He Gives Us Bread

It was the freshly baked bread that got me.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 1 Kings 19:5-7

It was the freshly baked bread that got me. Elijah was on the run from Jezebel, fearing for his life. He was at the end of his rope. He was done. “I have had enough, Lord, “he said. “Take my life.” I have felt that way too, especially lately.

Yet, even so, God gave him food and drink. I imagine how tantalizing the warm bread must have smelled and tasted to Elijah. God could have given Elijah anything to eat (bugs for instance), but he gave him something wonderful. He cared about Elijah even in this time of weakness. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” God cared about Elijah in the journey he was on, even when this particular part of the journey was fear and disobedience. Even when Elijah was running away from his mission.

And Elijah kept on running. To a cave in the mountain called Horeb, where the Presence of the Lord passed by him and he heard the gentle voice of God asking him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Sounds like a parent talking to a toddler, doesn’t it?

Did you know that this mountain, Horeb, that Elijah fled to was the same mountain where Moses (also on the run) saw the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2), where God gave Moses the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2), and where Moses struck the rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6)? But, even more amazing, it is the same place where God also passed by Moses.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a

God came with a gentle whisper to Elijah. To Moses, he proclaimed himself a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger.” And he had to be compassionate and gracious to put up with the whining and complaining and outright rebellion of the people of God. They complained about their calling; they ran from their mission. But he took care of them and watched over them and provided for them. And this is very comforting to me because I am just like them. Daily.

God gave Elijah a helper, Elisha, just as he had given Aaron to Moses. But he ignored Elijah’s complaints and excuses, just as he had Moses’. To both of them he said, get up and go. You have work to do.

And you know what is the most amazing thing of all? It was these two flawed men of God who stood with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). A place of honor. A place of unbelievable grace.

Our Father does not reject us or abandon us or give up on us, even when we are on the run. He whispers gently. He gives us bread.

I am the bread of life. John 6:48

Photograph, Detail from Warming Bread by Jason Jones https://flic.kr/p/bKZkHM

His Hand

I might get a little singed by the refining fire, but no one can snatch me out of His mighty, loving hand.

Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it? Isaiah 43:13

Usually when I read the above verse it is with a negative connotation: you’re not getting away from me! You can’t escape. I confess I sometimes feel like Job.

You know good and well I’m not guilty. You also know no one can help me [deliver me out of your hand]. Job 10:7 (The Message)

But today the phrase “no one can deliver out of my hand” was a comfort. Today I feel like David. I would rather be in God’s hands, no matter what.

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” 2 Samuel 24:14

His mercy is great. I can trust Him. Even though his all-consuming fire may be consuming the dross in me – the hay and the straw and the stubble – I can trust in his mercy.

But you know what? That word translated “deliver” means more. It is natsal (נָצַל ) and means to snatch away (in a good or bad sense), deliver, rescue, save, strip, plunder. It is used for taking plunder or spoil after a battle. No one can snatch me away out of His hand. No one can take me as plunder, for no one can be victorious over God. He roars jealously over me.

Jesus repeated this, what is actually a compassionate, unfailing love, full-of-grace-and-mercy, promise.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:28-29

I might get a little singed by the refining fire, but no one can snatch me out of His mighty, loving hand. He is the same God, Old and New Testament. He does not change.

See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver (snatch, take as plunder) out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

Photo, Sheep Drinking at the River by Kevin Ryder, https://flic.kr/p/fCcjsP

In a Pitiful State

The concept of checed is as big as God himself it seems. There is no limit to God’s checed, so of course it would overflow us.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Satisfy us (Hebrew sabà=to be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited, filled, have desire satisfied, have in excess, be surfeited, overflowing, sate, i.e. fill to satisfaction, have enough)  

with your unfailing love (Hebrew checed=goodness, kindness, faithfulness, lovingkindness, merciful kindness, plus, plus, plus, more, more, more),

that we may sing for joy (overcome, triumph, be overcome/undone, cry out, shout for joy, give a ringing cry in joy, exaltation, praise, sing out for joy, rejoicing)

and be glad (rejoice, be joyful, be merry) all our days.

That word translated “satisfy” above is the Hebrew word sabà – to be satisfied, more than satisfied. This Psalm asks that we may be sated, fulfilled, overflowing with God’s checed. The concept of checed is as big as God himself it seems. There is no limit to God’s checed, so of course it would overflow us.

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses (checed) indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22 (NASB)

 Checed is too big for a short definition. The NetBible reference notes from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament uses 2,444 words to attempt a definition, but still doesn’t sabà-fulfill this concept. But one statement resonated deeply with me as the very heart of checed.

[Checed] is a kind of love, including mercy, ḥannûn, when the object is in a pitiful state. It often takes verbs of action, “do,” “keep,” and so refers to acts of love as well as to the attribute. The word “lovingkindness” of the KJV is archaic, but not far from the fulness of meaning of the word.

H. J. Stoebe[i]

Mercy and acts of love when the object is in a pitiful state. Yes, and amen.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (strengthless, helpless, weak, feeble), Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

You could say that when we were in a pitiful state, Christ died for us. When we were sunk in the muck up to our chins and sinking fast, when there was nothing left for us to try, when we were at the end and knew it, stuck, ensnared, trapped, hopeless – pitiful – Jesus stepped in and proved God’s checed for us by dying on the Cross. Jesus, our Emmanuel. God’s very Presence with us showing us the Way to God’s very Presence within us. And shout for joy, give a ringing cry, exalt rejoicing, for that is where we find our sabà. In His Presence.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness (sabà) of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

Thank you Jesus that you demonstrated the Father’s unceasing, unlimited checed for us, saving us when we were in our pitiful state and making a way for us to find sabà, overflowing fulfillment, in your Presence forever.

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love (checed) and compassion, who satisfies (sabà) your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

If you long to find fulfillment and satisfaction in God, but are in that pitiful state, trapped in sin, please pray.

“Dear God,

I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.
I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died
for my sin and that you raised Him to life.
I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord,
from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will.

I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

∗Prayer from Billy Graham ministries

Image copyright 2019 by Derek Bair


[i] Stoebe, H. J., “Die Bedeutung des Wortes Hasad im Alten Testament,” Vetus Testamentum, 2:244–54.

Repair Our Souls

He restores (brings back home, retrieves, turns back, refreshes, rescues, relieves, returns, repairs)

my soul (my self, inner person, my identity, who I really am, my life, mind, living being, desires, emotions, passions, that which breathes within me)  Psalm 23:3a

Oh Lord, restore our souls. Bring us back home. Turn us back. Retrieve us from the hand of the enemy. Rescue us!

Repair our souls, we pray. Our broken identities. Our fractured thinking. Our mangled emotions, desires, passions. Breathe your breath into us again. Refresh, revive, resuscitate us!

Give us the mind of Christ.

Give us a heart to know you.

Give us a soul – a passionate desire – to love our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors.

The Snake

“… faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.”

So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. Numbers 21:9

Snakes kill in lots of ways. Some inject a poison that quickly or slowly paralyzes its victim. Some use constriction, squeezing the life out of its prey. Others just swallow their victim whole, headfirst to immobilize them and lessen the chance of resistance and escape. Sounds like sin to me, especially the headfirst part. So often sin starts with wrong thinking.

In the Bible snakes are symbols of both sin and the consequences of sin. Numbers 21:5-9 the people grumbled against the Lord and he sent poisonous snakes among them. They cried out to Moses and God instructed him to make a snake image (or substitute) and raise it up on a pole for the Israelites to look at. If they looked at the snake, they would be healed/delivered. By looking at the snake in obedience to the command they were putting their faith, not in the snake, but in God who provided this way of salvation.

Pointing to this event, Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Moses’ snake was a foreshadowing or picture of Jesus on the cross. The snakes were what was killing the people – a snake was lifted up on the pole. Sin is/was what is killings us – Jesus became that sin and was lifted up on the cross. When we look to him in faith we are healed and saved. A.W. Tozer commented on these verses.

Our plain man, in reading this, would make an important discovery. He would notice that look and believe are synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” in the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that, while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.–A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It is hard to think of Jesus as a poisonous snake, but that is what he did for us. He became that poisonous snake of sin. He did this so that sin could receive its righteous and just consequence from God in Jesus’ body. The consequence of sin – death and separation from the God who loves us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matthew 27:46). He was separated from God hanging there on the pole. He became our sin; he took our consequence. The people in Moses day were healed/saved temporarily – we are healed/saved eternally.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Galatians 3:13

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:14-17

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn, but to save.

 

The Snake is also available as a Bible study which you are free to print and use at The Snake Bible Study

 

Image Death in the Afternoon, Common/Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) swallowing an American toad (Bufo americanus), by Sarunas Burdulis, https://flic.kr/p/chmx5S

mark 14:3

life

a long

slow

fragrant

breaking of the heart

the pouring out

the slathering waste

the preparing for burial

I find

of myself

too

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Photograph copyright 2019 by Derek Bair

Shout of Victory

I wait for (hope, expect, await, am patient, pained, trust in) you, O LORD;

you will answer (respond, testify in court on my behalf, shout in victory), O Lord my God. Psalm 38:15

I wait for (look for, hope, am bound together with) the LORD,

my soul (by very being) waits (looks for, hopes, is bound together with Him),

and in his word (I am trusting, waiting, expecting) I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

Lord give me strength to be patient and trust you though it may be painful. Give me faith to hope expectantly with all my being, that my waiting will bind me ever closer to you and inspire your shout of victory.

Image: Jump for Joy by Kreg Steppe https://www.flickr.com/photos/spyndle/3480602438

My Impossibles List

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

Impossible = Greek adunatos: without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible

Possible = Greek dunatos: able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible

I’ve started keeping an impossibles list. All the impossible things I’ve been praying for. The unable to be done, not possible things. So much of what I am praying for seems impossible. Sometimes the impossible thing is to just get through the day; sometimes it is the healing of a brokenhearted nation. We all have that same struggle right now, to keep from sinking into hopelessness and despair at the impossibilities.

But recently, God has been showing me – no that is too wimpy of a word – he has been blazing this light of truth into my darkness, that he, and he alone, is the one who can do the impossible things. All the stuff with what is going on in the world and our own problems – our kids and financial problems and job problems and health concerns. All our impossible things. The things that wake us up weeping and gasping in the middle of the night. If fixing these things are just up to me and you they are without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible. Not possible.

But all things are possible with God. That’s what Jesus impossibly proclaimed. So, I have been making a list of all my impossibles. And then, like Hezekiah I take it and spread it out before the Lord.

Hezekiah was the king of Israel when King Sennacherib of Assyria came to lay siege to Jerusalem. His armies had already roared through Judah, capturing the fortified cities. And now they were surrounding Jerusalem and mocking Hezekiah’s God (Isaiah 36), sending letters full of sneering impossibilities.

Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Isaiah 37:11

But Hezekiah took those impossibilities to the Temple and spread them out before God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.  And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” Isaiah 37:14-16

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer. And this impossible army surrounds me and mocks my God, either in anguish or arrogance. Even in writing this it besieges my mind and heart with black-hole doubt and ancient fear. But I am spreading my list out before the One who is able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible. The One enthroned between the cherubim, the One who alone is God. And I’m saying, “OK, God here are some more impossible things for you. I am giving them over to you. For, nothing is impossible for you.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard (too difficult, too high, beyond one’s power, extraordinary, wondrous, marvelous) for me? Jeremiah 32:27

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23-24

Photograph copyright 2018 by Derek Bair

In the Middle

Maybe we can be meta too, naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

There [at Golgotha] they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:18

Jesus in the middle. This verse struck me a different way as I read it today. Jesus was suffering there in the middle of fallen humanity at its worst. In Matthew the two men on either side of Jesus are called thieves. The word is lestes and means robbers, plunderers. According to NetBible Study Notes, Josephus used the term lestes for the Zealots who revolted against Roman rule. Barabbas was a lestes (John 18:40).

In Luke the two men crucified on either side of Jesus are called criminals, evildoers malefactors. Here, in John, they are just “others.” I think John is saying it doesn’t matter what they did. What matters is how they responded to Jesus as they hung there dying with Jesus in the middle.

The word translated middle is mesos = in the middle, in the midst, among. Jesus came and lived and died in the middle. He lived with them, ate with them, walked with them. Loved them. He had compassion on them. He wept with them. “This man welcomes sinners.”

Mesos comes from meta, which means “with, accompanying, amid.” Meta-data is the data or information that accompanies something – the name and ingredient list of a product. The “about the author” blurb on a book jacket. The track list accompanying an audio file.

Jesus is mesos, in our midst. Always there. Suffering with us. Jesus is meta. He is with us. He accompanies us all the way. He names us – Child of God. He tells us what we are made of, what is in us. When we respond as the man on the cross beside Jesus did, in repentance and faith, we are a new creation. We have the mind of Christ. We have a spirit given us not of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. We become part of his body. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Kingdom of God is within us. His word is in our mouths. His love in our hearts

He lived and died with us, and he wants us to die – be crucified – with him, and with all the thieves and criminals and the others. All the messed up, hopeless, dying ones. And he wants us to be resurrected as a new person and live loving them just as he did – to be mesos alongside Jesus as he is alongside them. Maybe we can be meta too. Naming Him as our testimony – Emmanuel, God With Us, Savior, Redeemer. And naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You know what is very cool? The word translated “crucified” in this verse is a different word from the word translated “crucified” in John 19:18. Jesus was crucified=stauroo. We are crucified=sustauroo. Stauroo means to impale on a cross, to stake, drive down stakes. Sustauroo means to impale in company with, crucify with. In company with Jesus. With Him alongside. Jesus in the middle.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with [meta] me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

Brokenhearted God

Brokenhearted God
Who comforts the comfortless
Let us comfort you
We whose hearts are broken here on earth
Let your tears fall
And join with ours
Let them form that mighty justice river
Let it water the brokenhearted earth
Along with the blood of the sufferers
The blood of your Son

 

But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

 

Bible verses from the New American Standard Bible

Image in the Public Domain