Every Evil Attack

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24 (NIV)

For months I had felt the urge to go on a road trip. I thought God was prompting me to go to a women’s conference. I asked friends and family to go with me to various conferences, but nothing worked out. Then out of the blue I was given a brand new pair of perfect fitting hiking boots (my old ones had literally fallen apart), and a couple of weeks later my son asked me to go with him to Yellowstone National Park. What a glorious gift! I knew this was what God had been preparing me for.

I had some qualms. First, I have always been afraid of the grizzly bears and wildfires “out west.” My niece was just then a few miles from the Carr fire in Redding, California. To be honest, I was also afraid of things going wrong – again. My son has had a lot of challenges in his life. Born premature, he suffered from severe asthma growing up. He also has a learning disability and endured bullying and misunderstanding from students and teachers. More recently, he had been beat up by a couple of teens playing the “knockout game,” been diagnosed with more severe health issues, and consequently lost his job. The year before he had tried a Yellowstone trip only to have it cut short when his car broke down. While his advice to me when I had my panics was, “Don’t worry about it” (with a Rocky Balboa accent), he had to fight off defeatism. So, I asked God for a verse or two to cling to, and he gave me the above verses. I particularly hung on to “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack,” thinking of the bears. What I didn’t know was that the “attack” God was thinking of was not to be a physical one.

As we traveled, we prayed together Psalm 73:23-24, that the Lord would hold us by our right hands and guide us with His counsel. The trip out was wonderful – beautiful scenery (we saw a waterspout coming down from a big, white thunderhead surrounded by a rainbow, antelope in endless grasslands, and miles of sunflowers) and sweet fellowship. When we arrived at Yellowstone, we were greeted by two things: a small forest fire started by lightning (https://yellowstoneinsider.com/2018/08/07/new-yellowstone-fire-emerges-bacon-rind-fire-keeps-growing-albeit-slowly/), and a sign at the campground announcing that grizzlies frequent the site. Did I mention that we were tent camping? I could almost hear God chuckling. But, we drove in and immediately got a place to set up our tent, though we had no reservation. I clung to 2 Timothy 4:18, especially the first part – tried not to think about the “heavenly kingdom” part.

Every day we had a wonderful time praying together as we drove through amazing scenery. Once, overcome in the Holy Spirit, my son had to pull over as he prayed. We kept praying Psalm 73, that God would hold us by our right hands and guide us with his counsel, and things went well. We got places to park in crowded parking lots where long lines waited just as someone was leaving. Geysers erupted as though just for us. We had good weather, no rain, we didn’t hear anything more about the fire – and we didn’t see any grizzlies. It was glorious. But after a few days I felt a warning from the Lord that a time of testing was coming and to be ready.

The first thing that happened was that Derek’s GPS died and he ran out of minutes. We had been relying on the lady in the phone to tell us where to go and we had no maps with us. All I had was a little 10-year-old flip phone and no way to charge it, so it was fading fast. Our next destination was Mount Rushmore, but as we headed East with no map and no place to buy an atlas, we both were fighting off fear and not a little panic. We prayed Psalm 73 out loud and asked God to continue guiding us. And God continued to give us little gifts along the way. We found ourselves driving right past Little Bighorn, a place we had wanted to see but seemed too far out of the way on our previous route. So we stopped in. We got a little more direction there from a park ranger and found our way to Mount Rushmore. At that park we picked up a little one-page handout that got us on the road again heading East, and I noticed going right through Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Wall Drug store, another place I had always wanted to visit. We decided to stop there for the night.

Wall Drug was very cool, but when we came out and got in the car it would not start. My son chose now to tell me that he had been having trouble with the starter. We tried some things and a couple of helpful men on the street took a look, but they just shook their heads and, yep, pointed to a possible problem with the starter.  I called my sister for prayer, but my phone ran out of power just as I finished telling her the problem. And there we were. Almost a thousand miles from home and no phone. It occurred to me that God was slowly taking away from us everything that we had been relying on, leaving us with only Him. I was immediately in my paralyzed PTSD panic mode and my son started to sink into a familiar “what’s the point?” mentality, a feeling my husband had identified as futility.

The Sheriff deputies assured us they wouldn’t tow the car and pointed us to a repair shop that would open early the next morning, so we loaded up and walked to the motel. I knew we needed another word. I told my son to ask God for a verse to hold on to and he opened up the Bible. In just a few seconds he looked up and said to me, “Mom, repeat this after me.”

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22 NIV)

With tears I sang it back to him, for these were words to a song that God had given me when my son was a baby. I had offered it to the music ministry at church, but it had never been used and had lain dormant all these years. “God meant it for now, Mom,” he confirmed. My son’s faith was boosted. Mine not so much – too many bad things had happened – I was having a real hard time.

The next morning, we got up early to walk to the auto shop and wait for the mechanic to arrive. On the way my son decided to try once more to start the car. He put the key in the ignition and then stopped and looked up at me. “Mom, do you believe?” I admitted my struggle, but I had to make the decision to put faith in God’s Word and fight off fear. “Yes,” I told him. He turned the key and it started. I knew I was watching a miracle happen – and not just the car, in my son. We drove over to the repair shop where the mechanic told us we could wait around for a couple of weeks for a part, or drive all the way home without turning the car off. At first, in the cool of the morning, we thought, sure we can drive 16 hours straight if we take turns. Well, that didn’t happen. We had to turn it off a couple of times, but, as we trusted in Him, God was “our help and our shield” and we got home the next day with no problems.

When we returned my sister told me that, while praying for us, God had given her a vision of two big, strong men, dressed in black, attacking us by the car. She thought it was a physical attack and prayed for our safety and help. But those two big strong men were fear and futility. Faith is something, I learned, for which we must fight.

Fight (struggle, compete for the prize, contend with the adversary) the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 (NASB)

Worthless Words

It seems shocking to read Jeremiah call God unfaithful and deceitful, but isn’t that what we do every time we utter pessimistic, fatalistic, cynical, and despairing words? “What’s the use?” “Nobody cares?” “It’s hopeless!” and even worse, things like “I hate my life” “I wish I were dead!”

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? Therefore this is what the LORD says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman.” Jeremiah 15:18-19

 

For many brutal years Jeremiah was faithful to deliver the Word of God burning in his heart (Jeremiah 20:9). But here he gives in to despair and basically accuses God of being unfaithful and a liar. Earlier in this book (Jeremiah 2:13) God called Himself “the spring of living water.” Here Jeremiah calls God “a deceptive brook,” “a spring that fails.” The word translated “deceptive” means deceitful, treacherous, deception, lie, deceptive, disappointing. Like a mirage in the desert that you run to, but there is no water. Or a spring that is not reliable, not something you can count on, not faithful.

To be fair, Jeremiah was given a very tough mission by God. Called to prophesy things no one wanted to hear, he was persecuted and vilified. And he had to do it all alone, as he was commanded not to marry (Jeremiah 16:2). In verse 15:10 he expresses his wish that he had never been born: “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!” He is called the “weeping prophet.”¹

It is so very easy to let negative, “worthless words” come out of our mouths in the midst of hard times – or even minor irritations. It is a particular weakness of mine which I struggle against. And God has, and is, using this verse to help me. It seems shocking to read Jeremiah call God unfaithful and deceitful, but isn’t that what we do every time we utter pessimistic, fatalistic, cynical, and despairing words? “What’s the use?” “Nobody cares!” “It’s hopeless!” and even worse, things like “I hate my life” “I wish I were dead!” What is the truth? That God has a good plan and purpose for your life (Jeremiah 29:11, Isaiah 55:8-11, Romans 8:28), that He disciplines us in order to make us holy so we can be near Him (Hebrews 12:5-6), that He cares deeply for us (1 Peter 5:7, Zephaniah 3:17), that all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26, Philippians 4:13), and that He is always with us through everything (Psalm 73:23, Matthew 28:20).

God responds to Jeremiah by telling him that he must repent and utter worthy, not worthless words, and let God restore him – and so must I. But, God is not saying it in a harsh, judgmental way. If we look at the Hebrew words we see that they tell a familiar story of God’s mercy and unfailing love.

The Hebrew word translated “worthy” in this verse is yaqar (יָקָר), which means valuable, costly, precious, and rare. It also refers to honor, glory, and reputation. Worthy words, then, are precious, valuable, costly like treasure. They reflect on the glory, honor, and reputation of our God. In contrast, the Hebrew word translated “worthless” is zalal (זָלַל) which means shake, tremble, quake – which is what we feel like in these situations, that our world is being shaken. But also, zalal means to be worthless, vile, to make light of, to squander, to be loose morally, a glutton, a prodigal. So uttering worthless words are like the prodigal son squandering the precious inheritance given him by the father and sullying the father’s reputation – The Name and The Word made flesh. One of my sweet sisters put it this way: “God has given our words power in the spiritual realm and we speak our reality in much the same way He spoke ours into being. When we don’t use them to speak truth we are truly squandering that opportunity to speak into our lives and honor God.”

When God tells Jeremiah to repent, the word is shuwb ( שׁוּב), to return, turn back, go again home, bring back, restore, refresh, repair. The word is used twice in a row – if you shuwb, then I will shuwb. I believe God is saying to Jeremiah, “if you turn back – start to go home, as the prodigal son did in the parable – then I will run out to greet you and bring you back home and restore you to your rightful place as my son, and you will again be my spokesman, or be as my mouth.” He is saying the same to you and me. When we are overwhelmed in hopelessness and despair, uttering “worthless words,” he will bring us back, restore, refresh, and repair us if we turn to Him. And, oh how I need to be repaired!

Let me remember that Jesus is the spring of Living Water that never runs dry, that never fails, never disappoints. May true and life-giving, light-giving words come from my mouth. Let me proclaim the Truth, the Word, no matter what the situation or hardship. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on the Son shining above the storm.

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (NLT)

… in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious (yaqar) cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Isaiah 28:16

 

[1] “Jeremiah”, New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale Press, Wheaton, IL 1987.

Image in the Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons: detail from Return of the Prodigal Son 1667-1670 Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Oil on canvas, 236 x 262 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

In the Morning Let Me Hear

In the morning let me

(shama) hear, listen to, obey, agree with, yield to your
(checed) unfailing love, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, pity, for I
(batach) trust, have confidence in, am bold and secure, in you.
(Yada) Show me, teach me, make known to me, help me to understand, discern, perceive and see, find out, recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess the
(derek) road, way, path, journey, direction, manner in which I should
(halak) walk, live, go, move, proceed, be lead,

for to you I lift up my soul,
You I long for, desire.

Psalm 143:8

 

Photo copyright Jack Bair

Hope Deferred

Love happens in the pain of hope, in the gritting of teeth and walking forward carrying the cross.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Have you ever felt heart-sick waiting for a prayer to be answered, a dream to come true, for the longing of your heart to be fulfilled? The Hebrew word in this verse translated “deferred” is mashak (מָשַׁך) which means to draw out, postpone, drag along. The waiting for hope to be fulfilled can definitely feel like that. But this word also has a surprising positive meaning too. It means to draw back the bow or to trail seed, as in drawing out seed from the bag and sowing it along behind you. In a previous post I explored how praising God is like shooting arrows (see notes on the Hebrew word yadah Prisoners of Hope). So, drawing back the bow is getting ready to praise Him for what we hope He will do. Keeping on believing and hoping, no matter what, no matter how long, is also a way of sowing seeds of life in others.

The word translated “sick” in the above verse is chalah (חָלָה) which means rubbed or worn, weak, sick, afflicted, grieved, diseased, in pain, but also to pray and make supplication, and a woman in travail. It is the same word as in Isaiah 53:10:

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (chalah), and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

Jesus was afflicted, grieved, suffered pain, bore our disease. He also was praying for us (and is!), and travailing for us. He was sowing the most wonderful Seed:

I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

Connecting the ideas of sowing seed and being grieved reminds me of Psalm 126:5-6

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro (walks and walks, continually walks) weeping, carrying his bag of seed (trail of seed, drawing out of seed), Shall indeed come (shall come, shall come! Shall surely come, shall doubtless come) again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (NASB)

Walks and walks, continually walks – hope deferred. And, really, isn’t all hope deferred? It may be five minutes, or it may be 40 years, but if what you’re hoping for isn’t happening right now you have to hope for it. Paul said these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest is love.† You must have faith to have hope, faith in the One who promised, or there is no reason for hope. And love happens in the pain of hope, in the gritting of teeth and walking forward carrying the cross. Sowing the seed in tears, praying and travailing, pushing into the pain to bring forth life in death. Hope deferred, for me then, is the drawing back of the bow believing that I will be shooting the arrows of praise some day for answered prayer and fulfilled promises. “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). Hope deferred is continuing to walk forward, following after Him, letting Him work in me, changing me. It is praying and travailing, speaking life, sowing the seeds of hope and redemption and salvation, in hope that they will spring up to His Life in me and – in His mighty power – others, sometime, somewhere.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. Romans 8:19-25 (NASB)

Image: The Sower (After Millet) by Vincent van Gogh [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

† 1 Corinthians 13:13

The Mutual Gaze

Have you ever seen two lovers staring into each other’s eyes, or have you been one? When my husband and I were going together we could sit and gaze into each other’s eyes forever, it seemed, without saying a word, and be perfectly happy and content. That same kind of mutual gaze appears in the Bible between God and the apple of His eye, His delight and love – that’s us!

“When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is ‘Thou God seest me.’ When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Chapter 7, The Gaze of the Soul)

“God looks at us lovingly, searching for room in our hearts. Knowing this, how can we not turn our attention to God? In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him. He so esteems our turning to look at Him.” —St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, 26.3

“Meanwhile brethren, that we may be healed from sin, let us now gaze on Christ crucified; for ‘as Moses,’ saith He, ‘lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth on Him may not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Just as they who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites, so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins.” – Augustine, Tractate XII ch.3 Homilies on the Gospel of John

Have you ever seen two lovers staring into each other’s eyes, or have you been one? When my husband and I were going together we could sit and gaze into each other’s eyes forever, it seemed, without saying a word, and be perfectly happy and content. That same kind of mutual gaze appears in the Bible between God and the apple of His eye, His delight and love – that’s us!

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes (gazes at) the sons of men; his eyes examine (try, prove) them … For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright (straight, level) men will see (gaze at) his face. (Psalm 11:4 and 11:7 NIV)

At first, these verses may sound kind of scary. He is examining me to see if I am upright? Sounds like I am being judged. Can I only gaze back if I pass the test? Job 36:7 says “He does not take his eyes off the righteous.” But who is righteous? In this verse God is looking down at us, and the righteous are gazing back at Him. Sometimes God is gazing only hopefully, as in Psalm 14:2, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” He is always looking for somebody who is looking back.

But, if I had to depend on my own merits I would never be able to look him “full in his wonderful face” as in the beautiful hymn by Helen H. Lemmel, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. In my own strength I will always fall short; I will always fail and hurt those around me. But he loved us and yearned so much for us to have that relationship with him, to be able to gaze back, that he made a way through Jesus. In Numbers 21 the people of Israel were being bitten by poisonous snakes and dying. God gave Moses instructions to save them: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ 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 21:8-9). Jesus refers to this incident in John 3:14-16 when he said,

“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.”

So just as the Israelites had to look at the metal snake and believe that it would heal them, so we look up at Jesus hanging on the cross and believe in what he accomplished there. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Me and you, the righteousness of God! He did that for us so that we could gaze back, unafraid, unashamed. In Hebrews, Paul urges us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus.

Let us fix our eyes (consider attentively, look, turn the eyes away from other things and fix them) on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy (gladness, persons who are one’s 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 NIV)

Jesus had his eyes fixed on us as he endured the cross – the “persons who are one’s joy”† – and the joyful fellowship we would have together. Let us turn away from all things that would keep us from gazing back – sin, rebellion, self-centeredness – and fix our eyes on him as we walk with him on our journey, for we are his joy and he is ours! Let us pray with David:

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4 NIV)

Keith Green put it so well.

Oh Lord, You’re beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me

Oh Lord, please light the fire
That once burned bright and clear
Replace the lamp of my first love
That burns with holy fear

I want to take Your word and shine it all around
But first help me just to live Lord
And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown
For my reward is giving glory to You

Oh Lord, You’re beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me

(from Oh Lord You’re Beautiful by Keith Green)

“O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

† Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

Faith, Part Two

Faith is not a noun, in that it is not something you have to capture, like a butterfly in a net, or a song you have to perform, technically correct, for a panel of judges. It is something you do; you believe in, you have faith in Jesus.

In the New Testament, Jesus says some breathtaking things about faith and belief. He causes a fig tree to wither from the roots, and when the disciples are amazed he says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith (pistis) and do not doubt (diakrino), not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe (pisteuo), you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:21-22 NIV)

My reaction to the verses above has been: Have faith in what? Believe what? Faith in my ability to have enough faith? Faith in a perfect prayer – saying the perfect words at the perfect time with the perfect amount of faith? Faith in a magic formula? The answer lies in the meanings of those two Greek words, pistis (πίστις) and pisteuo (πιστεύω).

Pistis, translated faith above, means “conviction of the truth of anything … conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust … a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation … belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same … the character of one who can be relied on.”i

Pisteuo, translated believe, means “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in … to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something, saving faith … to entrust, especially one’s spiritual well-being, to Christ.”

Both words come from the root word peitho (πείθω), which means to trust, have confidence, believe, be convinced or persuaded, “to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person.”  So, the belief or trust that Jesus is talking about here is not in how much faith I can dredge up or in my ability to say the magic words, but a deep confidence and trust in him and in his character. It is to have faith in the person of Jesus. It is to know Him and who He is. (By the way, the definition of the Greek word diakrino (διακρίνω) besides meaning, “to hesitate or doubt,” also means “to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend.” Sound familiar? See Hostile combatants and Hostile combatants two.)

Faith, Part One, talked about being fully committed to God in faith. “Abram believed (trusted, was certain of, believed in) the LORD, and he credited (reckoned, imputed) it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 NIV). Abram trusted, was certain of the Lord. He was fully committed. Why? I think it was because he knew God. He had conversations with God; he had been following God’s lead for a while now. He trusted God enough to leave everything and go off into an unknown place and future. And God knew Abraham too (Genesis 18:17-19). God even called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). They walked and talked together; they ate together (Genesis 18:1-6). Faith that goes beyond mere religious blind belief is one that has walked with God and experienced His love and so knows His character.

Matthew tells of a Canaanite woman whom Jesus praised for her faith (Matthew 15:22-28 NIV).

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

I always thought that Jesus was impressed with her witty comeback about the dogs and the crumbs. Or, maybe it was her persistence – “she keeps crying out after us” – and that was part of it, I’m sure. But, look at what she says in verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” She didn’t call him Jesus of Nazareth, or rabbi, or teacher, but Lord, Son of David. To call him Lord, “expresses her faith in his power, dominion, and government, that all persons and things, and so all diseases were at his command, and control; and that being Lord of all, he could remove them at his pleasure: the other shows her knowledge and belief of him, as the Messiah, that being a name by which he was usually known by the Jews.”ii To call him Son of David was to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. She knew who he really was, what he had power to do.

Ann Voskamp has written that “[b]elief is a verb, something that you do.”iii In the same way, faith is not a noun, in that it is not something you have to capture, like a butterfly in a net, or a song you have to perform, technically correct, for a panel of judges. It is something you do; you believe in, you have faith in Jesus – leaning back on his chest at the table, reaching your hand out to grasp his catching yours, leaving all to follow. Fully committed. Faith that is fully committed is one that has walked with God and experienced his love and so knows his character, his ultimate goodness. So let us turn our eyes away from our puny selves and seek to know God. Let us press on to know him (Hosea 6:3)

“It is the faith that continually closes its eyes to the weakness of the creature and finds its joy in the sufficiency of an Almighty Savior that makes the soul strong and glad. It gives itself up to be led by the Holy Spirit into an ever deeper appreciation of that wonderful Savior whom God has given us—the Infinite Immanuel … there is something more necessary than the effort to exercise faith in each separate promise that is brought under our notice. What is of even greater importance is the cultivation of a trustful disposition toward God, the habit of always thinking of Him, of His ways and His works, with bright confiding hopefulness.” — Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ

“We do not think highly enough of this love of Christ. If we did, we would be more confident in it. I know I am far from alone when I say that I grieve that I do not trust his love more. It is most tenacious. It will never let go. Who can separate us from it? (Rom. 8:35).” — Douglas Taylor, blog Strong as Death http://worksworthdeclaring.blogspot.com/2011/11/strong-as-death.html (21 November 2011)

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69 NIV).

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day (2 Tim.1:12 NIV).

 

 All definitions in quotes come from Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament unless otherwise noted. 

ii Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/gill/mat015.htm  

iii One Thousand Gifts, p. 33 

 

Faith, Part One

Full commitment to faith in God is something I have struggled with for a long time. For some of us, our parents (or others we have trusted) have not had strong arms, some of us have been dropped (actually and/or figuratively), we hold back, fail to fully commit, we are used to protecting ourselves, not trusting anybody.

I have been doing a study of Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited (reckoned, imputed) it to him as righteousness” (NIV). This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Romans, Galatians, and James when pointing to real faith and its importance. What is this faith? The Hebrew word translated “believed” in the verse above is aman (אָמַן). Harris, Archer, & Waltke† say this about aman – “The basic root idea is firmness or certainty … it expresses the basic concept of support and is used in the sense of the strong arms of the parent supporting the helpless infant.” Aman “basically means ‘to cause to be certain, sure’ or ‘to be certain about’, ‘to be assured’ and shows that Biblical faith is an assurance, a certainty …” I love that imagery! The strong arms of the parent – “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).

But then the commentary says this: “[this definition is] in contrast with the modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true but not certain”.

“Something possible, hopefully true but not certain” – wow, that hit me. I felt God putting His finger on something deep in my heart. Full commitment to faith in God is something I have struggled with for a long time. For some of us, our parents (or others we have trusted) have not had strong arms, some of us have been dropped (actually and/or figuratively), we hold back, fail to fully commit, we are used to protecting ourselves, not trusting anybody. We wistfully look at those promises in the Bible as hopefully true, it’s possible that God loves us, but we are not certain. Some of us, because of what we’ve suffered, even believe that God himself has dropped us.

But God has fully committed Himself to us. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ (verily! truly! trustworthy! truth!) is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20 NIV). “Yes” in Christ! He wrote a new unbreakable covenant with us in His own blood. There is no way that He will go back on that covenant or all His promises to us. It is impossible, for His very nature is truth, trustworthiness, faithfulness, and unfailing love.

For my father and my mother have forsaken (abandoned, neglected, deserted) me, But the LORD will take me up (gather, receive me, hold me close). (Psalm 27:10 NASB)

Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them (that’s us!) out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29 NASB)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Psalm 73:23 NIV)

Cast (throw, cast, hurl, fling, throw away, cast off, shed, cast down) your cares (burden, lot, that which is given) on the Lord (Yahweh) and he (he himself) will sustain you (seize, contain, support, hold in, bear you); he will never let (grant, permit, allow ever, not from antiquity to throughout eternity) the righteous to fall (totter, shake, slip, to be greatly shaken, moved, overthrown, he will not let you fall, he will not drop you). (Psalm 55:22 NIV)

There is so much to say about faith that I will continue in Part Two next time. Lord, give me grace to be fully committed to You.

† Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, Bruce K. Waltke, p. 51

Yet God

“Yet” is my favorite word in the Bible. That may seem weird, but what comes after “yet” in many verses so often is a startling declaration of the faithfulness of God, of faith, hope, or of steely resolve to persevere.

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23 NIV)

“Yet” is my favorite word in the Bible. That may seem weird, but what comes after “yet” in many verses so often is a startling declaration of the faithfulness of God, of faith, hope, or of steely resolve to persevere. Many times, these are some of the most beautiful and inspiring verses in the Bible.

What comes before David’s declaration above in Psalm 73 is his expression of frustration and anger at the seeming injustice of God, saying at one point, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14). His doubt and bitterness increase to the point of acting “senseless and ignorant” like a “brute beast” before God.

Yet! Even through all that, God is still there with David, even after he has doubted and spouted off a lot of stupid things. I can deeply relate, yet God is always with me too. He is holding my hand through all the turmoil and pain.

Sometimes what comes after the word “yet” is a declaration of belief that no matter how bad things are, how impossible they seem, God will come through in the end, as in Job’s great proclamation of the resurrection.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV)

Sometimes it is a decision/affirmation that if things never turn out the way I would like, even if God never appears to “come through,” I will still praise Him.

“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 NIV)

And Job again, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15 NIV)

And Jeremiah’s beautiful statement of faith and hope in the midst of a long recounting of the horrors he and the people of Israel have endured:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23 NIV)

And the most beautiful and heartrending “yet” of all from Jesus:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV)

Yet. I will hang on to that word with all my heart, hanging on to the God who is hanging on to me.

Yet He is with me
Yet I will see Him
Yet I will praise Him
Yet I will rejoice
Yet I will hope
Yet I will follow
Yet God!

Image, Baby’s hand, by Fruity Monkey on flickr https://flic.kr/p/99tqDR