The First and the Last

He was there at the beginning and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

I have read this verse many times but this last time it literally vibrated in my spirit like a giant bell, like a mighty shout, like the sounding of the shofar. The answer to the cry of a desperate and fearful heart.

Being at the end of the year in my One Year Bible, I am reading Revelation. And, it caught my attention that Jesus calls himself the First and the Last three times in Revelation. When the Lord repeats something it is important, so I looked further into it and found that this declaration is also made three times in Isaiah (see them all below). Four of the six times it is accompanied by the admonition, “do not fear” or “do not be afraid.” Once it is preceded by, “Listen to me.”

Isaiah 41:4 says it slightly differently and wonderfully.

Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed (gaze about in anxiety, look away), for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:4, 10 (NIV emphasis mine)

This is the ringing cry I hear: Listen to me. I am the first and the last. I am He. I am the only God. I am the One who looks out for you, helps you, loves you. The One who is always with you. Do not gaze about in anxiety. Look at me. Do not fear.

And it came to be as a revelation, a clear vision, in my heart – not just in my head. He was there at the beginning “delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:30-31)  and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

As a baby in arms, looking up into the eyes of her father, does not see where she is going, Lord I do not know where we are headed here in this hard and pain-filled place. But, I will rest and trust in your loving arms and fix my eyes on You.

You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Psalm 139:5 (NLT)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)

 

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Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:4, 10 (NIV)

This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God … Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6, 8 (NIV)

Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. Isaiah 48:12 (NIV)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! … Do not be afraid …” Revelation 2:8-10 (NIV)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End … Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:13, 20 (NIV)

 

Image, Safe by Barbara W https://www.flickr.com/photos/barbasia/15537309689/

 

Missing Him

So much of life is waiting, looking forward, to the thing that we hope will finally satisfy. Finally fill the emptiness.

When I awake, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face. Psalm 17:15b (NLT)

To see him face to face! To look into his eyes of pure love, like unending pools of liquid gold. Purer than anything here on earth. How I long for that. The Hebrew word translated satisfied in the above verse is saba or sabea. It means to be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited. When I awake, open my eyes and look into his, I will be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited. David wrote:

For He satisfies (saba) the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. Psalms 107:9 (NKJV)

We all have longing souls, whether we know it consciously or not. We long to see him face to face. C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[i] Frederick Buechner also wrote about this longing for, or missing, God.

“Each of us … carries around inside himself, I believe, a certain emptiness—a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside his skin.  Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself, especially no one of our age … Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away.  In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.” [ii]

Missing him. Yes, we are all missing him. So much of life is waiting, looking forward, to the thing that we hope will finally satisfy. Finally fill the emptiness. The Christian knows we are waiting for, looking forward to, his return. Missing him. Like the bride we are supposed to be getting ready, preparing for that day. In traditional Jewish wedding customs, the couple was betrothed for one year.[iii] The groom would go back to his home to prepare a place for his bride (John 14:2-3). And they would be apart and missing each other. But he would leave a gift as a pledge of his love (John 14:16, 27). The bride would use the time to prepare for the wedding day, to prepare herself and her wedding garments (Revelation 19:7).

But they missed each other. They were longing for the wedding day when they would see each other again face to face. And so are we longing for his return. And nothing else can fully satisfy. And do you know that the passionate heart of the Bridegroom is missing and longing for you too?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (see the Face of God)? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. — Oswald Chambers, The Discipline Of Disillusionment

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17 (NIV)

[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

[ii] Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

[iii] Read more about Jewish wedding customs here http://www.messianicfellowship.50webs.com/wedding.html

Image, picture of my daughter in her wedding dress, by Nathan Dillon 2019. All rights reserved.

Point of View Two

God starts by looking at the relationship, at us and our broken hearts, our wounds and need.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:3-4 (NIV)

I was looking at these two verses lately and noticed something. They both relate the same wonder – that God, the Creator of the vast universe, loves and cares for us! – but from two very different points of view.

In Psalm 8 David starts by looking at his situation, at the world around him, at the immensity and scariness of the universe and feels overwhelmed and out of control. He feels small and insignificant. He wonders how God could care anything about him.

But in Psalm 147 God starts by looking at the relationship, at us and our broken hearts, our wounds and need. It’s as if he points us to the universe only to encourage us, as if to say, “Look!  I’ve got all of this under control. I know every star by name. Surely, I know you. Surely, I am able – I have the power, I am Mighty – to care for you. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I won’t drop you.”

In these turbulent, chaotic, and frightening days we can feel very small, insignificant, maybe even forgotten – if our eyes are on the situation. Keep your eyes on the relationship child of God. Remember who and whose you are.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:16 (NIV)

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him (that’s you and me!) endured the cross … Hebrew 12:2 (NIV)

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-14 (NASB)

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.   Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)

You (yes you!) matter to God.

 

 

Image in the Public Domain. Taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, nasa.gov

Oscillation

From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB) 

The word translated “again” in this verse is the Greek word palin, meaning repetition of action, once more, back anew.  Strong’s¹ concordance lists it as probably coming from a word that means to wrestle or struggle “through the idea of oscillatory repetition.”

Oscillatory motion repeats the same movement over and over, like an oscillating fan. The Oxford Dictionary² defines oscillate (among others) as:

  1. To swing backwards and forwards; to move to and fro between two points
  2. To alternate between two states, opinions, principles, purposes, etc.; to vary or fluctuate alternately between two limits.

That definitely sounds like slavery to me. Being stuck in that back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes between two states – standing and falling. Sometimes between two limits – righteousness by works and righteousness by faith and the new life in the Spirit. Sometimes between two opinions – faith and fear, doubt and confidence.  From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good. Back and forth. Back and forth.

There are a lot of verses in the Bible about oscillating or wavering.

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (two-spirited, vacillating). James 4:8 (NASB)

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)

Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Jude 1:22 (NLT)

I love that last one. God is merciful to those who waver! We can ask Him, as David did, to help us in our oscillating.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive (hurtful, idolatrous, painful, sorrowful) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “anxious thoughts” in this verse denotes a kind of oscillating. The word is saraph, and that comes from caiph, the word that means ambivalence, division, divided opinion or divided in mind. Wavering, oscillating comes from anxiety and fear. But the root of both of those words is caaph, which means to cut off, lop off boughs. So, you could say that the root meaning is that my wrong (idolatrous?) thinking is dividing me, cutting me off from God. I still think my problems are a little too big for God. I am still not completely trusting him. But there is grace hidden here. For, what does lopping off boughs remind you of?

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (cleanses) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:1-4 (NIV)

I can’t remain in the Vine and bear fruit if I am jumping back and forth between faith and doubt, fear and trust. But amazing grace! The Father lops off those oscillating, unfruitful boughs, the doubt and fear that cuts me off from relationship with Him. The Father cleanses me if I surrender to him. But that takes courage. It takes stepping out of the boat, staying on the path with Jesus, abiding in the Vine. And I will by His grace! Because He is with me and I have not received a spirit of over-and-over-and-over again fear, but I have been adopted by my Abba Father and He is pruning me, caring for me.

Lord, help me to stop oscillating for I know that you can be trusted. Help me to abide and rest in You. Help me to turn off the fan.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

 

¹Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

²Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2000-

 

Image by Fred Barr https://www.flickr.com/photos/145458916@N04/46457248094/in/dateposted/

Hurling My Worries

Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5b-7 (NIV)

Did you ever wonder why Peter combined the ideas of humility and anxiety in these verses? God opposes the proud – humble yourselves and cast your anxiety on him. I wondered, what do those two ideas have to do with each other? I have actually thought in the past that worrying and being anxious showed I was lowly and humble, that I knew I couldn’t do it. I mean, if I was confident about something wouldn’t that mean I was proud? But recently I have been reading a very good book on humility by C.J. Mahaney, and I read this:

“Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.”[i]

Ah, pride is so slimy and cunning and can disguise itself even as humility! Even though I picture myself as humble, really, I’m still thinking I can do it, or I have to do it. That somehow my worry will change things. I am still trying to be the Wonderful One. Oh, sure I am asking God to help me do it, but in my mind it’s still up to me.

The Greek word translated “anxiety” or “care” is merimna (μέριμνα) and comes from a word that means divided or disunited “through the idea of distraction.” Worry distracts us, divides us from God and his promises. It reminds me of James 1:6-8:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded (or divided) man, unstable in all his ways. (NASB)

I like how the Message says that last verse: “People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.” Ouch! Just in case God can’t do it, I’m keeping my options open, I’m still available to worry about it.

But Peter says to cast all our anxiety on God, trusting that he cares for us. The word translated “cast” means “to throw or place upon”. You have to let go of the worry to throw it, and in doing so you are putting all your trust in God. You are humbling yourself. Daniel Wallace put it this way: [Casting your anxiety] “is not offering a new command, but is defining how believers are to humble themselves … Humbling oneself is not a negative act of self-denial per se, but a positive one of active dependence on God for help.”[ii]

Psalm 55:22 (NIV) says to “Cast your cares (or burdens, the lot you have been given) on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Hebrew is a passionate language and the word for “cast” is quite a bit more zealous than the Greek. The word is shalak (שָׁלַךְ) and means to “throw, cast, hurl, fling.” I love that! Hurl your burdens on the Lord. Yes, that is definitely “active dependence on God for help.” There is a sense of total abandon there – like a little child trustingly throwing herself off a high place into the arms of her father. But, it’s not just a vague, cosmic “letting go.” Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

“This is an important spiritual truth as is also the admonition in Psalm 55:22 to cast our burdens on the Lord. That is, our cares and burdens, are to be thrown away, abandoned into his care, so that we have nothing more to do with them.”[iii]

“Nothing more to do with them.” Wow, that’s scary stuff to the self-sufficient, proud person who secretly doesn’t trust God to get it right without her help. Lord, forgive me for my ridiculous pride and double-mindedness, for not trusting in you. Give me the grace today to humble myself under your mighty hand, to declare my total dependence on you, and to hurl my worries and my very self into your loving arms.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah.              Psalm 68:19 (NIV)

 

Image by Ron Gilfillan, 2017 Canada Summer Games. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/2017canadagames/36281659232/

[i] Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness. Multnomah, 2005.

[ii] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

[iii] M. Cogan, “A Technical Term for Exposure” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies 27:133-135 [1968J)