Flash Forth!

Those flashes through the waves are very brief, but glorious. Like our lives. Like our attempts to be light and to glorify our Lord.

Have you ever sat on the beach as the sun lowers and watched the waves flash? It’s one of my favorite things to do. The sun is just at the right angle to shine through the waves for those few seconds as they rise and then tumble over toward the shore. And they flash. There is a word for praise in Hebrew that means to flash forth. It is halal – to flash forth light, to shine, celebrate, praise. It also means to act like a madman (I love that).

There is another word for praise that I have blogged about here Prisoners of Hope. That word is yadah. Yadah is shooting arrows. Yadah is strength. It’s hope. Yadah is fighting against the darkness. Halal is just pure praise, just because. Being a conduit of God’s light. Shining or flashing forth his glory. Like waves flashing the glory of the setting sun.

Halal is the first part of the Hebrew Hallelujah, or halal Yahh. Yahh being the sacred name, the proper name of the one true God. It is a contraction of Jehovah or Yahweh. Halal Yahh is translated into Greek as alleluia or hallelujah. It is the last ecstatic shout of the book of Psalms.

Let everything that has breath praise (halal) the LORD (Yahh). Praise (halal) the LORD (Yahh). Psalm 150:6

Those flashes through the waves are very brief, but glorious. Like our lives. Like our attempts to be light and to glorify our Lord. But each little flash, each little light adds to that unique glory.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Lord, help me be a little flash today. Let your light dispel the darkness!

Image by Susanne Nilsson, Sunset light in a Wave https://flic.kr/p/qjjpAu

Just

Thank you for

just

for only

for though

even though

even when

Thank you for

but

for yet

Yet!

always

Thank you for

with

for

You

***

Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18

Yet I am always with you. Psalm 73:23a

Photo by Sheila Bair

How Long?

He knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. Psalm 13

The beginning words of this Psalm are familiar to me. I have said them a lot in the past 48 years. “How long, Lord? Feeling like I am forgotten, that God has turned away. Especially the “wrestling with my thoughts” part. These verses seem almost scandalously unfaithful – Charles Spurgeon called this the “How long Psalm,” or the “Howling Psalm.” But the words are real. It is how we feel many times. I am so glad that God let them stay in the Bible.

There are many other places, especially in the Psalms, where the Holy Spirit includes these scandalous thoughts and cries. Our being real with God does not bother him. In fact, he loves it when we turn to him and cry out to him, even with doubts in our hearts. Because he knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us. And he will respond. His father-heart cannot help but respond. And we can trust in his unfailing love, his chesed. The Psalmist always, somehow, comes back to that trust.

It made me smile when I saw that the Hebrew word chesed, which tries to encompass the kindness and mercy and goodness of God, is translated into Greek as Bethesda – the House of Mercy. This is the name of the pool where they would lay the many disabled people – lame and blind and paralyzed – and they would wait. Wait for the chesed. One man had waited 38 years when Jesus came and healed him. I imagine he may have wondered many times “How long, Lord?”

But sometimes God has to wait for us. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to become well?” I can hear him adding to himself, “now? Yet? Are you ready?” Because we have much to wrestle with – me in particular. Much anger and resentment and pride and rebellion to fight through and howl about.  But God is there. And he is working in us, whether we can see or feel it or not. He won’t give up on us, even if it takes a thousand years. So, we can say:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

When You Are In Darkness

I will give you the treasures (storehouse, treasury, magazine of weapons in the armory of God)

of darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, obscurity, night)

and hidden wealth (buried treasure) of secret places,

So that you may know (perceive, recognize, comprehend, understand)

that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel,

who calls (summons, invites, calls for, calls and commissions, calls and endows, appoints) you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

Aurora borealis may be stunningly spread across the sky, but we may not be able to see because there is too much light. The darker the night, the better viewing … Your black clouds give the sun its chance. It is surprise, it is escape from darkness to light that makes life so rich. Your prison is also your paint box from which all the beauty you know is pouring. — Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic 

The dark is not your fault, the dark is not about blame. The dark is about bravely being a canvas for light — about courageously letting your dark be a canvas for sparks of God glory, a backdrop for ambers of mercy in the midst of your fire. — Ann Voskamp[i]  

When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light. — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you-the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death and, what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life. And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven. — A.W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian, pp. 124 

What to do with our losses? . . . We must mourn our losses. We cannot talk or act them away, but we can shed tears over them and allow ourselves to grieve deeply. To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness. Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing. . . . But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice. It is the voice of the One who says: “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.” That’s the unexpected news: there is a blessing hidden in our grief. Not those who comfort are blessed, but those who mourn! Somehow, in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden. Somehow, in the midst of our mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. Somehow, the cries that well up from our losses belong to our songs of gratitude. – Henri Nouwen

When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in.  Psalm 112:4a (NLT) 

Image copyright Derek Bair


[i] Ann Voskamp, The Christian Church, Suicide & Mental Health: When It’s Down to the Wire & Things Are on Fire, blog September 10, 2019 

The Smell

In the interval between the obedience and the seeing

“Take away the stone,” [Jesus] said. “But, LORD,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:39-40

Every time I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead I think about the same thing. The smell. Martha warns Jesus that there will be a bad odor of death if they take away the stone. But, Jesus commands them to remove the stone anyway – I always imagine them moving the stone and backing quickly away, covering their faces. And then, as they are standing there trying not to breathe too much — Jesus prays for a while.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

So, there was this interval between their obedience in taking away the stone and actually seeing Lazarus walk out. They must have stood there gaging on the strong odor after four days in the heat as Jesus prayed. Did Jesus do this on purpose? Jesus says he prayed “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you [the Father] sent me.” Did Jesus let them wait in the smell of death for their benefit?  I think so.

Remember when he told the disciples that Lazarus was dead he said, “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He wanted there to be absolutely no doubt as to it being a miracle, and that nobody but God could have done it. Like a man seeing who was blind from birth. Like an old woman giving birth to a son. Like Elijah pouring water on the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:30-33) until it filled the trench.

I grieve that many of us are there in the interval between obedience and answered prayer. And it smells like death and it looks like death and we are trying not to give in to despair. Then, all of a sudden I realize something gaspingly wonderful. What were they waiting for standing outside the tomb? What are we waiting for now? We are waiting for Jesus to pray. It says Jesus prayed. Jesus is always interceding on our behalf. He has not forgotten us, he has not given us up to hopelessness, death and despair. He is praying for us. That gives me hope for which I can joyfully wait.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me (in the past tense)” even before he called Lazarus out. Even in the midst of the hopeless smell of death, in the interval between the obedience and the seeing, Jesus thanked God for hearing and answering. Then he called the dead man out. They all must have breathed deeply about the same time as Lazarus did.

I have been there a lot, standing in the smell of death, waiting for God. Waiting for the tears to turn to joy. I am there now holding my breath. Like the world held its breath in the darkness before the Resurrection. And time stretches long when you are trying not to breathe. But I know that Jesus is praying for me, and in this dark time he is working life in me and in you. And I believe that God keeps his promises. I believe that God’s Word is true. I believe that Lazarus will walk out.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. John 11:41

Image in the Public Domain, Detail from The Raising of Lazarus illumination on parchment, c. 1504

 

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

Center of the Storm

I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and ask him more directly to give you joy, peace, and a pure heart. Purity of heart means a heart where God is the center of your attention. Take a simple sentence like “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want,” and repeat that quietly during the day until the truth of it enters the center of your being. You will always continue to have feelings of depression, anger, and restlessness, but when God dwells in the center of the storm, the storm is less frightening and you can live with trust that in the midst of all of the darkness you will be led to a place of joy and peace.—Henri Nouwen

This quote brought me back to my childhood. Our new house was the last built on the block, and beside and before us to the west were empty fields. That was the direction the storms came from and we could watch them awesomely and terrifyingly racing towards us. Dark sky and writhing, black clouds, and spectacular lightening.

Most of the time my mother would herd us down into the basement to ride out the storm. I know that was the safe place, but there was a lot of fear in that because we couldn’t see what was happening, only hear the roar of the wind and the crash of the thunder, and the ominous warnings coming over the radio.

But sometimes I snuck up to the open garage where my Dad stood watching it come and overtake us. And I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated. We shared the awesomeness and the glory and the majesty of the storm together. I was in the center of the storm. But I was with my Dad. I was never afraid of a storm again.

Nouwen’s suggestion of meditating on the word in these times is a good one. You may feel overwhelmed with what is roaring about you right now. But your Father is always there with you in every storm. Sneak away now to stand with him. Fix your eyes on Him. Be still and know.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56: 3

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

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 41:10

I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this violent storm is past. Psalm 57:1 (NLT)

 

More encouraging verses can be found here: Fear Bible Verses

 

Image, Storm by texaus1 https://flic.kr/p/R41Zbp

 

To the Vanishing Point

Yet I am always (continually, perpetually, constantly, like the daily sacrifice) with you;

you hold (grasp, take hold, seize, take possession of) me by my right hand.

You guide me (guide tenderly, lead me away captive, conduct me along the path) with your counsel (plan, purpose),

and afterwards you will take (get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, acquire, buy, bring, marry, snatch, take away, receive) me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire (delight in, take pleasure in, bend down to) besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail (be spent, be used up, waste away, be exhausted, come to an end, vanish, perish, be destroyed),

but God

But God!

is the strength (the Rock, refuge) of my heart and my portion (allotment, possession, territory, inheritance) forever (everlastingly, unending future, to the vanishing point, eternally, without end).

Psalm 73:23-26

 

Image in the Public Domain

Easter Saturday

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (conquered, prevailed, been victorious).” John 16:33 (NIV)

You probably already knew this, but I just realized that Jesus said this to his disciples at the last supper. After Judas had left to betray him.

Yet, Jesus said, “I HAVE overcome,” because from where God sits, there is no time. Jesus had already overcome, in fact he had overcome from the foundation of the world.

He [the Lamb who was slain] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:18

Jesus knew what the disciples were going to experience in the next days and he wanted to give them something to cling to. He hoped they would remember his words in that dark day between the despair of the crucifixion, and the blazing light and joy of the resurrection. As Philip Yancey wrote, “It was no accident, I believe, that Jesus spoke his triumphant words, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD, even as Roman soldiers were buckling on weapons for his arrest.”

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. Let us rest and abide in the One who promises to always be with us. Let us be still and know that he is God. He has already overcome this dark world, and whether we live or die, our peace is in him, our ultimate home is with him. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“It is a good thing to remember, when we encounter dark, disturbing times, that we live out our days on Easter Saturday.”—Philip Yancey[i]

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NASB)

 

[i] Where is God When it Hurts?