He Will Fulfill

The Father is intent on fulfilling his purpose in our lives, on completing us and making us like his Son.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8 

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. Psalm 57:2 (ESV) 

The Lord will fulfill. What a glorious comfort in these falling-apart days! Sometimes we don’t know what is going on, what’s the point, why are we here? The Psalmist proclaims, God will fulfill his purpose for us. This is a comfort. There is a purpose for my life. God will fulfill that purpose. There is an echo of this promise in the New Testament. 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 

The word translated “fulfill” in the Hebrew (gamar גָּמַר), and the word translated “bring it to completion” in the Greek (epiteleó ἐπιτελέω) both mean the same thing: to complete, accomplish, perform, perfect or make perfect, do, finish. God will do it.  

This reminded me of the great promise in Isaiah. 

LORD, you establish (shapath) peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. Isaiah 26:12 

The word translated “establish” means, at its root, “to set on the fire.” It is only used five times in the Old Testament – three times referring to setting a pot on the fire to cook (2 Kings 4:38, Ezekiel 24: 3), once here in Isaiah, and once in the great Messianic Psalm prophesying the crucifixion, Psalm 22:15.  

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay (shapath) me in the dust of death

When looking at the root meaning “to set on the fire,” the first thing I thought of was laying the offering on the altar. The Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14-18), was set on the fire as a sacrifice that we might have peace and fellowship with God. Jesus did it; he accomplished it, brought it to completion. 

It is finished! [completed, the debt discharged, accomplished, finished, performed] John 19:30 

And we were crucified with him (Romans 6:6). Set on the fire with him. 

When I latched on to these promises that God would fulfill his purpose, I grabbed on to them both for me in my struggle and for those whom I love who have fallen away (temporarily – Yes! Yet! But God … !). I never thought, but I should have realized, that the completion of God’s purpose in my life (and theirs) would lead me back around to overcoming, to “make every effort” to sanctification, to being crucified with Christ, to “count it all joy.” To being set on the fire. 

“There is a great difference which lies between this thing of doing and this thing of suffering and dying. Doing is delightful. It belongs to beginners in Christ. Suffering belongs to those who are seeking. Dying – dying to the self – belongs to those who are being completed in Christ.” — Miguel de Molinos, 1675 (emphasis mine)

The Father is intent on fulfilling his purpose in our lives, on completing us and making us like his Son. It all goes back to Jesus. It all goes back to the Cross. He has done it and he is doing his work in us. He will fulfill his purpose in our lives. He is faithful. He will keep his promise. Cling to that and keep praying, keep persevering. 

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works (does it) in you to will (desire) and to act (do it) in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13 

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! Psalm 22:31 

Snuggled In

God, through Jesus, gives us this overcoming victory, but we have a part in it – the “make every effort” part.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1: 3-7 

I have been thinking the last two weeks about overcoming (see Overcoming and He Who Overcomes ). God, through Jesus, gives us this overcoming victory, but we have a part in it – the “make every effort” part. Sometimes that is confusing, as there appears to be a conflict between justification by faith and working out our own salvation. Which is it? Just believe or make every effort? I like how Charles Spurgeon explained it: 

“It is not man’s effort that saves him; but, on the other hand, grace saves no man to make him like a log of wood or a block of stone; grace makes man active. God has been diligently at work with you; now you must diligently work together with him.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Peter admonishes “make every effort to add.” Adding things like self-control and perseverance, and even mutual affection and love requires, in the “making every effort,” a dying to self. Jesus said that the dying must be a daily thing. A continual effort to die, which in itself seems like a mysterious paradox. 

Before I go on, you may be wondering about the title, Snuggled In. This whole blog came about because of a misreading on my part. In the Bible Hub Strong’s Concordance definition for the word (pareispheró) translated “effort” (where it says “make every effort” in the above verse) there is this under Usage: “contribute besides, bring in besides, smuggle in.” (Apparently, this word was used in ancient Greek for smuggling). Well, instead of “smuggle in,” I read “snuggle in.” 

At first, I laughed at myself, but, actually, when you look at the definition of pareispheró, “snuggle in” makes perfect sense – and provides the key, at least for me, to “making every effort.” 

Here is the Strong’s definition: “[Strong’s] 3923 pareisphérō (from 3844 /pará, “from close-beside” and eispherō, “bring into”) – properly, “bring deeply into,” i.e. from very close beside). 3923 /pareisphérō (“personally carry-through“) is only used in 2 Pet 1:5 referring to carrying through with real personal involvement (energy). This strongly stresses the need of the believer’s deep, personal involvement in the faith-life.”i 

Deep personal involvement, from very close beside. This, to me, assumes relationship, humility, and dependence. There is a contribution we have to make to our sanctification. Jesus said “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”ii Paul admonishes us to work out our salvation. But it is not an effort made, struggling alone, under the eyes of a critical God holding an impossible checklist, shaking his head in disappointment over our many failures. Rather, it is an effort made close beside Him. Snuggled in. Close beside a God who loves us and works in us everything we need, a God who has already granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness. A God who comes along beside us to help. A God who even lifts us up and carries us.

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Psalm 68:19 (NLT) 

The Sovereign Lord is my strength. Habakkuk 3:19 

“We talked about duty. We talked about picking up your cross and following Jesus down a road of suffering and pain. We talked about denying yourself, putting off the deeds of the flesh, and fighting the fight of faith. We talked much about labor, and little about grace. We quoted, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” but didn’t finish the sentence: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).” — Steven Lee (emphasis mine) iii  

God is my strength in this making-every-effort journey. If I stay snuggled in. Yes, I have to make an effort. We are not blocks of wood (though we are living stones!). But I make the effort to die to self snuggled in beside the One who died for me, who knows the way – who actually is the Way – who has gone before, who gives me the grace and the strength and the soul-penetrating Word that changes me, who works in us all what we need to stand victorious with him in the end. 

Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely. Psalm 63:7-8 (NLT) 

i Bible Hub, HELPS Word-studies Copyright © 2021 by Discovery Bible

ii Luke 13:24

iii From Chore to Treasure https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/from-chore-to-treasure

Image free download from Pixabay 

He Who Overcomes

It seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 

Last time I started looking at the concept of overcoming or conquering (Greek = nikaó) and what it means. This week I decided to take a look at the verses in the Bible where the word is used. I found there are a lot of them in Revelation, and they are all accompanied there with promises. 

The one who conquers (nikaó) and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-27 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó) will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Revelation 3:12 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21 (ESV) 

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers (nikaó) will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:16-17 (ESV) 

What struck me about these verses in Revelation was the similarity in outcome and promise to the parables that Jesus told in Matthew 25: 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins: But while they were on their way to buy it, the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the other virgins arrived and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:10-13 

The Parable of the Talents: His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21 

The Final Judgement: Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Matthew 25:34-36 

Two things stand out to me in all this. First, the readiness and the faithfulness and the true serving of Jesus by loving others must be related to this overcoming thing. For they both have the same reward: to be admitted into the Kingdom and to the family, to sit on the throne and have authority. The second thing is that it seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 

And how does that happen? John says it is by faith, by believing. But, how does that work in everyday life? In Proverbs there is a verse about a disciplined servant that helped me to see it. 

By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond. Proverbs 29:19 

If the Bible is “mere words” to me, by it I cannot/will not be disciplined – chastened, admonished, corrected. It must be more than words, more even than mere understanding of the words. Mere words won’t change the servant. He must be in love with the Master. 

Isn’t that what happened with the virgins who ran out of oil, and the servant who buried his talent, and the “goats” on the Lord’s left hand who did many things, but never out of love, never for the love of the Master. They only heard mere words, they only did just enough to get by, to technically obey. They never let the Master correct their wrong thinking. They never had that close relationship that is requisite, walking along side, carried in the Everlasting Arms. 

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven … But I tell you: love … Matthew 5:20, 44

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 

To overcome there must be faith and trust in, and love for, the Author of the word, not just head knowledge. Love of the discipliner, love of the Father. And we can’t love Him unless we know Him. We can’t truly respond except through love. And all of this must be a work of the Spirit of God in us. 

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world … Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:4, 7 (ESV) 

Next week, the glorious key.

Image of oil lamp by Bee Collins https://flic.kr/p/bSdftM 

New Year, Ancient Path

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. Ephesians 5:8 (ESV)

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Photo by Jack Bair

Nothing

Might we dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? 

Recently I read a quote by Kierkegaard that took my breath away, until I realized what he really meant: 

“I have only one word to say, but if the power were given me to utter it, that single phrase, so that it would be fixed and unforgettable, then my choice is already made and I know what I would say: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing; O Christendom, remember this!’” — Søren Kierkegaard, Papers 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing!!” This statement was startling, even blasphemous, to me at first. But then I remembered these verses: 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as (think like, direct your mind, seek for, set your mind, have the mind and thoughts of) Christ Jesus:  

Who, being in very nature God (though he was God), did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (grasped, asserted, clung to, exploited),  

rather, he made himself nothing (emptied himself, gave up his divine privileges, made himself of no reputation, without recognition, valueless) by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness.  

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled (assigned himself a lower rank, abased) himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV) 

Kierkegaard, in Denmark, was reacting, as Wilberforce had done earlier in Englandi, to the prevailing Pharisitic mindset that focused on outward appearances, and believed that all it took to be a Christian was to live in a “Christian” nation, attend the State-approved (acceptable) church, give your tithes, and, even better, have your own noticeable pew dedicated to your family. What you did the rest of the week didn’t matter. Individual responsibility for holiness was unknown or ignored. 

Most of these, especially well-to-do, churchgoers wanted to be “something.” They wanted to be “somebody.” But our worth to God does not come from outward appearances, accomplishments or wealth. In fact, these sorts of “something” may be detestable to God if they become our gods. 

He said to them [the Pharisees], “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15  

But Jesus chose to be “nothing,” though he, of all humans to ever walk the earth, had the right to be Somebody – King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But he chose to be of no reputation, valueless, and he is our model. The word describing Jesus’ choice to become “nothing” is the Greek verb kenóō, which meansproperly, to empty out, render void; (passive) be emptied – hence, without recognition, perceived as valueless (Phil 2:7).” ii 

This Greek word comes from kenós, which means “empty, void; hence, worthless (“null”), amounting to zero (of no value, profit).”   

Very few of us choose to be a big fat zero. We may feel like one, but we rarely choose it. Most of us crave the approval, the recognition, the respect of the world. You can only choose to be nothing and valueless in the sight of the world if you have a solid-rock certainty that you are of infinite value to God – and that others also have infinite value. 

And Jesus knew his value to God – “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). And he knew our value to God, for it beat passionately, faithfully, unending, unchanging in his heart, the very heart of God. And so, he came to be a nothing and to be “obedient to death— even death on a cross” for us. You are of great value to your Father. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16  

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9 

Might I dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? What would that look like? It would mean to trust utterly, even to the last breath. 

But he has demonstrated his own love for us … 

“God creates out of nothing—wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals 

God keeps bringing this theme back to me in different facets. See also Emptied

i A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. William Wilberforce. Fulltext available at Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25709  

ii Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

Image: Detail from Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Emptied

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV) 

Jesus “emptied himself.” The word means to make empty, to abase (humble, lower oneself), make of no reputation. Isaiah says it even more starkly: 

He [Messiah] was despised (held in contempt, disdained) and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed (valued) him not. Isaiah 53:3 

Did you ever think that, out of his deep love for us, Jesus emptied and abased himself to become of no reputation, a weak human, taking on our sin, enduring the shame of being crucified on a cross – in order that we might be crucified with him, cleansed of our shame, emptied out of our sin, made pure and holy in him, so that we could truly love others? 

Loving others is what it is all about. Loving others is what I wish I could do. Loving others is pretty much what I fail to do continually. But to do that I have to start at the cross. I have to start with being crucified with him. I have to die, be emptied of self, of all the self-stuff, and let him live in me every day – and that is hard.   

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 

Philippians 2:5 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” And, in fact, 1 Corinthians 2:16 declares that we do have the mind of Christ. We just have to be willing to yield. I want to be willing – will you make me willing Lord? – to forsake reputation and honor and pride and self-reliance and my own thinking and to have this mind that was in Christ Jesus. Work in me, Lord, to be willing to be emptied and abased, a “fool for Christ,” “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things,” to be crucified with Christ, in order that you can love people through me. That they may know “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  

We are fools for Christ’s sake …When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 1 Corinthians 4:10, 12-13 (ESV) 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him … We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:9, 19 (ESV) 

He was a man of no reputation  

And by the wise, considered a fool  

When He spoke about faith and forgiveness  

In a time when the strongest arms ruled  

But this man of no reputation  

Loves us all with relentless affection  

And He loves all those poor in spirit, come as you are  

To the man of no reputation — Rich Mullins 

Come as you are Salvation  

Image: Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Something Missing

I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.’” 1 Kings 8:25 

The above verse is part of the long prayer that Solomon gave at the dedication of the new Temple. It is the prayer that God responded to with the famous “if my people who are called by my Name” promise. 

As I was reading Solomon’s prayer this time, I realized that something was missing. God promised David that He would be with his descendants IF they were careful to walk before God as David had done. I was expecting a response to that. But the heartfelt response to God didn’t come. You know what was missing? Something like this: 

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 

What I see instead is Solomon basically saying to God, “We are going to sin. But if we turn back and repent when that happens, please forgive us and bless us.” Yes, absolutely, we sin and we will sin and we need God’s mercy and strength to be victorious, and only the blood of the Lamb can save us. But what I don’t see here, in this prayer, is the I-will-follow-no-matter-what determination, the even-if-he-slay-me trust, the tenacious “nevertheless” decision to obey, the our-eyes-are-on-you commitment. I don’t hear the “yet.” I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16 

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 

“If we [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 

How did God reply to Solomon’s prayer? “You must serve me as your father David did” (1 Kings 9:4). And David certainly messed up many times. But David served God wholeheartedly. He did not leave room in his heart for idols, presuming that God would forgive him in the end.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (idolatrous) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 

It seems to me that Solomon said the words, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers” (1 Kings 8:58), but didn’t follow through. He talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. He actually broke a lot of God’s decrees and regulations (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). And he never fully committed to walk with God. 

Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 1 Kings 3:3 

I know that everyone admires Solomon’s prayer and often repeats God’s answer to “hear from heaven,” but without the wholehearted part, without the complete commitment, the no-matter-what part, it seems presumptuous to me. “If I keep saying I’m sorry, surely you will keep forgiving, right? Even though I don’t submit, even though I don’t change, even though I don’t obey, even though I don’t follow.” 

And without that commitment to be careful in what he did and to walk before God as David had walked, what happened to Solomon? He kept his religious obligations to the Temple, sacrificing three times a year (1 Kings 9:25), but he ended up worshiping horrible idols associated with human sacrifice.i 

For when Solomon was old … his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.etestable god of the Ammonites. 1 Kings 11:7 (ESV)

What a fall from grace! Lord, help me to pray David’s prayer. Show me the things in my heart that grieve you and give me grace to turn away from them. Give me grace and strength to follow after you wholeheartedly. Nothing missing. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 

i New World Encyclopedia https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/chemosh 

Image in the Public Domain 

At a Distance

We are not betting on ourselves.

“Our heavenly Father isn’t looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. He’s looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because we’ve settled once and for all, ‘My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.’” — David Wilkerson 

For some reason, this quote is really hitting something at my core. I recognize that this is what I have been doing – dredging up the faith for one horrible incoming missile at a time. But a “lifelong commitment to believe for the impossible”- why is that so hard for me? I think because I am following at a distance.  

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14:54 

The truth was, that even though Peter had walked on the water; even though he had seen the transfiguration and declared Jesus the Christ – Peter still wasn’t irrevocably committed. He was waiting to see what would happen. Like me waiting to see where this next bomb will fall and the outcome before committing to faith for the next one. 

“I think most of us do everything we can, unconsciously, mostly, to detach ourselves from The Story and stand by, observing from a safe distance. But the point of The Story is this: the Christ event was not a bittersweet event long ago that we reenact liturgically and aesthetically to settle some faint longing within. The Story is a template of our own innermost truth. To live we must die.” — Suzanne Guthrie 

Ah yes, observing from a safe distance. But “lifelong commitment” demands being willing to die. Or, as A.W. Tozer put it, “Christians ought to be those who are so totally committed that it is final.”i  Our God, who is forever fully, intensely, passionately, one-track committed to us, desires this kind of final lifetime faith from us. A faith that does not watch from a distance, but is willing to go, with him, all the way to the cross. 

Does the Scripture mean nothing to you that says, “The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us”? James 4:5 (TPT) 

Because Your loving-commitment is better than life, my lips do praise You. Psalm 63: 3 (The Scriptures 2009) 

The Hebrew word translated “loving-commitment” above is chesed, or hesed. It’s meaning is as big as God himself, including love, mercy and faithfulness. But Koehler Baumgartner’s Lexicon of the Old Testament describes hesed as also including the idea of the “mutual liability of those … belonging together.” I love that – those belonging together – “My lover is mine and I am his “(Song of Songs 2:16). But it is so much more than just a legal liability.  

According to gotquestions.org, “The core idea of this term communicates loyalty or faithfulness within a relationship. Thus, hesed is closely related to God’s covenant with His people, Israel. As it relates to the concept of love, hesed expresses God’s faithfulness to His people … Hesed finds its home in committed, familial love, and it comes to life in actions. 

The message of the gospel—God’s act of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus—is rooted in hesed. Hesed describes the disposition of God’s heart not only toward His people but to all humanity. The love of God extends far beyond duty or expectation. His forgiveness of sin fulfills a need that is basic to all other needs in the relationship between human beings and God—the restoration and continuation of fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. God’s hesed manifested in forgiveness makes a relationship with Him possible. That forgiveness comes to us freely as a gift from God based on the sacrificial act of Christ.” —  https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-hesed.html  

And, as to those incoming missiles, I think J.D. Walt says it best. 

“We do not fret as to whether the odds are in our favor precisely because we are not betting on ourselves. The odds do not matter one whit to those who are already ‘all in.’ It is God with whom we deal, not our detractors or enemies.” — J.D. Walt 

Am I “all in?” Are you? It is the essential question of our times. 

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:8 

The Decision-less Middle

The message the Lord is giving me this week from the blogs and devotionals I follow is a sobering, but extremely relevant, one. Thank you to all the bloggers I follow. Be set free.

For the time is coming when they will no longer listen and respond to the healing words of truth because they will become selfish and proud. They will seek out teachers with soothing words that line up with their desires, saying just what they want to hear. (2 Tim. 4:2-3 The Passion Translation) 

“The Living Word exposes these self-inflicted boundaries to us—piercing our hearts, interpreting our innermost motives, and even challenging our cherished assumptions. This is why I contend that we should learn to let the Bible study us. 

For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword. It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts. (Heb. 4:12 The Passion Translation) 

Here’s the danger. Without this continual ‘piercing,’ without the Spirit’s constant recalibration of our perspective, without letting Holy Spirit speak through other people we’re in community with, who may even irritate us at times, our unexamined life will be just be following our own confirmation bias. 

They will seek out teachers with soothing words that line up with their desires, saying just what they want to hear.  

Like birds of a feather flocking together, we’ll only be open to teachers we already agree with. We will have stopped ‘the eyes of our hearts from being enlightened’ (Eph.1:18), resting in a truth that makes us comfortable instead the Truth that makes us truly free.” — blogged by Mel Wild https://melwild.wordpress.com/2021/02/23/will-we-follow-holy-spirit-or-our-confirmation-bias/  

Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (NASB). 

“These words bothered me. They still do. They set up a stark contrast I have never managed to get past. On the one hand: the whole world. On the other hand: my soul. I so want to dwell somewhere in the decision-less middle. I want a life overflowing with monetary wealth and I want a soul filled with God. The text tells me I must decide on one or the other. As a kid, I somehow knew the splinter of this saying would pulsate with nagging pain until I aimed my life in one of these two directions. It was clear to me. These roads led to two completely different destinations, and one of those would look like great gain and yet be complete loss. Little did I know at the time how these words would stick in my soul like a tiny shard of wood even to the present day. As an adult, I now know this is not a one-time transaction. It’s an everyday decision. “– J.D. Walt, How I Got a Splinter in My Soul and How I Got It Out  https://www.seedbed.com/how-i-got-a-splinter-in-my-soul-and-how-i-got-it-out/  

“… Janet Malcolm from her book In the Freud Archives: ‘There are few among us who do not resist self-knowledge. We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and ourselves constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally — and not by dint of our own efforts but the under the pressure of external events — we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm.’ 

When naked in the storm of his own sin, King David stared at the unvarnished reality of his bad moves. He confessed his sins and asked for mercy, ‘According to your steadfast love….’ (Psalm 51) We like David can embrace our true selves and confess our sins. Because we know God is forgiving and our time is finite: life will end. And we can lose or win by our actions or simply lose on time … With God’s help, I’ll sweep away self-deception to reveal my true self. And make good use of the time I’ve been given.” — blogged by Carole Duff  https://caroleduff.com/2021/02/22/losing-on-time/  

“Not only will Jesus have to take up his cross – you and I will. There’s no nicer, refined, more reasonable way, even if we carefully surround ourselves solely with nice, refined, reasonable churchy people. 

For true life requires complete surrender to it. And what will be the point of gaining the whole world by thinking as the world thinks, if it means falling short of true life?”  -Suzanne Guthrie, At the Edge of the Enclosure 

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32 (NKJV) 

Photo copyright by Derek Bair

“Come down from the cross!”

Whenever we are insulted and mocked for Christ’s sake it is a provocation to come down from the cross.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. Matthew 27:39-42 

Come down from the cross! As Christians, we are to be crucified with Christ, and whenever we are insulted and mocked for Christ’s sake it is a provocation to come down from the cross. This is man’s remedy. It is man’s way to show strength. It is like kids in the schoolyard, “You say you’re so tough? Prove it! Come over here and fight!” It reminds me of this verse: 

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Luke 9:51-55 

This was not the first time that Jesus had been tempted to prove himself, justify himself – glorify himself – with the words “IF you are the Son of God.” Turn these stones to bread! Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple! Come down from the cross! But Jesus always remained fiercely focused on the will of his Father – the salvation of the world. Love kept him focused. Love kept him nailed to the cross.

Man’s remedy is to come down from the cross. To call down fire from heaven. But what did Jesus command? “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44). I like how the Message translation puts it. 

You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best–the sun to warm and the rain to nourish–to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. Matthew 5:43-45  

Jesus said that this loving-your-enemies thing, this giving like God gives is to be daily. And it can only happen if we deny that self that wants to call down fire. It can only happen If we have been crucified with Christ, if we stay there hanging on the cross with him. Daily. 

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily (throughout the day) and follow me.” Luke 9:23 

I am to be daily crucified with Jesus. Hidden in him, I am to be his witness. To be a representative of his love and forgiveness and salvation here on this dying earth. Henri Nouwen said it this way: 

“Whenever, contrary to the world’s vindictiveness, we love our enemy, we exhibit something of the perfect love of God, whose will is to bring all human beings together as children of one Father. Whenever we forgive instead of getting angry at one another, bless instead of cursing one another, tend one another’s wounds instead of rubbing salt into them, hearten instead of discouraging one another, give hope instead of driving one another to despair, hug instead of harassing one another, welcome instead of cold-shouldering one another, thank instead of criticizing one another, praise instead of maligning one another . . . in short, whenever we opt for and not against one another, we make God’s unconditional love visible.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen 

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 

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with 

(rendered idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative, deprived of force, influence, power, caused to cease, severed, separated, loosed from us, put an end to, annulled, abolished, destroyed, made of no effect, vanish away, made void)

that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Romans 6:6-7 

I love that! The old me is unemployed. The one who wants to come down from cross and curse and hate and malign is inactivated. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you – don’t come down from the cross. In this time of insults and mockery and hatred, don’t respond in kind. Stay there on the cross with your Lord. Take it up daily. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself”(John 12:31). That is our mission. To draw all men to Christ. To make God’s unconditional love visible. To give God’s best. To love and forgive and bless no matter what. To be crucified with Christ. 

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross 

Image, Coventry cathedral father forgive, by David Perry https://flic.kr/p/qfiB6r  

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