the fabric of my faith. Help me to practice "ordinary" things and be ready to see you accomplish something perfectly extraordinary with them, to the praise of Your great name.

July 5, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 217: God of Nebuchadnezzar

God of Nebuchadnezzar

"'Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.' Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” (Daniel 3:25,28,29)

King Nebuchadnezzar thought maybe he was seeing things.

He knew he'd thrown three men into the fiery furnace, but when he looked in on his captives, he was pretty sure he saw four figures there. Even more alarming, the fourth one looked like "a son of the gods."

Many biblical scholars believe that the fourth man in the fire was Jesus in a preincarnate form. Some translations (https://www.biblestudytools.com/daniel/3-25-compare.html) of Daniel 3:25 do read "like the son of God." Others read "like an angel."

Whatever the exact interpretation might be, this is a plot-twist moment—a peripety—in King Nebuchadnezzar's story. On the one side of it, a cocky king commands the worship of his "little-g" gods; on the other side, a convicted king commands the worship of the one true God. 

Nebuchadnezzar saw God. He saw His protection. He saw His power. He saw the results of His power. And look what else he saw: "They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God." Faith in the fire gets people's attention.

King Nebuchadnezzar's entire perspective shifted when he caught a glimpse of the one true God, both as a figure in the fire and in the faith of those who refused to bow to another. This is an ongoing thread woven throughout the tapestry of Scripture. We'll see it again and again as we visit other characters in God's story. And if we are looking, we'll see it again and again as we turn new pages in our own stories. There is always something new of God to see. There is always some change in us He can make so that we are, once again, never the same. And there is always something of God others can see in us so that they, too, can never be the same again.

* * * * * *
God, when I feel as though the only people in the fire are me, myself, and I, give me spiritual eyes to see that You are the fourth person in the fire with me. Give me faith in the fire so that others can see You. And having seen You, may we declare together with new conviction, "No other god can save in this way."

July 4, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 216: God of Zacchaeus

God of Zacchaeus

"When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. 'Zacchaeus!' he said. 'Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today...Today salvation has come to this house.'" (Luke 19:5,9a NLT)

So Jesus was in town one day, and Zacchaeus wanted to get a better look at Him. Being short on both height (he didn't have much) and friends (he didn't have any), Zacchaeus found an unconventional vantage point from which to view the Man Himself. He was in a tower, after a fashion.

But it was not a very true tower. Sycamore trees' wood is strong and useful, but as the sycamore ages, a fungus attacks and consumes the heartwood. The fungus doesn’t kill the tree, but it makes it weak and hollow (https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/sycamore/sycamore-tree-care.htm).

Zacchaeus' choices, habits, and lifestyle had not killed him, but they were a fungus that had left him weak and hollow. He sought strength in the sycamore tree, but true Strength found him and called him by name.

I wonder how often I seek strength in things that look sturdy and dependable? They do not kill me, but they leave me weak and hollow. I need to hear the same voice that called to Zacchaaeus calling to me—“Elizabeth! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today!"

*   *   *   *   *   *
Oh, God, show me where I am trusting in hollow sycamore trees instead of in your holiness and salvation. Be not just a guest in my heart's home but a permanent resident to Whom I give the place of honor.

July 3, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 215: God of Joseph

God of Joseph

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Today's key verse from Genesis 50 is one of my favorite sentences in all of God's story. 

I need to know that God takes hold of what evil grasps in its hands and, with His much mightier hand, turns it entirely around in the direction of good.

But I also need to be aware that this verse drops us in on the end of the story...an ending Joseph did not know when he was in the dark middle of it.

Well before Joseph was able to reassure his fearful brothers of the big-picture outcome of all that had happened, the lies of a wicked woman landed him unjustly in prison. And not for an overnight stay or a few weeks, but for years. And not years in a sentence that had been specified, so that Joseph could mark them off on his cell wall and see in the accumulated tally the light of freedom. No: an indeterminate imprisonment with no defined end. 

I read this story, and I think that it is one thing to endure a hard season when we know that there is a new and better season in sight but quite another when we are not sure when—or, even worse, if—the hardship will ever end.

But what victory would Joseph have forfeited if he'd defected during the waiting?

Joseph did not know what waited for him outside the prison walls, but he did know Who waited with him inside. In the midst of evil, and facing an 
outcome he did not know, He trusted in the goodness of the One he did know.

"A person who lives in faith must proceed on incomplete evidence, trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse" (Philip Yancey).

* * * * * *

God, I believe you still take what is intended for evil and turn it into good. When I am waiting for that turn-around and am sinking in what I don't know, help me stand firm in faith on the Rock I do know.

July 2, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 214: God of Naaman

God of Naaman

"Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel." (2 Kings 5:15 NIV)

Naaman was a guy with two big problems. He was only aware of one of them, though, and it was the lesser of the two.

The problem Naaman knew about was that he had leprosy. In any other context, this would have been the biggest problem. Leprosy was a death sentence...not only of eventual physical death but also the death of life as part of normal society.

Naaman's bigger problem—the one he wasn't aware of—was that he did not know God. But God knew about both Naaman's problems and, at the point we pick up the story in 2 Kings 5, He's about to do something about both of them.

Before we get to that and to what it has to do with us and our lives and our problems, we need to unwrap one of the many gifts God's Word has for us: its "hinge" moments, when God reaches down and picks a story up off the path it's been on and turns it in a different direction. From a literary standpoint, this is called a "peripety" (from the Greek "peripeteia," meaning "a turn right about, a sudden change"), and it's one of my favorite tools the Divine Author uses.

Naaman doesn't know it, but a peripety is in his future.

The prophet and "man of God" Elisha has heard about Naaman's leprosy problem, and so he sends word that Naaman should come see him. This Naaman does, but when he arrives at the door of Elisha's house, he is greeted not by the prophet himself but by a messenger, who delivers this instruction from Elisha: "Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed" (2 Kings 5:10).

At this point, Naaman—"great man" and "valiant soldier"—throws a tantrum.

"I thought that [Elisha] would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy" (2 Kings 5:11). He goes on from there to fume that there are nearer and "better" rivers than the Jordan that he could have been instructed to be cleansed in.

Note the "his" between "the LORD" and "God." Yahweh is never satisfied to be someone else's God; He wants to be our God.

Next, El  Elyon, the Lord Most High, uses those in lowly positions to speak truth to one in an exalted position: "Naaman's servants went to him and said, 'My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?'"

"So" (a word often attached to a peripety), Naaman "went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy."

We might be inclined to think this is the plot shift, but the real directional about-face comes next: "then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, 'Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.'"

Now. I. Know.

How often do I, like Naaman, want God to tell me to do "some great thing"? And when He tells me to do something that doesn't look "great" at all, don't I, too, throw a fit?

Some washing in a dirty river may be what it takes to bring me to the place where "now I know" that there is no God in all the world except the one God who can make me truly clean.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, show me the thing you want me to do, however un-great it might appear to me, that I might know how great You are.

July 1, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 213: Author


"Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the author of faith. He also makes it perfect. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to. Then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2 NIRV)

My Bible study sisters and I spent all of last fall and winter and a good chunk of spring studying the book of Jonah. Which, in my Bible, is two pages long. (We aim for quality, not quantity.)

Near the end of our slow but rewarding journey, one of my ladies remarked, "You know, Jonah was really a jerk." (Side note: honesty in women's Bible study is a beautiful thing.) I completely understood where she was coming from: Jonah was not exactly a warm-fuzzy sort of prophet. He disobeyed God, told the Creator he just wanted to be done with life, and was more excited about a plant that gave him a little shade than he was about the repentance of an entire (and exceedingly evil) city. It's probably no coincidence that most children's Bible versions of the story of Jonah pretty much just talk about the whale (ahem, "great fish") and leave it at that.

But Jonah illustrates what I think is one of the biggest selling points of the Bible: its Author wrote stories using flawed and messed-up people as His characters...major, minor, and otherwise. Of course, God would have to do this if He was going to use actual human beings as His characters since, the last time I checked, the number of flawless, neat-and-tidy humans amounted to exactly zero.

Granted, some of the players in God's great drama are easier to admire and imitate than others: my study sisters and I also spent some time in Ruth, and goodness, if that girl had a bad-attitude day, God sure didn't care to inspire any record of it in her namesake book. But even the "best" still fell short. As we do.

All this is so reassuring, because in the stories of these sometimes-unlikable, often-unreliable, and always-flawed people, we read our own stories. (I joked in Bible study that my summary for eight months of Jonah was, "Jonah was a jerk, and I am, too.") More importantly, we read that God uses the broken. As a dear friend of mine says, "He writes straight lines with crooked sticks"—her own delightful twist on the Spanish proverb, "God writes straight with crooked lines." I am SUCH a "crooked stick." But God has written His story using me and you in all our crookedness.

In the month ahead, we're going to take one last side trip on our Names of God journey. Bible characters whose God was the Lord (and some whose god wasn't) will be our tour guides. Retie your shoes, and let's walk this way together. The Author is still turning the pages of our stories, and we have things to learn while we wait to read the last two words: "The Beginning."

June 30, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 212: High and Lofty One

High and Lofty One

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple." (Isaiah 6:1 CSB)

There's a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the title character is trying to pass a series of potentially fatal tests in pursuit of an invaluable prize he's been seeking at all cost. Several cryptic clues are guiding him through the tests; the first of these is, "Only the penitent man will pass."

As the movie's hero considers this clue, he whispers, "Only the penitent man will pass...penitent man...the penitent man is humble before God...kneels before God..." At the last moment, he drops down, sparing his head from the deadly knife that swings out from the rocky side of the cave.

Our position before the High and Lofty One should also be to drop down. When we, like Isaiah, see "the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne" (Isaiah 6:1), our response should be to kneel...to bow...to fall flat on our faces, maybe, in recognition of two truths: who we are, and who God is.

This kind of humility saves our lives, too. Maybe not in a literal sense, but when we take a low and humble stance before the High and Lofty One, we are saved from our own foolishness, from our sin, from our blurred vision, from our ignorance, from our pride, from ourselves.

The ancient faithful were well acquainted with God in His exalted role, but they had only glimpses of the much fuller picture we can see today: that of the High King of heaven who came to earth.

Only God can be one piece of the totality of all He is without ever compromising any other piece. He can be high and lofty and still come down to dwell among His people. He can be a servant and still be The King. He can eat with sinners and still be sinless. He can be a friend and still be the Master.

When we see all this—really see it, as Isaiah did once his lesser king was removed from his line of vision—what else can we do that makes any sense at all other than to kneel down low...and find there the highest prize of all.

June 29, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 211: Unspeakable Gift

Unspeakable Gift

"Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15 ASV)

The story of how my husband and I met, fell in love, and got married is a little long and a lot lovely, but the short version is this: I picked him up at church one Sunday when I was home from my post-college job for a family funeral and he was home on break from law school.

Some advance groundwork had been laid, but it is almost no exaggeration to say that we talked for 20 minutes, got in our respective cars with our respective families, and told them, "Well, that's who I'm going to marry."

Our long-distance courtship commenced shortly thereafter. Because we were seldom in the same state, I figured out when my future husband was going to propose. He figured out that I had figured it out, though, and changed his plans in order to surprise me. Which is how, about ten minutes after he had asked me to marry him, when my unsuspecting mother called, and my brand-new husband-to-be answered and asked his future mother-in-law if she wanted to speak to his fiancee, something happened that we don't believe had happened before or has happened since: my mother was speechless.

My husband is unquestionably an unspeakable gift to me and to our family, from the God of unspeakable gifts.

God's gifts are unspeakable because we do not have words to describe their value. But God's gifts to us do speak.

God's gift of His S
on speaks of His love and of His longing for relationship with us. It tells us that, other than His holiness, there was nothing He was not willing to give up to gain us.

God's gift of grace speaks of His willingness to give us what we can never deserve. It tells us that His compassion toward us far outweighs any scale or set of balances.

God's gift of the Holy Spirit speaks of His desire to be present with us. It tells us that He wants to be part of our lives from the inside out.

God's gift of each new day speaks of His purposefulness. It tells us that He has something for us to do on and with that day.

I look at these gifts, and I have no words. And that, really, is as it should be, if only my heart always knows what to say: "Thank You, God...thank You, thank You, thank You."

June 28, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 210: Overcomer


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

It may seem strange, but one of my favorite sentences in the entire Bible is this one from John 16:33: "In this world you will have trouble."

I find it comforting because it reassures me that if I'm feeling like I'm "having trouble," it's not just me being my usual over-reactionary self.

You cannot get a more credible confirmation than the Word Himself, so if Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble," it's not just my imagination if I'm feeling the truth of that.


Of all the tide-turning, circumstance-shifting "buts" of Scripture, this has to be one of the most powerful. "In this world you will have trouble." Jesus minces no words here. "But take heart!" With these words, He shifts from acknowledgement to action.

To "take heart" means to derive courage from some fact. Some fact. Not some wishful thinking or some possibility, but from a fact. And the fact from which we derive our courage in the face of certain trouble in this world is that Jesus has overcome it. Overcome.

For many years at family Sunday dinners and celebration meals, we used my parent's wedding china: white with gold edging. (I promise: this really does relate to the name of God at hand.) The silverware set that went with this china came with a fancy gold candle snuffer...a long-handled object with a somewhat bell-shaped end that could be put down over a candle flame to extinguish it. We were not the sort of family that burned candles on a regular basis, so the snuffer rarely got used. One year, though, on my birthday, I took a proactive stance against YET ANOTHER picture of me blowing out my candles, my cheeks puffed out in truly humiliating fashion. That year, after my family sang to me and someone waited to capture the (in)famous shot, I whipped the candle snuffer out from its hidden position behind my back and calmly and rather smugly put out each candle.

The Overcomer does not just puff on the flame of trouble and make it flicker a little; He snuffs it out entirely.

I know that and love that, but maybe I'm not alone in this nagging question: how does the fact that Jesus has overcome the world do me any good? Why should that help me "take courage"? I mean, good for Him, but I'm still living on this troubled earth. One answer, maybe, is because when we are in relationship with God, we get in on His power. We get in on His strength. When we die to ourselves, He lives in us. He moves into our hearts and brings His overcoming power with Him.

"In this world you will have trouble." I don't have to work very hard to hear in my mind some of you saying, "That's for sure." But—"but"—here's what else is for sure: God's story never ends with trouble. And the day when it's over for good is coming. Hold on, and take heart.

June 27, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 209: The Sign

The Sign

"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11,12 NKJV)

Shortly after my husband and I bought the house that would become our newlywed home, we discovered a plate in the sidewalk bearing the letter "S"—the first letter of the last name of the previous owner. Since we were on our way to becoming Mr. and Mrs. Spencer, we joked that it was a sign the house was right for us.

Sometimes, though, I have not been joking when I've asked God for a sign that something is right or that something is His will or that I should go one way or the other, make one choice over another.

God does not owe us any new signs. In one, magnificent Sign, God answered every question, settled every doubt, cleared up all confusion. Of course, just reading that sentence, you, like I, might be thinking, "Really? Because I've still got plenty of questions, doubts, and confusion." We would like more signs...new signs. This, though, is where faith stands in the gap. Faith trusts God in the storm before the calm, in the night before the morning, in the famine before the feast.

Still, in His generous grace, God desires to confirm Himself and His will to us. When we are standing at a crossroads or trying to decide between Door #1 and Door #2 or a "yes" or a "no," we can still look for a sign to help us discern which road, door, or answer is right for that particular season given the light we have to walk in at the time.

S ~ Does it sync with Scripture? God will never lead us away from His Word, so any "guidance" I think I'm seeing that takes me in that direction is a "road closed" sign.

I ~ Does it promote intimacy with God? I once heard a Bible study teacher say that if something will cause me to trust more in God, it's probably not from the enemy, because that's exactly what he doesn't want. The reverse seems true, too.

G ~ Does it make use of the gifts God has given me? God doesn't give us spiritual gifts just so we can leave them wrapped or stash them in the closet.

N ~ Does it glorify His name? If something I'm thinking of going ahead with will make God's name more known or cause people to see Him for who He really is, there's probably at least a "proceed with caution" sign attached to it.

And above all else, if the sign I think I'm seeing leads me to the Babe in the manger who is now my Savior, I hope I'll follow the shepherds' lead and hurry toward Him.