The With-ness of God

“You hem me in behind and before, you lay your hand upon me… Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:5,7

As we exit the Christmas season by boxing up the stockings, the tree, and the gift wrap till next year, one thing has lingered behind in my soul, unwilling to be put away. It is the beautiful word “Emmanuel” and the accompanied meaning of “God with us.” I have begun to see and hear the “with-ness” of God weaving its way through every part of our daily lives. To me this life changing truth is primarily based on two different points: 

1. God genuinely likes you 

2. You two are in it together.  

God gently but firmly lays his hand on our back, letting us feel the touch of his presence as he guides us, like a gracious father teaches his young daughter how to ride a bike. Picture this for a moment, wherever you are, God laying his hand on your back between the shoulders as a reminder that he loves you. He wants to be with you in whatever it is you are doing. God genuinely enjoys the way he made you and loves spending time with you. Isn’t this remarkable?!

I often struggle to believe I was made in a good way, thinking instead that I am too much or not enough, or what I am doing does in no way warrant the attention of God Almighty. I sometimes think, “If God really knew me he wouldn’t like me that much.” I think we all can struggle with this kind of shame some days. But God, who is rich is mercy and graciousness, does not let my shame deter him from fully knowing me and voluntarily wanting to spend time with me. 

Like an awesome earthly father with a young daughter, God likes to hear my various thoughts on things, likes to carry for me what I cannot carry for myself, likes to play with me even though his skills far surpass what I have to offer, and loves when I reach up to hold his hand when I feel afraid. We are fully known by God, and yet he still sincerely likes us and is here to stay. 

Every day in life with God is “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” His presence is always with us, surrounding us and invading every part of who we are. It sustains us as we walk through fire and flood. He is with you on the challenging path he has asked you to walk down, holding your hand, not going anywhere. What a gift of grace that there is no path so dark I could run down that God would not come chasing after me. There is no circumstantial challenge so great as to cause God to give up on you or question if you were really fit for the task. 

It is incredibly powerful to know God is with you in everything. He is with us. He is with us. He is with us. And he is not going anywhere. Feel the touch today of a Father who deeply cares about you. Feel the with-ness of a Friend who will never let you go alone. Emmanuel is here to stay. 

– Emma Abernathy

New Year, New Decade, New Mercies

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” Psalm 98:1-3 

New year, new decade, new mercies. Every year on NYE, as the ball drops and the clock strikes midnight, the world joyfully celebrates the new year. There is an undeniable buzz and excitement as people celebrate, but why?

One reason is because with “new” comes a hope for something better and hope is contagious. This type of joyful hope and excitement is such a beautiful picture of what it’s like as a Christ follower to hope for the day when Christ will return and our God will make ALL things new. Rev. 21:5 “ And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

As we consider Psalm 98, the short nine verses in this Psalm are packed full of worshipful celebrations of our God. I love how Charles Spurgeon unpacks the Psalm in three segments mirroring the stanzas:

  • Psalm 98:1-3, the subject of praise is revealed. The Lord has brought salvation, that alone is enough to praise but I love in Ps. 98:3 that he goes even further. He has “remembered” the people of Israel. The reality that our God is faithful to remember us is a true gift.
  • Psalm 98:4-6, the means of praise is revealed. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord… sing praises to the Lord.” This call to worship is what NYE reminds me of, a true celebration with shouts of joy. The best part is that one day every knee will bow and worship King Jesus.
  • Psalm 98:7-9, the extent of praise to be proclaimed universally. This prophetic Psalm foreshadows the coming of Christ to save the world as a righteous judge.

In this new decade, my prayer is for an eternal perspective grounded on the praise of God. In 2020, I pray my focus would be on the reality of God’s faithfulness, the hope of his return, and the contagious joy I have in my personal relationship with the worthy King. Join me in pausing to reflect and dream in the following categories, how can we worship in these areas in 2020?

  • Spiritual:
    • Quiet time with God
    • Church / serving / tithing
    • Discipleship / mentorship
  • Relational:
    • Friends / Family / Coworkers, etc.
  • Personal:
    • Health, reading, traveling
    • Work, finances, personal growth/education, projects

May we each take time to pause, reflect, and consider how we can sing a “new song” of praise in these categories in 2020 for our God is worthy.

Father help us to enter this new year with an excitement of joyful praise for who you are and what you have done for us though Christ. May we carry this praise throughout the year into every part of our lives. You are faithful, steadfast, righteous, merciful, and have “done marvelous things” that deserve unceasing praise! We love you Lord. Amen

~ Kaitlyn Wurzbach

 

 

Jesus the Majestic

When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Psalm 8:4

Like an old black and white photo digitally restored with color, the Word of God this Christmas season has captivated my imagination. I have been visualizing the Nativity scene more clearly, seeing new angles, details, and glimmers of God’s glory. A great joy in my yearly rhythm with the Word is occasionally camping out in a certain passage or psalm over a number of days, soaking up all the spiritual nutrients possible. Over the past few weeks, Matthew 2 and Psalm 8 have spotlighted the story of the Magi, shaping the way I am viewing this season as resounding with God’s majesty.

The Magi left their comfortable, familiar environments to seek Jesus because they saw the star God had sovereignly placed in the sky and were overjoyed with what they found at the end of their journey. The heavens declared the glory of God and the stars proclaimed the work of his hands; His glory shown through the heavens he created, and he drew the Magi to himself and thus to worship. Worship must come after an encounter with Jesus; his majesty is too great for anything less than adoration from our hearts.

When they arrived, they found a small child at the center of a very humble environment- not at all what they had expected. However, the unexpected did not obscure the majesty of this king. John 1:3-4, speaking of Jesus, says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” God’s kingdom coming into the world, the climax of restoration, hope, and victory over darkness for all humanity started with the birth of a small baby. Darkness was about to be silenced by the cries of an infant. The Magi gave the majestic child extravagant gifts fit for a king and reverently bow low in honor. They had considered the heavens for many years, studying the moon and the stars, which a God unknown to them had set in motion so they and the nations they represent might come to know Him and worship at His feet.

When we leave our comfortable, familiar environments to seek Jesus because we have heard his call, joy is always found and we cannot help but worship. Like the Magi we bow low before King Jesus in reverence and awe during this season, praying, “Lord, who am I that you took on flesh for me? What is man that you sacrificed your heavenly seat to save us?” We lay down our earthly crowns of popularity, wealth, and potential in light of his majesty and give him all we have, the greatest treasure of our hearts.

True life is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you know Him on a deep, intimate level? Have you seen His glory, His majesty, and has it brought you into joyful, authentic worship? It is the greatest joy to know Him! This joy is even greater than the fleeting joy of the holidays. This joy is sustaining, commanding, and will never disappoint. King Jesus wants a relationship with you, specifically, and is inviting you by name to come to the manger and behold his glory this season. We come to him in awe, obedience, and surrender because the King of all kings has made himself known to you and to me. Wow.

King Jesus, thank you for not staying mysterious and unreachable, but sacrificing the glory and honor you deserved in order for us to know you. Lead my heart to worship you in a deeper way this season. We love you. Amen!

~Emma

God’s Christmas List: The Gifts of Obedience & Surrender

What About Those People?

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Psalm 73:1-2

Over the past couple of years I have struggled balancing grace and justice concerning someone whose evil behavior had disrupted my life in a significant ways.  I have questioned God as I have wrestled with how He had dealt with this person. I felt like they had received favor and blessing while our family struggled to move past the ripple affect of their sinful actions. I had been fixed on seeking punishment rather than looking to extend grace and forgiveness. Bitterness had taken root and with it the fruit of envy and resentment. Recently the Lord reminded me of Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” My bones were rotting away!

Have you ever been caught up in the comparison trap like Asaph was in Psalm 73? Asaph’s faith in God’s goodness was slipping as he compared the lives of the ungodly with his own. He could only see how the wicked seemed to have it all together while he was plagued and punished every day. His focus on others caused him to have a pity party!  Have you ever thought to yourself, “why do they get all the breaks while I try so hard with nothing to show for it?”  When we compare ourselves with others we become jealous of them and eventually bitter toward God for allowing others to prosper while we struggle.

Asaph’s perspective changed when he  “entered the sanctuary of God” and  “understood their final destiny.” (V17) When caught in the comparison trap the only way out is to spend time with God, confess your envy and focus on the eternal reality.  The destiny of the wicked is ruin, but for us who trust Him as our Savior our destiny is sealed and secure in heaven.  Once he fixed his thoughts on God he could see clearly the goodness of God: “I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory.” (Vs. 23-24)

Once Asaph regained an eternal perspective of his life, he no longer said, “poor me” or “what about those people?” but he now declared, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”(V 25) When tempted to compare your life with the prosperity of the ungodly, look beyond the temporary and focus on your eternal reward – life forever in the presence of your good, good heavenly Father.

After acknowledging my envy and seeking God’s forgiveness and wisdom I now have a new eternal perspective along with a peace that has given me renewed life and trust in God’s goodness.  “Lord, as for me, it is good to be near to You, my refuge.  I will tell of all you have done for me!  Keep my eyes on you and remind me of my heavenly destiny.” Amen

Seeking the Nearness of God,

Nancy

A Prescription for Joy

Praise the Lord, my soul.  Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 104:1-4; 24-35)

How has God acted in your life to cause you to come in to know Him in a way you had not before?  What was your response to Him?  When we come to know God, we often encounter him in such a way that immediately evokes a response of awe and humility, making us conscious of our sin.  The only thing we can do is obey God, which translates into worship.

When we come to know God, His nature, His character, and how He has acted and continues to act in this world and in our lives, the only thing we can do is offer our lives in obedience and praise.  Worship is the only response to knowing God.  When we know God, we trust God.  When we trust God, we obey God.  When we obey God, we worship God. 

Psalm 104:1-4 has been referred to as “Genesis set to music”.  The psalm was written to display the great power of Yahweh as Creator and Sovereign over all of creation – a power that surpasses that of any false gods of pagan nations.  The psalmist spoke with the understanding and expression of one who truly knows God.  The outward expression of this knowledge led the psalmist to offer worship as a natural response to all God is and all that He has done. 

In Psalm 104:1, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s heavenly splendor and majesty stirs an inmost praise causing him to start the psalms with “Praise the Lord, my soul”.  In Psalm 104:24-30, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s creative wisdom and earthly providence stirs an inmost praise in Him.  In Psalm 104:31-35, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s unlimited power stirs an inmost joyful praise. 

Splendor, majesty, wisdom, providence and powerful …. those are just a few descriptions of our amazing God that led the psalmist to joyous praise.  For joyous praise to well up in the psalmist contemplation, observation and trust in who God is had to occur first.   Are you experiencing joyous praise in your life and if not, what is keeping you from experiencing joyous praise?  Is it busyness, dwelling on your circumstances or lack of faith that keeps you from joyous praise?

Take time to observe God’s splendor and majesty in creation.  Take time for silence and solitude to quiet your mind so you can reflect on God’s faithfulness and goodness in your life.  Take time to be in God’s Word and take Him at His word.  He is who He says He is.  As I am growing to know who God is, I am learning He is abundantly generous in displaying His love, provision, power and majesty all around me. 

Edna Lee

Sustaining Joy

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:5-11

Laura’s post last week on Psalm 37 had me suddenly seeing verses all over the Psalms in which God promises to hold our hands and be with us throughout the journey of our time on earth. One of my favorite passages on this comes from Psalm 16, which is a masterpiece of God’s love for us. In this psalm we enter into the intimate relationship between David and God: David takes the truth God speaks lovingly to his heart and repeats it as a form of worship. It is a beautiful example of the spectacular reality that God invites us into a relationship with him. 

The past two weeks God has been using this psalm to speak to my soul the truth that He will not ever abandon me, and regardless of my circumstances, I can experience the vast expanses of true joy daily found in the presence of God because of the work of Christ. 

There is a lie that has been seeking to destroy this incredible opportunity for life and joy in the presence of God since the beginning of our rebellion: “God is holding out on me. God is keeping something good from me intentionally, resisting giving me something I deserve…” Have you ever heard the whisper of this sinister lie? It is the same lie the enemy spoke to Eve in the garden. 

When we are tempted to drown in lies, we always have the option to put on our Jesus life jacket instead! Here are some truths I wrote down from Psalm 16 the day my position with a company was suddenly eliminated: 

The Truth is God alone is my portion and my cup; He makes the rules in my heart and in my life. He is my security when life feels very uncertain. 

The Truth is the boundary lines in this current season have fallen for me in pleasant places. God knows exactly what I need in this season and has not withheld anything from me He considers necessary (Psalm 84:11). I can trust Him in seasons of feasting and fasting. 

The Truth is God has not and will not abandon me. He is directing my every step, even the ones I did not anticipate. I can get up and do what He made me to do even on anxious days because I rest firmly and securely in God’s hand. 

To be fully satisfied in Christ is our steadfast aim, especially while unloading the dishwasher, on our commutes, chipping away at the assignment/paper/project, serving the difficult patient or client, helping the new person next to you in your workout class… We can live fully satisfied in His presence day by day, in every area and season of life. He loves sustaining His daughters by his joy! 

Oh, Lord, our hearts overflow with love for you! We know how to love because you first loved us. Help us put on our life jackets of truth when we feel as if we are drowning in lies. Thank you for giving us everything we need and sustaining us by your spectacular presence. Amen!

~Emma

God Holds Your Hand

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. Psalm 37:23-24

Travel down under. The dream of a trip to Australia and New Zealand remained on my “travel wish list” for years. I racked up American Airline miles. When God directed my steps to transition from the mission organization I worked with to create Sacred Story almost 8 years ago, the time arrived.

Time to celebrate over two decades of serving in a ministry I still love. Time to embark on a long trip without the constraints of work. Time to unleash this dream even though I envisioned a mate alongside. Time to cash in the AA miles which accrued to almost 100k.

I booked reservations to fly the day before Christmas and return 18 days later. I had enough miles to fly business class. WOW. I felt like a freshman and asked the flight attendant to take my picture. God provided a dear friend to join for part of the time, and a godly family who lived in Auckland, my last stop, to show me around before I returned home.

I adored Australia and yet I longed to see the beauty of New Zealand, so I spent two-thirds of my time with the Kiwis. I discovered NZ possesses the most diverse topography of any island. While driving around we prayed desperately as the combination of the cliffs and the ocean plus driving on the other side of the road made the traverse an act of faith or insanity, depending on the moment. Within a short distance, we landed at a rain forest, and the beach, and the mountains. Such an awesome feast for the eyes.

We stayed two nights where Franz Joseph’s glacier is located which is one of two in the world within a rain forest. The guy at the tour company convinced me to book the all-day hike whereas my friend opted for the half day. Among other things, the all-day hike meant a restroom break in a hole carved out by our guide on the glacier.

I set off with my tour group, suited up with rain gear, boots, a hat, and a stick. We hiked the glacier, taking in stunning views. We ate lunch on the ice and took the dreaded potty break. On the way down, we waded across a river. The guide, a young guy who led us well, saw the current and the potential to lose my footing and took hold of my hand. Wading through the water, I found myself more confident and signaled by letting go of the pressure of his hand, that I could walk the remainder. Because he knew the dangers, the guide didn’t let go but instead held my hand tightly until I arrived at the other side.

My trip down under gave me a deeper experience of the truths in Psalm 37:23-24. I am reminded God is in the details, even airline miles. He delights in my steps as I trust Him. Not every day holds the adventure of traveling to Australia and New Zealand, but I can trust Him in the mundane and disappointments as well as the fruition of dreams. Like the guide, He holds my hand. Even when I reason, “I should be able to walk this out without needing intervention,” God continues to show me He delights in showing Himself strong, and holds my hand firmly.

The Lord intimately knows the terrain you and I walk. He sees what’s underneath the current that can trip us up, whether temptation, discouragement, unmet desires, or unexpected turns. We may stumble by getting off track for a season or not hearing God’s voice or allowing our flesh to choose sin, but we can cling to the truth in Psalm 37. God is in the details, He holds our hand and as we pursue Him, we will not fall into ruin or be swept away by sin.

How can you look for God in the details today?

Take a few moments to visualize God holding your hand.

If you encountered unexpected turns in your story, listen to Sacred Story’s podcast series. 

Heavenly Father, You are far greater and more amazing than I could ever imagine. You are working behind the scenes to orchestrate details and bring together circumstances. Give me faith to believe you are active on my behalf and directing my steps. Thank You for holding my hand.  In Jesus’ Name.

~Laura

 

 

 

Waiting With Confidence

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14(NIV)

As you read through Psalm 27 you will notice it is divided into three sections.  First David declares his confidence in who God is and what He will do when his enemies are attacking him.  The word for confidence in Psalm 27:3 is the Hebrew word meaning, to attach oneself, to trust, confide in, feel safe, be confident, secure. Throughout Scripture relying on other types of security is strongly contrasted with depending on God alone.

The second part of this psalm turns from declaring his confidence to pleading for God to do what He alone can do: deliver him from his enemies!  Even though he is confident God will come through, David openly expresses his vulnerability and need for God to not forsake him in the midst of such a critical circumstance.

Lastly, David closes his psalm with another declaration of confidence. This time he uses a different Hebrew word for confidence, which stresses an enduring trust and belief in God. In Psalm 27:13-14 He gives us some instruction on how to have enduring confidence or trust.

First, David declares his confidence in God’s goodness. He makes a bold statement declaring God’s goodness will win out in the end.  Focusing on God’s goodness helps us to endure hard times.

Next he instructs us to wait for the Lord with strength and courage.  Courage does not mean lack of fear, but it means facing your fear relying on God’s strength alone.

Lastly, he repeats his instruction to wait for the Lord.  To wait means to patiently endure. So whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, it usually means it is very important and more than likely it is difficult.  Patient endurance is God-given and is totally unnatural to us humans. That is why God gave us the Holy Spirit who produces in us the fruit of patience.

After the devastation of my first miscarriage I memorized Psalm 27:13-14 as a way to focus on God’s goodness as I longed to become pregnant again. He was faithful to His Word and I did see God’s goodness in the form of a beautiful baby boy born a year later.  However, after my son was born I came close to death due to a medical crisis.  I spent several days in ICU before I was able to hold him in my arms.  As I lay in the hospital bed longing to hold my newborn son, the Lord brought to mind the words of Psalm 27:13-14 and my confidence in God’s goodness grew. In this new season of transition and waiting on God to lead me, Psalm 27:13-14 reminds me again to patiently endure the wait believing that God’s goodness will be seen in the end.

Recently, Take Courage, a song written by Kristene DiMarco has ministered to me and has reminded me again of Psalm 27:13-14, as I have been trusting and waiting on the Lord to lead me in a time of transition.

Slow down, take time

Breath in He said

He’s reveal what’s to come

 

The thoughts in His mind

Always higher than mine

He’s reveal all to come

 

Take courage my heart

Stay steadfast my soul

He’s in the waiting

He’s in the waiting

Are you in a time of waiting?  Perhaps for a spouse, a child, a job, or even for a new beginning?  Focus on God’s goodness, wait with courage, and wait with enduring patience and trust in God alone.

Lord, I am confident that You are good and that you have a plan for good in my future. Help me to wait as I take courage from You and to find your strength in the midst of my waiting.  I pray this with confidence in Jesus name, Amen.

 Confidently waiting,

Nancy

 

 

How to Flourish

“The Lord remembers us and will bless us:
He will bless his people Israel,
he will bless the house of Aaron,
he will bless those who fear the Lord—
small and great alike.

May the Lord cause you to flourish,
both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 115:12-15

Can you sing this Psalm with confidence or was it written for someone else? Is your life flourishing for both you and your loved ones? Do you feel small or great?

Right now I feel like I’m fighting to flourish and I’m watching my children and loved ones endure many struggles. I believe God but feel like an imposter singing someone else’s song.

What we see with our natural eyes and what we feel with our very real emotions doesn’t change this truth that the Maker of heaven and earth is the source of increase and blessings for all who fear Him, small and great alike.

At the root of all my prayers this season is one desire, to live a fruitful life. I want my life and the lives of those entrusted to me to flourish in a way that there is only one explanation: God.

Is this a selfish desire? No. Jesus’ words are clear in John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Thankfully He also proved the how-to in the previous passage (v.5): “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit because you can do nothing without me.”

When I feel cut off from the flourishing life God offers and desires it’s time to go back to the root of “the vine”. My favorite prophesy of the Messiah is found in Isaiah 11:1, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” At the root of the stump of Jesse is where we find the only way to experience fruit that remains. When all appeared cut off like a stump of what was once a strong, powerful tree, the Nation of Israel and the house of Aaron, a root came up and fulfilled all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

What has been cut off or pruned away from your life? What losses have you experienced, disappointment without explanation, fading of friendship, plans failed, finances stopped, health eroded, dreams crushed?  What is your stump?

Watch for your shoot and you remain deeply rooted in Christ because we can do nothing without him.

God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, thank you for remembering me and blessing me and my children.  Thank you that I am of the Nation of Israel and the house of Aaron through the blood of Christ.  When I am in great faith, remind me to sing Psalm 115 to you, my Great Supplier.  When I feel small and defeated, help me to remain in your love and make this Psalm my song of expectation.  Thank you for causing my life to flourish in a way that points directly to you.

-Brandi