Walk This Way: A Place to Start

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have named this the year to walk, and it’s interesting how even six days in God is teaching me that my expectations aren’t usually headed in the same direction that His plans are. Every single day I have to lay all my ideas and expectations before Him and ask him to direct my paths afresh.

In the last week, I have been overwhelmed by how many times God’s Word talks about walking, about paths and roads and ways, about following. I want to take the time each week in my blog this year to focus on what God’s Word says about our walk. And truly, there is only one place to start. That place is the cross.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I don’t know all the people who read this blog. I just know this– Jesus is the only way for every single one of us to come to the Father.

We try to make our own roads, you know? Forge our own paths? This is the American Way. We are strong. Pioneers. Boldly going where no one has gone before. That’s all really great, but there are some things where there is no such thing as our own roads. And this is one of them. There is absolutely no other way to God except through Christ. None. We are entirely separated from Him by our sin.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I fall short of His glory every day, but because of Jesus I have been brought near. In spite of my sin, because I trust in Jesus as my Savior I no longer receive the penalty for my sin.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The penalty for my sin– death. Eternal separation from God. I fall short of His glory, and without Christ I would just fall shorter and shorter until one day I would be separated from Him entirely and eternally. BUT THE GIFT. The gift of God– the gift I have received– is eternal life. Life that lasts forever, in the very presence of God. So instead of falling shorter and shorter, I am drawn nearer and nearer to His beautiful, satisfying heart.

Oh, friend. I wish I could believe that every person who reads this blog has received that gift. That every person who reads this blog knows Jesus, the WAY to God the Father, the WAY to life that is not just eternal but is also abundant, here and now, today, in the midst of all the griefs and sorrows and turmoil of this world. But I know better.

And so I would be remiss, as I begin my year of walking, to fail to start here. Because we can try to walk according to the Word of God– we can try as hard as we like, but if we don’t know Jesus we aren’t on the right path. All our walking is leading us nowhere except further into our separation from the glory of God’s presence and the joy and peace of relationship with Him.

God offers us a gift– Jesus, His Son. God tells us that there is no other way to come to Him, to have freedom and abundant life and a future in the very presence of the God of the ages, than to come through Jesus. He is the only Way. Without Him, we deserve and we receive death that starts when we’re born and never truly ends.

We do not have to pay that price. Jesus already paid it, on the cross. God loves you. He loves you so much He sent Jesus to pay the horrible wages of YOUR sin, so you wouldn’t have to. Friend, if you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, it is never too late.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

That’s all it takes. Just believing that you are a sinner and He is the only way of salvation. He has already given His life for you. All you have to do is trust Him.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Everlasting life, and abundant life, and understanding of what is true, and a daily way into the presence of God– the throne of grace, where there is forgiveness and help for every need.

Before we walk by faith, we must be in the right path. Jesus is the only way.

Will you join me in simply trusting Jesus as I walk this year? The first step is at the cross.

Jesus is the Way.

Light in Darkness

faintfringes-sunsetI am the Light of the World, He said.

That life was the light of men.

I want to live in light, to let its warmth flood over me,

to know the comfort and brilliance of the sun,

a fire in the hearth,

the lamp by the chair that welcomes me into its glowing circle.

He tells me how to get the light.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

The light of life.

But–

maybe it’s just me, but–

things seem pretty dark, a lot of the time.

Not just out there, in the world, where I expect darkness.

Not just in politics and poverty and pitiless people parading their prosperity.

Things seem pretty dark around me. You know,

in this little spot where I am, where Jesus promised I would

have the light of life.

Because I am following Him.

Trying to follow Him.

I don’t get it. He says, look deeper.

And there it is– your word is a light to my path.

Jesus’ light for my life, all focused down to a beam

directing my feet.

And there is a promise– the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

A little light for today, growing brighter as I walk the path

before my feet.

Oh, sometimes the light is so small.

Sometimes it seems to disappear entirely.

And today, I think this– the One who said

I am the Light of the world

also said

you are the light of the world.

And I wonder, if someone else might be in darkness today,

desperately searching for

the warmth of light on their face,

the hope of even just one little candle lit against the night.

And I wonder if, maybe today,

when the light seems so hidden from me,

maybe I am the light for someone,

filled with real Light

shining out through all the cracks and broken places.

Maybe, when we are in the darkest places,

we are shining brightest.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness

has

not 

overcome

it.

 

Walking into a New Year

walk2016 is gone, a closed book, and if my facebook feed is any indication, then most people are saying a hearty “good riddance!” to the old year. I don’t know if I feel the same vindictive anger toward 2016– I mean, what’s the point of being mad at a year? One revolution around the sun? A calendar? I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. There is a fresh optimism about a new calendar, 365 bright empty boxes waiting to be filled with reminders and appointments and date nights and birthdays. All those little boxes– like little presents all lined up in neat rows and columns– holding gifts from my Maker. Gifts from my Father who loves me, who gives good gifts.

It is time for me to move forward.

I have experienced many times of waiting in my life where I didn’t know what the next step was, where to go, what to do. Those times are confusing and difficult. They can be paralyzing to our faith. But you know what? Right now is not one of those times. Because my year of opening revealed to me something about myself that I don’t like very much: Most days I know exactly what God wants me to do with my time and energy; I just choose not to do it.

I choose to pursue worthless things, like beating my high score on a computer game.

I choose to pursue selfish things, like curling up with a book instead of spending time with my family.

I choose to pursue the easy, the fleshly, the ego-boosting.

I see the path in front of me, clearly marked with a big sign that says GO THIS WAY, with big arrows and maybe even a guy with a bullhorn yelling “HEY YOU! ERIN! THIS IS YOUR ROAD!” and I ignore it all and wander off into a friendly-looking meadow or an easier-looking path. Or maybe I just sit down and refuse to move, like a two-year-old in the cookie aisle at the Walmart.

It’s a good thing God’s not like me, because if my child behaved like I do I would have run out of patience and tender mercies and all of that a really long time ago. Oh, the riches of His grace!

I have been pretty aware over the last couple months of the direction my word for 2017 was going to take. Path, maybe, or road or way. As in– you know the way, so let’s do this thing.

Then yesterday morning my favorite preacher spoke out of 2 Thessalonians 3 on the importance of just doing the work. God calls us, and we need to not make excuses or find other things to keep us busy. We need to obey, plain and simple. After church I kept telling my kids and my husband to do the work! which I think made poor Art wish he had never preached on that particular subject. But that got me thinking that maybe I needed a more active word for my word of the year. Because the whole point is, in my way of thinking, that the sacrifice of 2015 and the opening of 2016 have led naturally into the doing of 2017. But I still want to hold onto the idea of a road or path.

So 2017’s word for me is walk. Nothing fancy. No journey or quest. I don’t presume to run or sprint or even hike or climb. I just want to walk. I want to do the work. I want to daily put one foot in front of the other, in the footsteps of Jesus, wherever they lead me. I want to faithfully follow Him, regardless of how I feel or how life is going or whether the road looks easy or hard. I want to take the lessons of sacrifice and of staying open to His leading that He has taught me, and I want to go.

It’s been amazing in the last few days. As I make my regular round of the book of Psalms in my personal prayer time, I came again to Psalm 119 just a few days before the new year began. And look how it begins:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!

This is what I want to do– to be holy, to walk according to God’s commands, to seek Him wholeheartedly, to walk in His ways and not my own. And when I stumble, I want to get back up and take another step. And when I wander off the path, I want to turn around and walk toward Jesus again. There is nothing better for me.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.

The way of faithfulness– with God’s standards for my life as my guideposts, as the light to my path.

Happy New Year. It’s time to walk.

What about you? Do you have a word or phrase or theme verse for 2017? I’d love to read about it in the comments! 🙂

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On New Year’s Eve

You feel all thoughtful on New Year’s Eve, or at least like you should be thoughtful, looking back over the past year, looking forward to the next 365 days. You feel like maybe you should have something deep to say about the workings of the world, how you’ve changed and grown, all your goals and dreams.

But mostly you are too full of leftover Christmas goodies, pulled back out for one more celebration before being unceremoniously dumped into the trash because of New Year’s Resolutions.

This year has been hard, and not because anything tragic happened in our family, but maybe just because it was a slightly less fun than normal year. We sat tonight and talked about our favorite moments and honestly none of them were these super amazing mountaintop experiences. A lot of the good stuff got kind of swallowed up in the hard stuff that came afterward. But I think that’s okay. Not every year can be SUPERCRAZYAMAZING. Some years are just regular life, mixed in with a fun trip to see family, homeschool talent shows, birthdays, a couples conference, a funeral, trips to camp, new skills learned. One child learned algebra and another learned to read chapter books and I learned to crochet and fizzled out shamefully fast.

I have been kind of discouraged because my year of opening didn’t pan out as I expected, but I sat with God this morning and He helped me to see that these words of the year aren’t meant to be a sudden one-time miraculous turnaround. They plant a seed and start a habit– a habit of sacrifice, a habit of being more open– and the roots of that begin to take shape throughout the year so that at the end maybe there’s just a little sprout starting to show itself above the ground. But that growth continues in the new year. And that’s encouraging.

And I guess I can see ways I have become more open this year– in my communication with others, especially, about what God is doing in me. In this blog. In my relationships. I have been given opportunities to be open to others who have hurt me– in other words, to offer free forgiveness. That isn’t what I expected, but things seldom are. A word is just a guide. In the end it’s God who makes the changes in our hearts.

I have come to see this year more than ever before that every single things that happens can go two ways– for evil or for good. God wants to use it for good, but the enemy wants to use it for evil. If I, as James instructs, let patience have its perfect work, if I accept the hard stuff as a tool God is using to do His good work in my life, then I am opening myself up to see amazing things. Joseph knew this. He told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” In the end, the evil intentions of others– even the devil himself– can never overcome God’s ability to use things for good in my life. But if I close my hands to the gifts of God, the ones that don’t look like gifts, that feel like curses, I am giving Satan the opportunity to use my circumstances to bring bitterness, anger, and defeat into my life.

I think that one thing I have really been struck with this year is the importance of faithfulness, regardless of my feelings. I haven’t learned this lesson. I am so far from it. In fact, the last couple weeks have been a huge struggle to do the work. But it is something I am hoping to work on in the new year– to just be faithful, to take the next step, to ignore my feelings and my doubts, to throw all my fears and all my fleshly desires and all my self-centeredness on the One who bears my burdens, and to simply obey.

My God is faithful. He has been faithful for all 366 days of 2016– faithful through a sprained ankle, a death in the family, depression, a ridiculous election, and all my faithless wavering.

And in the end, all of my reflections are meaningless if they don’t come back to Him. He is good. Good, loving, faithful, and true. And He loves me.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

HALLELUJAH!

Broken Peaces

mugIt caught my eye as I stood in a long line of Christmas shoppers, all doing our best to maintain our merry. I asked the lady behind me if it were okay if I slipped out of line just for a moment to grab something, and she smiled and said, “Of course!” Thirty seconds later I was back with my prize– a white coffee mug with gold embellishments, and the word peace.

My “fancy dishes” are white with gold rims, and I notice dishes that match or compliment them, and when the price is right I add them to my collection, to make my china cupboard look a little prettier. And peace– that was the subject of our Christmas program and a word I’ve been dwelling on a lot this month. It always seems so elusive this time of year. The whole thing just seemed perfect.

I made small talk with the cashier as she rang up my mug and my stocking stuffers. She wrapped it up in paper and put it in my shopping bag. A swipe of my card and I was out the door, onto the next store, already almost forgetting my spontaneous purchase. Who has time for peace when the next stop is the Dollar Tree?

That evening after the kids went to bed I unloaded all my treasures, sorting them into piles– stocking items, gift wrapping supplies, big gifts– and I put my new mug up on the counter to be washed, smiling as I did so. So shiny! I can’t help it. I love shiny, sparkly things.

The next morning I washed my pretty mug, stacked it in the drainer. Answered my daughter’s questions about its origins later on, when she was putting away the dishes. Into the mug cupboard it went, taking its place next to Grumpy Cat and Mount Rushmore, I Heart History and Happy Coffee and the one Christmas mug I could actually find this year. And then on to a busy day– cookies to bake, visits to make, family traditions to uphold, kids in bed, A Christmas Carol, piles of presents. The unexpected addition of a puke bucket. Just another day in paradise at Christmastime.

This morning I happily pulled out my new mug, running my fingers over its curved handle and the gold band around the rim. Poured in the coffee and the carefully measured creamer. And that’s when I discovered the ring of evidence on the counter at the base of the mug– a ring of creamed coffee, slowly growing. A quick investigation showed a long crack, drips of my morning wake-up call oozing steadily from it. Save the coffee was my first thought, and I poured the precious beverage into another mug. My peace mug is broken before I even got to drink out of it! was my second thought.

My prayer journal awaited, open on the table next to my Bible. Who can come before the God of the universe, offer Him adoration for His power and His might and His glorious Presence, and be worried about a $3 mug? So many things that seem so important fade in His light.

Later on, coffee drunk, ginger ale supplied to a child with a sour tummy, I filled the sink with soapy water and washed the peace mug– now useless. I traced the crack I had seen earlier and discovered another one, perpendicular to the first. I rinsed it and placed it out of the way to dry. It’s still pretty, I thought. I can still put it in my cabinet and enjoy it. But how ironic– my peace broken by a careless child or a careless clerk or a careless me– who knows? How sobering to see that beautiful word peace marred by a crack running across its script.

Peace is not a mug. I know this. Obviously it’s not a mug. And the stuff inside the mug– the really important stuff– can be brought to my waiting lips in my old Happy Coffee mug, or my newer Grace mug, or in the one that looks like a chicken or the one with the caffeine molecule on the side or, in a real pinch, in the plain homey red ones that came with my dishes.

Peace is not a mug, and it doesn’t shatter easily, but don’t we just treat it like a fragile thing all on the outside of what’s important? Friend, peace is on the inside, and it doesn’t break. Real peace doesn’t always come dressed up shiny. Real peace is just as real when it’s filling up something plain and boring, something mildly bizarre, something ugly.

Peace isn’t my shiny mug, and it’s not inside it. Peace is Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peace isn’t my Christmas tree, my perfect plates of Christmas cookies, a beautiful family memory watching It’s a Wonderful Life, or getting through December with nobody throwing up. It’s not a pile of presents or a beautiful Christmas carol. It’s not any of that, any of this outward stuff we put our hope and expectations in.

Peace is found in the deep places, the places where we surrender our desires and our selves and our expectations, places where we give thanks and offer prayer and dwell on truth and beauty– babies in mangers, angels and shepherds and salvation come and wrapped up in all the ugly of humanity and the humility of a stable.

My peace cup will go in my china cupboard, next to other shiny white dishes with gold rims. And I hope it reminds me, every time I look at it, that peace isn’t about me, about my pretty things, about my expectations, even about silent nights. That into the brokenness of my outer peace, God pours the real thing, and it oozes out and touches everything it meets and makes it better.

Peace is Jesus. He doesn’t fit in my cupboard, but He fit Himself into human flesh, fits Himself daily into the details of my life, fit Himself onto the cross that brought peace– all for me.

All for you.

Immanuel Unchanging

We hear this word— Immanuel, or Emmanuel— so much at Christmas time. We read in Matthew 1 that it means God With Us. Maybe we stop for a moment and think— how nice. God With Us. What a lovely sentiment.

But this is far more than a lovely sentiment to be printed in shiny letters on artsy Christmas cards. It is a reality— a daily, living reality that ought to affect our daily lives.

The beautiful truth about God’s desire to be with His people is that it did not begin when He sent His Son to be among us. His desire was always that mankind would walk with Him in fellowship. We were never meant to be strangers with God. We see this in the book of Genesis—God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. And we see the devastation when they sinned and divided themselves from God, from His glory. From that moment, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God, all of us have been separated from the God who created us for intimate fellowship with Him.

The story of the whole Bible is really the story of God With Us. Time and again, through all of history, God has come to man and offered them the opportunity to know Him. He dwelt among His people in cloud and flame, and His presence dwelt in the tabernacle and later, the temple. Through the intricate series of laws and sacrifices, God’s people could know Him—His holiness, His glory, His perfection, His power. Again and again God’s people turned away from the God in their midst, and again and again He offered Himself to them, always promising that someday there would be more—a King on a throne who would rule in their midst.

And in the fullness of time—God came. Not as the Israelites expected, because He was more than a King and Conqueror of armies. He didn’t just want to be in the midst as King. Jesus came and dwelt among flesh—became flesh—so that God could be with us in the most precious and intimate of ways. So that we could see that God is holy and powerful and glorious and huge—and that He is love, and grace, God of the small as well as the great, gentle as well as mighty, humble as well as exalted. Jesus dwelt among us in a way that we could relate to as human beings. And He didn’t just take on flesh—in the end He took on our sin and bore it to the cross, so that we could once again have perfect fellowship with God. He is God With Us every day, and this name Immanuel reminds us not just that Jesus was born, but that He paid the price of our sins so we could be with Him forever, that He sent His Spirit to indwell us—God With Us every single day of our lives, the guarantee of our eternity in heaven, in a city called “The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35).

This Christmas season, as I consider the familiar story of God incarnate, I am challenged by the reminder that God is with me today—that His Spirit dwells in me daily, giving me the power and courage and help I need for each task. The promise of God With Us is a promise for today—for each moment, for each challenge, each sorrow, each joy.

What a beautiful truth—Our God Is With Us.

Fear and the Gift of a Savior

fear-notIt is somewhat awkward to discover in one’s mid (okay, late) thirties that one has been living a life of fear. Fear of exposure, of the opinions of others, of failure. Fear of being unloved, unaccepted, unseen. Fear of being humiliated, of others seeing the depth of need and brokenness within and running away, or worse, judging harshly.

These ugly fears lead to many other ugly places– to hypocrisy, to anxiety, to avoiding all risk, to seeking solace in damaging behaviors. They lead to a horrible mix of pride and shame that puts up walls of defense and good behavior. They lead to chains, to a prison built by one’s own hands, brick by fear-filled brick.

Oh, friends. This is so very far from the place of grace that God has planned for us– has provided for us.

God does not want His people to live in fear. To the people to whom He and His angels appeared in Scriptures, God had this message: Do not be afraid. To us, He gives this message as well: God has not given us a spirit of fear. His instruction to abstain from fear came to both the rich and the poor, those who had a huge, epic task to do and those whose job was simply to worship.

Fear not, for behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy!

I have lived so much of my life in fear– that was meant to be erased by the Savior born thousands of years ago, the Savior I claimed as my own decades ago. Jesus, Prince of Peace, God With Us, is the answer to my fear– to your fear. He is the Way to freedom, to joy, to courage and faith.

Christ answers all my fears.

I fear exposure; He covers me in His righteousness.

I fear the opinions of others; He stands in the gap for me, so that in God’s eyes I am holy and pure and beloved.

I fear failure; He gives more grace and reminds me that He is faithful.

I fear being unloved; He reminds me again and again that He loves me.

I fear being unaccepted; He makes me accepted in Himself.

I fear being unseen; He is the God Who Sees Me.

I fear being humiliated; He gives me an example of perfect humility and teaches me that to be humble is to be exalted, to be weak is to be made strong.

I fear people seeing the real state of my brokenness; He says my strength is made perfect in weakness and that He uses my foolishness and my smallness and my brokenness to teach and, yes, to shame the wise and the great and the strong. He fills all my broken places with His lavish and glorious grace, so I am overflowing with light.

I fear judgment; He says to me these precious words– there is no condemnation for those who are in Him.

The baby in the manger– the Savior on the cross– the Conqueror come out of the grave– He is the answer for my fears. He is the love of God incarnate, and perfect love drives out fear.

This Christmas season– are you afraid? My Savior has an answer. He came to save me and to save you– from sin and death and judgment, from fears that crush and hold us back from the freedom of grace.

Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born . . . a Savior, Christ the Lord!

He holds me and helps me to stand firm and without fear; and I slowly open, a blossom late in coming but beautiful in His sight.

Glory to God in the highest!

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Christmas Peace

The calendar is full and getting fuller; the bank account is empty and getting emptier. The to-do list lengthens each day, and the radio blares out commercials and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and the latest political scandal. The children fight and yell, run around full of manic energy, flop around bored. It is no new thing, this world spinning wildly round, us trying to catch it. It is true all year long– that we are living in a universe of chaos and cruelty. But it seems to come more clear at Christmas time.

Oh, how we want those still nights and that peace on earth. How we want to kneel before a sweet sleeping baby, to hear the angels sing. Silent night– yes, please.

The manger we come to so often seems empty and fails to bring us the lasting peace we desire. If– and that’s a pretty big if— we are able to quiet our hearts and find a moment of calm away from the wild crazy of this life, if we come to the manger with expectation, the truth is we still often carry away hearts full of fear and worry, dread and anxiety and panic.

Maybe we are looking for peace in the wrong place.

The story of Christmas is a beautiful one, but it is really only the beginning of the story. And if we go to the manger looking for peace, our hearts will be disappointed again and again. For the Prince of Peace is not in the manger.

It is not in the hay-filled wood of the manger that we find our peace, my friends, but in the blood-stained wood of the Cross. The hope born in Bethlehem came to save us– not from all our problems, but from our sins. He came to open the way that was closed between our hearts and God’s. He came to be our peace– to reconcile us to God Himself.

Until we accept that Jesus came to save us– until we trust in His work on the cross, that it was enough to make us holy and right with the Father– we will never know peace. And until we who believe rest in the reality of our peace, our hearts will wrestle with anxiety and darkness. We are invited to lay down our cares, to give thanks and to think on what is true, and bring our requests to the throne of grace. We are promised peace that passes understanding.

Celebrate the manger, the child, the glory of that night when angels sang and promised peace on earth.

And then fix your eyes on the cross, where that peace was purchased with the life of the Prince of Peace.

Oh come, let us adore Him!

Glory to God in the Highest.

Ugly Packages

Sometimes the package is ugly
Sometimes I don’t like what I see–
I look at the gift and in pride I believe
This can’t be God’s best gift for me.

And yet He still offers it freely–
This good I regard with disdain;
For though it may bruise as it opens,
His face is made clear in the pain.

Love, wrapped all up in a manger,
Was the gift that would rescue my race;
Love, bloody, wounded, and dying,
Was the ugliest beautiful grace.

Oh, help me to see things as You do–
To trust in the grace hiding here,
To open my hands to Your goodness–
The plain brings the beautiful near.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

Faith and Untold Stories

faint-fringes-3Do you ever read Scripture and wonder about all the things it leaves out? Maybe it’s a lifetime of familiarity with Bible stories, maybe it’s the storyteller part of me, but sometimes I wish the Bible was written in a more narrative style, with lots of description of emotions and facial expressions and tones of voice. I sometimes find my imagination running away with me, filling in the blanks between the simple words  on the page.

I have noticed this especially as I transcribe the stories in the book of Genesis. How could Moses simply write down that Jacob woke up the day after his wedding and discovered Leah in his tent instead of Rachel? How could he not explain how that whole household managed to survive as Rachel and Leah engaged in power struggles, even to the point of bringing their own maids into the bed of their husband to bear children on their behalves? This is the stuff that fascinates me– the drama and the emotions and the relationships– and instead Moses goes and gives me a long list of names of the sons of Esau and their families and where they lived and who were their chiefs.

Clearly my ideas about what God’s Word should include are different than the ideas of the men who wrote it down, and yes, different from the ideas of the God who inspired it. I suppose that should not come as a surprise. My human brain, my love of drama and story and emotion and detail, my curiosity– all fall far short of the infinite wisdom and understanding of the God of the universe.

My mind was traveling these roads this morning as I read the stories of two different Josephs– Joseph the son of Israel, sold into slavery in the household of Potiphar, and Joseph the betrothed husband of Mary, discovering that his fiance was pregnant with someone else’s child.

Both Josephs were placed in extreme situations where their faith was tested. OT Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers because of their jealousy. He rose to power in his master’s house because God blessed him. And then Potiphar’s wife set her eyes on him, and day after day tempted him, until one day he found himself alone in Potiphar’s home with the would-be seductress. Joseph knew what was right. He had to know that this woman was not one to take rejection lightly. Even as he was fleeing from her, leaving his garment behind in her grasping hands, Joseph had to be wondering why God had allowed this to happen– why he had been placed in this impossible situation. When Potiphar believed his wife’s lies, and Joseph found himself thrown into prison, he had to wonder why he was being punished for his godly choice to do the right thing.

But the language in Genesis 39, where we find this story, is fascinating to me. In the early part of the chapter, it says that God blessed Potiphar because of Joseph. But once Joseph is in prison, the way God is relating to Joseph changes:

. . . He was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love . . .

God was with Joseph in prison. In what appears to be a new and different way than He had been with Joseph before. If Joseph asked why, God?– which surely he must have, being human– God answered. God’s best awaited Joseph, but he would not find it until he found himself abandoned and rejected again, locked in a prison cell.

Surely Joseph would have loved to know more of the story– just like I do every time I read my Bible. But God didn’t give him the whole story. God gave Joseph just what he needed to step forward, one step at a time in obedience.

The Joseph of the New Testament was also called upon to obey in a life-changing, too-big-to-really-comprehend decision. Mary was pregnant. She would have been called guilty of adultery, and Joseph had the right to see her stoned for it. I wish Matthew told us the emotions that Joseph experienced as he wrestled with the news that Mary was expecting, that she had apparently been unfaithful. I imagine that when the angel appeared to Joseph in his dreams, that Joseph wished for more of the story as well. The angel didn’t really go on for a long time with a lengthy explanation and a carefully detailed list of instructions for each day of the following years. The angel gave him three truths: Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and she was going to have a Son who would save His people from their sins. And the angel gave him two commands: Do not fear to marry her, and name the boy Jesus.

Did you ever think of all the things the angel didn’t tell Joseph? I think I would have wanted a lot of answers to questions like, “Wait, what?” and “What am I going to tell my mother?” and “What about my reputation?” and “Hold on, you mean we’re going to have to travel to Bethlehem when she’s nine months pregnant?” and “What am I supposed to do if the king goes on a baby-murdering spree?” and “A MANGER?”

But Joseph apparently didn’t ask for those answers. He just obeyed. He opened his hands to the unsightly, awkward, life-changing, painful gift. He trusted God with the story and took the next step. And as a result, Joseph had a front-row seat to the childhood of the Savior of mankind.

Faith says “Your will be done,” and faith steps out and does the next thing in front of it. Faith doesn’t wait for the whole picture to be clear. Faith trusts a faithful God to have the answers when they are needed, to hold the future, to give enough light and enough grace for every new step.

And faith discovers, as Joseph did, that even in the depths of the king’s prison, God is present.

Let me trust when I can’t see
Your gift is the best for me;
Through hidden places, all is well–
I’m not alone. Emmanuel.