Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Stretch of a Lifetime.

Last night at youth group, my hot husband spoke about the sick woman who reached out and touched Jesus' cloak and was healed.

This immediately took me back to 7th grade.  Not exactly a time in my life I love to re-live.  Why, you ask?  

Well, my hair was especially frizzy that year, and orange.  And no matter how hard I tried, I was always about 10 months behind in fashion, just enough to look kinda pathetic. And I was just weird and insecure enough to make a fool of myself around the boys that I liked.  Like standing too close and staring too long.  (Go ahead. Laugh. I can't see you.)

I am sweating from the memories. 

But that has nothing to do with this Bible story.  Sorry 'bout that.

As much as I hated junior high, the cliques, the mean popular girls, my Payless shoes, I loved one part of junior high.  The physical fitness testing.  Twice a year, in PE, we would do a number of tests, and they would rank the entire class of girls.  I LIVED for that week, every year.  I trained and trained for the mile, the sit ups, the pull-ups. But the hardest test, for me, was the sit and reach.  You sit down, put your Payless shoes in this box thing, extend your legs and sssttttrreetch. 

It burned.  So bad.  And I wasn't good at it.

Stretching can be painful, huh?  

This women, who's story is found in Luke 8, made the stretch of her lifetime.  See, she had been sick for 12 years.  She had been bleeding for over a decade! But what made her situation even worse is that Jewish law saw that a woman who was bleeding was considered unclean.  They were supposed to stay away from everyone! They were an outcast, rejected by the public.  Now it's one thing to be kinda rejected once a month, but for this woman--it was constant.  For twelve years.

But Jesus was in her area. Perhaps she had heard about him, that he was healing the sick, turning their religion on it's head, and changing lives.  Whatever she knew, she had at least a mustard seed of faith in him, that he could change her situation. 

So she breaks the law, and goes out where the people are crowding around the Teacher. Perhaps she was shaking from fear of being caught, or trembling from adrenaline.  Maybe the hope that was in the air from this Jesus guy was pulling her out of her home and into the multitudes with her barely thinking about it.  And she's on the ground, maybe because of weakness, maybe because she wants to be discreet.  And Jesus is just out of reach….so she stretches, from her toes and her heart and all the way to her fingers she stretches…..and she touches Jesus' cloak.

And maybe it burned a bit.  To stretch that far.  
And maybe it was scary, to take such a risk.  To throw all her hope into this Healer.

Because stretching can be painful, huh?

But it was worth it.  Because the Bible says that when she touched his cloak in faith, she was healed.  And the next thing she knows, she's face to face with Jesus.  The God-man who saw her, knew her, and changed her life. 

She would no longer be a reject, a hurting nobody.  Because in one moment, Jesus healed her body and her heart. 

Girls, if you stretched out, with whatever amount of faith you have today, what would happen?

If you stretched out your faith, towards Jesus, what would happen?

What healing would you find?

Has the world labeled you as an outcast? That you are not good enough? Are you sick with fear? Insecurity?  Is it pain from your family dynamics?  Do you believe that you are 'unclean' because of your bad choices, your bad reputation, too unclean to come to Jesus?

What is in your heart that keeps you from living a full, abundant life? 

What if you stretched out, for Jesus, girls?  I can tell you that the same Jesus that stopped this woman's bleeding, can heal your heart.  He sees you, even if you are down and practically on your face, like this woman.  He loves you. If you reach out, you'll find Him.  He will lift you up, teach you anew who you REALLY are, and give you purpose.

It might hurt.  But it's worth it. 

Sister, stretch out for Jesus, with all you got.
Because when we do, we come face to face with Him, with his truth, his love, and the abundant life he has for us.

You are loved girls. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Final Study on Hagar: The Hope on the Other Side of Being Seen by God.

This week we have taken a close look at the life of Hagar.  If you didn't read the previous 2 posts, I would suggest you read this and this first, or grab your Bible and read her story in Genesis 16 and 21. Hagar was a wallflower, turned runaway, turned reject.  Due to tough circumstances, (as well as some bad decisions) Hagar finds herself in the desert twice, needing to be saved.  Both times she is found by God, and given hope, life, and purpose.

From the past two studies, have you related with any specific element of Hagar's story? 

So, now, you know her story. But there's a couple more powerful lessons that God has tucked within her pages of Genesis:

When Hagar ran away, and God found her, was she out in the desert looking for God?

No, I don't think so. Girls, God initiates with us.   He searches for us, no matter how far we have run away.  He doesn’t wait for us to become religious, or overcome our bad habits. (Nail biting, anyone?!)  And once we have come to know Him in a personal way, the pursuit doesn’t stop.  He keeps chasing after us, through all of life’s ups and downs.

What does that make you feel towards God?  

Hopefully you feel loved! And comforted!
But, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that some of you reading this are out in an emotional and spiritual desert right now, and you would like to be left alone in that desert.  You don't really want God coming after you--perhaps you are mad at him, or you are just done with him and church, or perhaps you don't even realize that you are in the desert. There is so much I could say to you, but for now, I want to remind you that he chases after us with love.  Psalm 103:8 says, 

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

I love how The Message translation describes this verse:

"God is sheer mercy and grace;
    not easily angered, he’s rich in love.
He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold,
    nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,"

Girls, God will never force you to return to him, or return to doing life the way he desires, but he will never stop chasing you.  He is faithful, and loving, and desires that you see him, and receive his love.

What did the angel ask Hagar when he first met her? (Genesis 16:7)

Now, rewrite it as if God is asking you the same question:

Where have you come from?  Where have you been? HE knows, The Lord sees you.  He knows what this past year has looked like.  He knows how deep your pain is. He knows the depth of your loneliness. He knows your guilt.
Where are you going?  What's your plan? Don’t head for Egypt, like Hagar.  Egypt symbolized the world's solutions--success, a boyfriend, a diet. The world’s solutions won’t fix your pain. 
Also, God doesn’t want you to sit in bitterness, anger, or hurt.  He says “Get up! I see you! I will help you.” And he JUMPS into your pain! He wants to intersect you on your runaway path, because he is a relational God that adores you. 

Alright, one more gem from this story that I just LOVE. Both times that God met her in the desert, where was she? What was she close to?

Water, right? Is there anything more needed when you are lost in the desert?!  You can be sure Hagar was physically parched in each of her journeys.  But it didn’t compare to the thirst of her soul.  This was a subtle promise from God.  In one interaction the God of promises ends her heart's drought!   God became Hagar’s refreshment!  He was promising her comfort, rest, relief, and restoration.

Ladies, do you know what a dry soul feels like?  Do you have a parched heart?  Sisters, nothing will quench that thirst except Jesus.  There is definitely that temptation to sip from the water fountain of the world!  Boys, popularity, our figure, sports, grades.we sip from these 'fountains' hoping that they will satisfy our thirst. (What is your go-to fountain?) But they will only leave you with more of a longing. Ever been there?

We can drink from the fountain of Jesus, gulp down his love and satisfaction, and be changed. Jesus promises us satisfaction. Just like he did with Hagar. Don't look back at your past--full of failures or pains.  Don't look forward, into the world's solutions for life. 
Look up. 
Look straight up.
And you, like Hagar, can discover the hope that’s on the other side of being seen by God.

Girls, you are loved. 

"I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hagar: Part II, Wallflower-turned-Runaway…turned Reject.

Welcome back! We have only heard half of Hagar's story--her story of pain, drama, and conflict, but eventually--love and healing.  If you missed the first day of the study, read this first.

Now fast forward with me about 14 years. Hagar, the wallflower-turned-runaway, is living with Abraham and Sarah again. A lot has happened in these years.  You could open up to Genesis ­­­21 to see where we are in the story. But long story short, Hagar has a 13 year old son, Ishmael, and Sarah—finally—has her child of promise, Isaac. Sarah and Hagar butt heads again so Abraham sends Hagar and her son away.

As if rewinding a horror scene, Hagar is back in the desert, with no plan!  And this time, she has her young teenage son to care for.  What was that trip like for them? Was she thinking back to 13 years ago?  When she was seen by the Lord?  (It's a good practice to regularly think back to  a time when we experienced God in a  big way, times when we saw God move) Was she remembering when he gave her purpose and promises? 

At what mile marker did Hagar lose hope?  At what point did fear creep into her mind, thoughts of despair...depression.  

Hagar’s story gets worse before it gets better. Verse 15 says “When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, for she said “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat down and cried.

Hagar and Ishmael have been kicked out of their home.  They are cast into the wilderness.  And when the Nalgenes are empty and they begin dying of dehydration, Hagar gives up.  (Ever given up? On God? On yourself?) She has a headache, she’s dizzy, her body wouldn’t allow her to make tears that she wants to release. So she gives up. She places her son, who is probably as big and she is, under a bush, probably a thorny bush, so that he won’t get eaten alive by wild animals.  Ishmael must have been pretty weak, pretty close to death to not fight his mom, to not try and go with her.  Can you imagine being Hagar at this point? And then she half walks, half stumbles to a spot a few hundred yards away so she doesn’t have to watch her son,  die a horrible, slow death.  

(I know, I know.  This is bleak.)

But God. The God who SAW her years ago is now back, and he says that he hears them! The Bible says, “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”  

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  The Lord finds her in the wilderness, not once but twice! He brings her to a well, not once, but twice, and provides for her.  So Hagar gets up, fills her wineskin with water, and gives it to Ishmael.  And they survive!

From the first day of this study, what did Hagar name God? What did that name mean?

She named him, “You are a God who sees.” The God of everything sent out a search and rescue mission for her,  he called her by name, and he saved her. 

God is so patient with us.  He is so good to often remind us what we already know about Him. Hagar had 'met' God as "the God who sees me", but her tough situation (understatement) made her forget it. Psalm 9:10 would have been a great verse for Hagar:

"Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."

Do you believe that God sees knows you, and understands you?

Do you believe that God will search for you—until you give your heart and life to him?

Do you believe that God is near, and loving? Or do you believe that the desert you are living in is too far for God to come get you?

He never forsakes us, girls. Never.

What great thing did Hagar do to get God’s attention?  

That's a trick question.  Hagar didn't really do anything to earn God's attention.  Neither do we! Romans 5:8 says  "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

 Do you believe this?  Do you really believe that you don’t have to earn God’s love or favor?  (or earn it back)

Let’s see if we really believe it.  Fill out the chart below: (I got you started…)

Sins you just can't shake:
1. Gossip

Traits you wish you had:
1. Compassion

Imagine that for 6 months you NEVER once did anything on the first list.  Do you believe that God would love you more? Imagine that for those 6 months, you exhibited the traits on the second list in abundance.  Would God be more pleased with you?

Now switch it up.  What if in the next 6 months you really sucked? :)You only displayed the list on the left, and the list on the right became a faint memory? Would God walk away?  Would he love you less?  Would he be less likely to come meet you in your emotional or spiritual desert?

No. and No.

If you are saved, if you have given your life to Jesus, asked him to be your Savior and Lord of your life, then God’s love and favor will not leave you.  Our salvation is not based on us, it is based on God’s grace and love.

When we are seen by God, it changes everything. 

Girls, Soak in the truth that God sees you.  Our God is not far away, he is near, he is with you.  Even in the wilderness, like Hagar. Nobody loves you, understands you, or hears you like God.  He is with you.

Our worth is not defined by the world.  We live in a broken, messed up world.  But God has a way of jumping into our pain! He has a way of intersecting us on our runaway paths, like he did with Hagar.  Will you let him take your brokenness and make it beautiful?  

Are you a wallflower that nobody sees? Are you a runaway of sorts?  Is your heart dry, like a desert?  Are you beat up and rejected?  Hagar was all of these things.  But God redeemed each situation, with his love. 

We have one more day to study Hagar, stay tuned!
You are loved, girls.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tucked within the first pages of the Bible is a powerful little story perfect for teenage girls.  It's oozing with drama, girl problems, and heart issues that describe many of our daily lives!

This little story highlights a Biblical wallflower--a girl that nobody saw, who's life was unfair and seemingly insignificant. Her life got so dramatic and painful that she runs away. 

Ever heard of Hagar? The Biblical loser, if you will. 

Would you jump into her story with me this week?  Let's watch her abandon depression for hope, aimlessness for purpose, and hurt for life-changing love. I think you might see a lot of yourself in her.

Hagar’s story begins in Genesis, chapter 16.  

Hagar is a young Egyptian woman, and was Sarah’s slave. To understand Hagar's story, you also need to understand Sarah's situation.  Sarah was the wife of Abraham--a VERY important man in the Bible.  Hagar is a nobody.  She’s a foreign, female, slave. That’s three strikes.  Her day’s purpose was as simple as doing what she was told.  (Ever felt like that?!)  She didn’t belong or fit in with Abraham’s family.  (Ever feel like you don't fit in?!)  She was taken from her family, and from her culture that was familiar to her.    Hagar wasn’t important to those around her, she held no status, wasn’t popular.   

Simply put--Sarah is the popular girl,  Hagar is kinda the loser. Getting it?  Good, let's move on.

Hagar comes onto the scene about 10 years after Sarah was promised a child from God-but still, Sarah has no baby. Sarah is in a dark place right now. Each year had made it harder to believe God’s promise that she would have children. And finally, as if she begins drowning in her doubt, she decides to do things her own way.  Sarah, 80 year-old Sarah, glances over at her Egyptian maid, Hagar.  Hagar is young, dark, and beautiful. And she looks way more fertile than Sarah.  Hagar looks like a solution to Sarah’s problem. So, Sarah grabs her by the arm and goes to Abraham and says,  “Here.  Get her pregnant.  Then we can have a kid.  Then God’s promises can happen.”

Can you hear the despair in her voice?  The forfeit of hope?

As weird as this idea sounds, know that was a custom then.  Since the maid, Hagar, was the property of Abraham and Sarah, if she had a child with Abraham, then the kid was considered Abraham’s and Sarah’s. It was a way of manipulating the system. Weird, I know. But it worked, Hagar got pregnant.

Think of a time that you were hopeless, a time when God’s promises were no longer believable. Write them down in the space below:

Was there “Sunday School promises” that you heard when you were young that you no longer believe?  Is it hard to believe that God loves you?  Is it hard to believe that his love and purpose for your life is enough?

Well, the drama begins. Things between Sarah and Hagar get tense. And the bitterness begins to grow. (Ever been bitter towards someone? It can consume us, huh?!) Hagar couldn’t hide her bitterness from Sarah.  Which ticked Sarah off, so she begins bullying Hagar. So Hagar runs away. She probably didn’t have much of a plan, but she knew she just couldn’t handle life in Canaan anymore.  

She couldn’t handle being unloved, unseen, and beat up.

Have you ever been there? (Often, it’s a lot more subtle and private than Hagar’s situation)

So Hagar--pregnant, hurting Hagar--hurries out into the vast desert, perhaps hoping she’s on a road that leads her home to Egypt.  And she stops to rest at a well, maybe hoping to find some direction, to formulate some plan for her life. She’s resting by this spring of water, in the wilderness, throwing a well deserved pity party. But now God enters the scene:

The Bible says this:  The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert.  And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarah, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

The angel of the Lord finds her.  And speaks to her. Oh to hear her thoughts at this time! This God, that she thought was just for Abraham, had come after HER?   Did she matter? Why would Abraham’s God come after HER?  He says, “Hagar, Sarah’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?”
I wondered if her face warmed with redness, and she darted her eyes away, studying the sand. Somehow she knows that it’s a rhetorical question, that this heavenly being already knew the answer. That she has no plan, no hope, just a lot of emotion. She fails to articulate some great answer. So she simply tells him that she is running away from Sarah.

The nobody, the wallflower, the used and abused slave girl, he had found HER.   She was worthy of a search and rescue mission! She definitely wasn’t out in the desert looking for the God of Abraham. But because this angel, who came to the wilderness, looking for her, this angel who found her, she felt hope.

At this point in the story, Hagar names God.  (She's the only woman in the Bible to do this!) She calls him "El Roi", which means "the God who sees."  She didn't know God, she wasn't a super-Christian.  But God saw her because he loved her, and that was all she needed.

The angel tells her to return to Sarah. But he folllows the command to return with promises!  Hagar had probably heard talk of many promises, but all saved for her masters. But He hands HER a list of promises, just like she had watched with Abraham.  He promises her a son, and many descendants. He promises that he will give heed to her hurts.  And it is near this spring of water in the desert that Hagar replaces hurt with healing, aimlessness for purpose, and depression for hope.

Which of those phrases hits home with you?  Which of those replacements are most needed in your heart right now? 

Girls, are you running away from anything right now? Has the world's pressure or labels on you overwhelmed you? Have hurts, or bad decisions, led you into an emotional or spiritual desert? 

Girls, when Hagar realized that God saw her, it changed her life.  He saw her, and he understood what she was feeling, what she had been going through.  When nobody else understands you, look at the God who sees you. 

God will come after you.  YOU are worthy of a search and rescue mission.  You are loved far more than you can comprehend.  Wether you are a "super Christian" that is tired of feeling alone in a big school full of haters, or a "wild child" who has never really seen the God who sees you---you are loved.  You are seen.  

The God who made you, sees you.  The God who sees you, understands you. The God who understands you (and your drama!) , loves you. Stay tuned this week for more of Hagar's story--it's just getting started!