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The God Who Sees

So, she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing, for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

Hagar and the angel of the Lord in the wilderness are an important piece to the relational gospel story between God and His people. It is a story for those who feel weak, used, abused, abandoned, those who are aliens, and those who long to be seen. El Roi is the God who sees us. This name of God is revealed in Genesis 16. Hagar refers to God as El Roi in verse 13, but to understand the importance of this name we have to see the name in the context of the entire story.

In Genesis 16 we see Sarai desperately wanting to push God’s covenant promise along in her own human effort, control, and plans. In the text of Genesis 16 we see she suggests to Abram that he take her maidservant to be his wife. Neither Abram nor Sarai refer to Hagar by name in this entire account recorded by Moses in Genesis 16. She is a maidservant, an Egyptian in slavery in a foreign land, and she is used as an object by Abram and Sarai—unseen to them as the named woman, by the personal name Hagar—to Abram and Sarai, she is servant or just a pronoun.

After Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar flees. Hagar is pregnant, an alien in a foreign land, and up until this point has not been referred to by her personal name. She flees to a place on the way to Shur—a place that is so far from where Abram and Sarai lived that she must have traveled a very long way on foot to escape the mistress who mistreated her, never called her by her personal name, and dealt with her harshly.

In the desert, the angel of the Lord speaks to her and calls her by her personal name for the first time in the text of Genesis 16. In Hagar’s response to the angel of the Lord, we see for the first time in Scripture, the recorded name of the God who sees, El Roi—the God who sees me…

Swimming in Grace

This is a fish story. This is not a grandiose tale of record-breaking sizes nor of hard-fought battles of rod and reel, waves and wrestling. The scale is smaller and the location is my daughter K.’s apartment, in an aquarium that is home to Bob, the longear sunfish. Bob’s home is lush with green plants, their leaves wave gently in the water. The rugged stones on the floor of the tank afford him places to hide, rest, and dart about. Floating through the water are smaller fish, the same kinds he was used to eating in the Tennessee waters from whence he came. All in all, a pretty good life for a fish. Except it wasn’t.

In case you are wondering if maybe you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog (fish?) let me assure you that I think I’m on pretty safe ground using a fish for an illustration. The world God made is rich with objects, analogies, comparisons, and every wonderful thing to use as a picture to help us know him better. Camels, sheep, lamps, and coins – when we have eyes to see – help us to understand abstract truths in a concrete way. Think back to your favorite Bible stories and I’ll bet you can think of a fish or two.

A Certain Death

This fish was dying. The problem seemed obvious. Bob suffered from an ailment called “popeye,” where a fluid build-up caused his eyes to bulge out wildly, marring the appearance of his beautiful turquoise and orange body. Blinded, he kept swimming straight into the glass walls of the aquarium, unable to eat, and slowly starving to death. My daughter tried to give him different food, improve the condition of the water, and even treat the water itself with medicine— all futile efforts. Bob’s blindness was due to an underlying infection, and without treating that, he would not make it.

The problem was, how do you get medicine into a fish that won’t, or can’t, eat? K. sought a solution. Thanks to the Internet, You Tube, and a knowledgeable pet store owner, she found it. First she had to create a paste made of bloodworms (larvae that fish love to eat) and antibiotics. Next she put the medicated food into a syringe. Afterward she gently reached into the aquarium, took hold of the fish, and with her other hand used the syringe to squirt the food into its mouth.

What a beautiful illustration of the gospel! Here are some truths I noticed. Perhaps you can find even more!

An Illness

A host of problems plagued this fish. He was blind, ill, and starving. Fixing the obvious problem— his blindness— wasn’t enough. The greater, underlying infection needed to be dealt with. What a picture of our hopeless, sinful selves! Remember what Jesus said to the paralytic, handed down through the roof by his caring friends? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Paralysis was not the worst of his problems. And the problems that paralyze us are minor compared to our overarching problem. Our sins need to be forgiven. Friends, whatever problem or need initially drew us to Jesus, we needed to realize our real problem was our separation from God. We needed to be reconciled with him….

When a Tree Falls: God’s Faithfulness in Trials

In September of 2019 I embarked on a journey along with my husband. He walked 1,300 miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Orlando, Florida; I biked 310 miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC.

My husband loves doing crazy things and for some reason, I typically come alongside him!

An Unexpected Obstacle

For the first 310 miles of his “walk” I biked “with” him, although 98% of the time I was alone on the trail. He would get up each morning and begin his day on the trail while I drove 20-25 miles ahead to a trailhead, where I would park my car unload my bike and all the gear, get on my bike and ride back toward him, typically about 11 or 12 miles. Then once we met up, I would bike ahead of him his last 11 or 12 miles for the day, waiting for him every 5 miles until we reached the car. We would then set up camp and sleep until morning. We repeated this daily until we reached Washington, DC. (At this point our friend supported him with an RV and I drove to Florida to await his arrival 55 days later.)

I consider myself a “brave chicken.” I typically think of everything that could possibly go wrong with a plan, but I tell myself that if I don’t do “it” I will miss out, so I push through with my chicken heart and my brave soul! This usually consists of a lot of research, planning, and even more prayer.

But sometimes, even with all the research, planning, and prayer, the unexpected arises. And on this journey, it came about on Day Two. I was about 6 miles into my morning ride heading toward my husband, when I encountered a huge tree that had fallen on the trail. There was no way around it, over it, or under it. My only option was to go through it, carrying my gear laden bike. I had to lift it over part of the tree while ducking under a huge branch. There was also a tangled mess of vines I had to precariously walk through while I was climbing, carrying, and ducking!!

God’s Faithfulness Through Trials

Once I got through this obstacle, I took a break to reflect a bit on the scene. I was instantly reminded of my life—a life that has been filled with many unexpected tragic events that can seem overwhelming if I dwell on them too much. It made me consider the truth that in each of these events, there was no way around, over, or under, only through them. And it was through those situations that God refined me. His plans for each of these tragedies in my life drew me closer to Him in ways that on my own I could never have handled. Even in the events that occurred prior to my salvation, He used to prepare me to trust Him….

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The florist shop in my hometown has been there for decades, an establishment owned by a woman who has a real gift for flower arranging. She also quietly practices her faith using her floral business as a platform to inform her customers of prayer needs for those in our community. Our florist knows first-hand the significant events in many of the locals’ lives. She has prepared flowers for births, proms, weddings, get-well wishes, and funerals, so she has a unique perspective into the major events in the lives of her customers.

Next to the cash register in her shop hangs a small blackboard with two columns: one column for first names, and a second column for a one-or two-word prayer request. On a weekly basis, she types up these prayer requests and has them available for anyone who wants to take the list home. The lists are gone by the end of the week.

These prayer requests have weighed heavily on my heart as I consider the needs of my neighbors: a diagnosis of cancer, a troubled marriage, financial problems, a stillborn child. As astounding to me as the tremendous needs are in my own neighborhood, it is even more astounding that every week random neighbors who enter the florist shop take the list home as a prompt to pray for their neighbors. Many, maybe even most, don’t know the people they are praying for personally. There is no specific church affiliation, no details of the prayer request, no last name of the person who needs prayer, just a quiet prompt for those willing to pray for a neighbor in secret.

Jesus instructed His disciples about praying in secret. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:5-6) Who knows the effects these prayers in secret have had on those in need!…

Connecting with Jesus Through the Lord’s Supper

Last Christmas, I received a remarkable gift from my grandmother, who is an accomplished watercolorist. She painted a picture of the first hibiscus plant I had grown at my new house in St. Cloud, Florida. As I gazed at the painting, I could imagine her masterfully applying washes of reds and pinks to form the blossoms and mixing lush greens for the leaves.

By creating this painting, she entered into my context to remind me of our connection with one another. She could have painted a magnificent waterscape at sunrise from her living room window on Holmes Beach, but she chose as her subject my little container garden with the funky 1970s stenciled porch floor in the background, all of which she carefully marked out in detail. Watercolor represents a connection between my grandmother and me; we have painted together for decades, since she taught me when I was eight. The image she gifted was a tangible expression of this connection we share.

When you take the Lord’s Supper, Jesus presents you with a gift that does this very thing!

Life Connection        

In the Lord’s Supper, God enters into our context and affirms the unbreakable, covenantal, life-giving connection we share with him. He uses humble, earthly items to impart to us something heavenly. In John 6, Jesus teaches the that he is the Bread from Heaven, and what that means for us: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he will also live because of me” (John 6:56-57, ESV). The life we receive as we feed on Jesus flows out of the life of God, grounded in the assurance of an eternal bond with him through Jesus Christ. In some mysterious way, as we take the Supper, the Holy Spirit joins us with Christ’s sustaining, assuring power in that moment (1 Cor. 10:16-17)…

How the Gospel Speaks to Our Disappointments

I appreciate the convenience technology affords us, especially in these times of social distancing, but there are some things I refuse to let go of. I’ll take a printed book instead of an e-version any day, still subscribe to the local newspaper, and prefer a pretty paper calendar over one connected to my email. In fact, I have some traditions associated with the latter.

I start each year by writing birthdays and anniversaries on the pristine pages. These milestones are recorded in ink. All other entries are penciled in as they come up— adventures to look forward to, savor, and then look back on as well as more mundane commitments like getting my teeth cleaned.

I suppose my habit of writing changeable events in pencil began shortly after my career did.  (I didn’t have a computer, much less an iPhone in 1980!) I soon discovered there are many moving pieces to corporate life and that meetings were apt to change as were travel plans, so pencil it was. Forty years later, I’m still penciling in items subject to change.

Cancellations Here, There, and Everywhere

I never would have imagined all the times I’d reach for my trusty Pink Pearl eraser this year. One by one, activities came off my calendar —  appointments of various kinds, lunches with friends,  5k races, garden tours, even Grammie days[1] — disappearing into so much eraser stubble. The avalanche of cancellations gradually turned into a trickle, sparking tentative hope the few remaining events, further in the future, could be salvaged.

Alas, the cancellations continued. A calendar entry marking a much-anticipated family reunion in South Dakota became the latest to succumb to my eraser, another casualty of unknowns surrounding the trajectory of COVID-19…

Practical Preparation for One Another Care

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of posts on one another care in the church. To read the other posts, click here.

Most mornings you can find me curled up in the corner of my couch reading Scripture. Now, I’d love for you to think that makes me super virtuous; however, I must confess I read the news and social media first. I’m still working on my priorities.

I digress.

Daily “demotions” (as I like to call them) are one of my favorite times of the day. God speaks to me through His word and I discover something new about Him and His world just about every time.

I can’t tell you how often God then uses those quiet moments with Him to equip me to minister to others. Frequently I find that the very words He applied to my soul in the morning help in a conversation with a friend or counselee later in the day. He does that. His words are our daily nourishment; however, they are also meant for us to use to sustain one another (Col. 3:16). This is just one of several ways we can prepare in advance of sharing the word with someone who is struggling. This means we need to pay attention to how God meets us with His word.

Another way is to build a counseling toolkit. A toolkit can be made up of sermons, devotionals, and/or Bible Study materials adapted for use in counsel. For instance, what was the last sermon you heard? What were your pastor’s three main points? How did he apply them? What was the main take away from your last Bible study? Create a journal with these messages and record the insights you’ve gleaned…

On Father’s Day and Making Crumbs

“Dee-lightful,” he exclaims in his best Julia Child impression. “Simply delightful! Now, see if you can make it even messier.”

It’s my husband, David, currently swathed in a makeshift apron of discarded curtain fabric the girls have tied over his work clothes—slightly too tight and definitely too short.

“More crumbs! Let’s make more crumbs! Your mother will be so pleased!” he shouts to his very charmed and giggly audience. “More mess! More mess!” (Thank goodness they’re only pretending…it was just Mother’s Day, after all.)

Making crumbs is just one of the games David has invented with our girls, but it’s at the top of my favorites. Ever a sucker for a great analogy, this one doesn’t disappoint. David and the bitties can pretend all they want that they are “trashing mama’s kitchen” out of its reasonably clean state (it is still quarantine, after all…) but I see the reality. The crumbs aren’t imaginary. They are very, very real and very, very delicious. David leaves crumbs of godliness, and his girls and I snack them right on up. 

Sure, it seems an appropriate time to spout some kind words about my husband (it is almost Father’s Day, after all…) but truth is these words aren’t ultimately about David, but rather about the God he loves and serves—the God that has made my husband into the man he is and is transforming him into Christlikeness more and more, day by day. For David uniquely reveals and represents Jesus in such a way that I hope anyone finding themselves three hundred words into this article alongside me today might be spurred as I am. Like me, I hope you will be spurred toward humility and kindness all because of the ways David reflects Jesus….

An Invitation to Wrestle with Emotions

Are you feeling tired, worn down, anxious, depressed, or spiritually thirsty right now in the middle of our messy world? No matter what season of life you are currently in, the world-wide Covid pandemic has surely taken it’s toll on your life. Maybe you’re a college girl who had to take online classes this spring or who missed walking across the stage at graduation. Maybe you are a single working woman whose work was vastly affected by the shut-down. Or maybe you are a wife and mother feeling burned out from caring for your family in this chaotic time. Whether you have felt alone and isolated in this season because of lack of social interaction or have felt burned out from too much interaction with the people around you, or a combination of both, the Psalms in Scripture offer an authentic place for us to voice our cares, questions, and feelings.

An Invitation to Wrestle with Emotions

When it comes to our emotions, our tendency is to vacillate between several extremes. We can stuff our feelings, thinking it is more “spiritual” to just praise the Lord with a smile pasted on our face, trying to be “positive” and “grateful” with a spiritual logic of “God is good” because that is often easier than to admit that our hearts are breaking. Or on the other hand, we can let our feelings rule and dictate our lives rather than being anchored in the truth and lens of God’s character.

Yet the Psalms invite us to wrestle. They help us articulate what it is that we are feeling. They encourage us to lay our honest emotions at the Lord’s feet and voice to the Lord all our questions, rather than simply slap a “truth band-aid” on them. They also invite us to learn what is true about God, our world, and our role in it. In the Psalms, truth and emotions intersect to weave a beautiful tapestry for our lives.

Jesus Himself models this for us. How often in the Gospels do we see Him weeping over brokenness around Him? Jesus, who was the ultimate Healer! In John 11, we see Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus, just moments before He knew He was going to raise him from the dead. Why would He cry over something that He was about to reverse? Jesus empathized with suffering. Not only that, he grieved over the state of our fallen world, for he knew things were not as they should be.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled…Jesus wept.” (vv.33,35)

The God of the Universe came close to our suffering as the God-Man, Jesus, tasted our sorrows and pain for the 32 years that he walked on earth. He understands feelings such as isolation, sorrow, natural fears, abandonment, for he felt them too…