Once Again

Sorry 

I know 

You are there 

You are with me 

You care 

You have a good plan 

You are working 

always  

My heart knows  

I am sitting on your lap 

leaning on your chest 

in the Everlasting Arms 

unfailing 

But  

my head panics 

and once again 

I am flailing  

and I need 

another sign 

another word 

another touch 

You 

I need 

You 

always

Image, Strong by Eduardo Martinez https://flic.kr/p/2ihGeUk   

Living Stones

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him … “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Luke 3:7-8 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Luke 19:39-40 

This morning I smiled as I read these verses, because I realized that the words of John by the river, and the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, were prophetic. Jesus did raise up children from the stones – not for Abraham, but for the Father. The hard stone of our hearts he replaced with flesh (Ezekiel 11:19) and made them living. He did this by giving us the grace of repentance and the gift of justification by faith in his atoning death on the cross.  

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26  

By his blood shed on the cross he enabled us to become children of God and living stones that are being built into his house and into his priesthood.  

But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. Hebrews 3:6 

… and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:6 

Cry out his praise all you stones!  

Photo of stones by Sheila Bair

Reckless Faith

I think that kind of reckless love deserves a reckless faith in return.

“The Lord desires that you believe him to bring you into his promised rest. God never intended that his children live in fear and despair. We need a reckless faith and trust in God in the face of fear, trouble and death itself.” — David Wilkerson (1931-2011), Promises of God for Every Season 

What a good quote for the times we are in! The phrase, “reckless faith,” especially caught my attention, for a couple of reasons. Most of the time, the word “reckless” has a negative connotation to us. While to “reck” means to care, even to worry, about something, “reckless” is defined by The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “Careless of the consequences of one’s actions; heedless (of something); lacking in prudence or caution.”  

The phrase also reminded me of Cory Asbury’s song, Reckless Love.  

The overwhelming, never-ending 
Reckless love of God 
It chases me down 
Fight ’til I’m found 
Leaves the ninety-nine 
I couldn’t earn it 
I don’t deserve it 
Still you give yourself away — from Reckless Love by Cory Asbury 

Cory received some criticism for calling God’s love reckless. I love the defense and explanation he offered on his Facebook page: 

“When I use the phrase, ‘the reckless love of God’, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.” — Cory Asbury, on Facebooki 

God’s reckless love is portrayed by the father in the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal’s father was reckless with his love. Running out like that with his robe flapping, probably exposing his legs (and himself to ridicule). Going against all polite etiquette, tradition and rules pertaining to that sort of situation. Risking his success, reputation, possessions – everything he had worked for all his life.

God’s love is that kind of love – the kind that would send his only son down into this hateful, dark chaos and broken mess. The kind that would “bankrupt heaven” for us.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 

I think that kind of reckless love deserves a reckless faith in return. David had such a faith. Running straight out toward the giant (1 Samuel 17:48), dancing in crazy joy at the return of the Ark – heedless of what people thought, lacking prudence or caution for his safety or reputation.  

David returned home to bless his family. Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to greet him: “How wonderfully the king has distinguished himself today—exposing himself to the eyes of the servants’ maids like some burlesque street dancer!” David replied to Michal, “In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! Oh yes, I’ll dance to God’s glory—more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned . . . I’ll gladly look like a fool . . .” 2 Samuel 6:20-22 (Message) 

What David was saying is, “I will praise and glorify God with all my strength, with all my being, not caring what anybody thinks!” David was a “man after God’s own heart” because he had reckless faith, banishing all care about his reputation, or even care about his personal welfare, striving only to delight his God. In Psalm 62 David wrote: 

My salvation (deliverance, salvation, rescue, safety, welfare) and my honor (glory, reputation) depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Psalm 62:7 

Lord, thank you for your reckless love for me. I want to have a reckless faith in return. In this time of “fear, trouble and death itself,” help me not to live in fear and despair. Give me a reckless faith, a reckless trust, in you and you alone. A faith that simply gives myself away. Let me proclaim, “My salvation and my honor depend on God.” 

And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. — J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King 

i quoted by Jake Gosselin in Reckless Love by Cory Asbury – Song Meaning, Review, and Worship Leading Tips https://churchfront.com/blog-churchfront/2017/11/8/reckless-love-by-cory-asbury-song-meaning-review-and-worship-leading-tips  

Photo, Sunrise on the River, copyright Derek Bair

God’s Sigh

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you … Isaiah 66:13 

The Hebrew word translated “comfort” in this verse is nacham. It means to be sorry for, to be moved to pity, have compassion, console, to sigh, to comfort. The meaning of this kind of comfort was vividly demonstrated to me recently. 

I have been taking care of my newest baby granddaughter. It is so frustrating to be so little and not able to communicate your pains and needs. Recently, she was crying and would not stop. Nothing I tried helped – she refused the bottle, toys, singing, walking around and bouncing, even dancing with her didn’t help. Finally, I just entered into her grief and frustration. I groaned and sighed with her, saying, “Oh poor baby! Nobody knows her problems; nobody understands!”

Almost immediately she relaxed against me and fell asleep on my shoulder. I was amazed. But when I read the above verse God reminded me of this. It was the sighing with her, the pity and consolation, the joining in, the participation with her suffering that comforted in the end. It is the way that God, the great Comforter, participated and participates in our suffering. Henry Allen Ironside describes it this way: 

“As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (verse 13).

Compare chapters 40 and 61 for GOD’s plan and design for His people. The Hebrew word translated “comfort” in this verse is from a root meaning “to sigh!” It says, “As one whom his mother sighs with, so will I sigh with you.” We know how a loving mother enters into the sufferings of her children. Taking the little one in her arms she sighs with him as he sobs out his grief upon her bosom. So does GOD feel for us in our trials. Of old He said concerning Israel when they were in Egyptian bondage, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people. . . I know their sorrows; and am come to deliver them.”  

He is ever the same in His concern for His afflicted children. His great heart of love is moved with compassion as He beholds the ravages that sin has made and the sufferings that it has entailed upon all mankind. Yet we are so slow to refer our troubles to Him, thinking of Him as a stern Judge rather than a tender, loving Father.

H.A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah 

Henri Nouwen in his book about the great painting of Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, describes the welcoming father as a type of our Father God, who is like both a father and a mother to the returning son. 

The Father is not simply a great patriarch. He is mother as well as father. He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand. He holds, and she caresses. He confirms and she consoles. He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present. That gentle caressing right hand echoes for me the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has home? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” … Day and night God holds me safe, as a hen holds her chicks secure under her wings.

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 

Let us not be slow to refer our troubles to God. He is, yes, a righteous Judge, but also our loving Father. Let us return to Him, “sob out our grief,” and find rest on his mighty, gentle shoulder. 

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever. Psalm 131:2-3 (NASB) 

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:3 

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Psalm 119:76 

I, even I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? Isaiah 51:12 (NLT) 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1 3-4 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 21:4 

“Day and night God holds me safe …” 

 

Photo by Jack Bair 

Statistically not interesting

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7

“But God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically that is not very interesting. But for God, numbers never seem to matter … From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy.” – Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Image, The Prodigal Son (The Parables of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ), after Sir John Everett Millais, 1864 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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

 

The First and the Last

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 41:4 says it slightly differently and wonderfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

∗∗∗

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I will throw my net over them

… I will throw my net over them … Hosea 7:11 (NLT)

In the book of Hosea the Lord God laments over the sins of his people. In one place he says “Oh Israel and Judah what should I do with you?”[i] As a Mom this sounds very familiar to me. I think I have said that, or something very similar to my kids several times in frustration, “What am I going to do with you?”

Sometimes we look at the God of the Old Testament as different from Jesus. We only see the punishments, the judgments, the prophesies of enemies overtaking and dragging away. And that appears in Hosea. But, as I read chapters six and seven, I saw something else, very heartbreaking, but very wonderful and redeeming.

In the midst of God’s chastisements and listing of all Israel’s sins, he cries out three times from the pain and love of his heart.

I wanted so much to restore …

I wanted to heal …

I wanted to redeem …[ii]

But, they rejected God, they turned away to other gods, they rebelled. God grieves, “… no one cries out to me for help.”[iii] It all sounds so impossible, so despairing, so final.

But there in the middle there is this wonderful phrase. “I will throw my net over them.” This reminded me of Jesus on the shore calling to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Jesus, the Great Fisherman, God in the flesh come to throw his net over us. God’s father-heart of mercy and love, God’s zeal to pursue and save us on full display. So, Jesus came-

To restore

To heal

To redeem

To pursue and catch us in His net of Everlasting Love

Oh Lord God, I cry out to you! I want to turn back to you. I am lost and floundering in the waves. Forgive me of my sins. Throw your loving net over me. And bring me into your Presence.

Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:1-3 (NASB)

[i] Hosea 6:4

[ii] Hosea 6:11, 7:1, 7:13

[iii] Hosea 7:7

For more about God’s loving net see Imprisoned

Image, Casting a fishing net, by vakibs, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vakibs/5395469892/

To Carry a Different Way

God carries everything. He carries the sparrows; He carries the fields that grow the seed they eat. But He carries us a different way.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

More valuable. Looking deeper into this verse I found a surprising and wonderful hidden treasure. That Greek word translated valuable – diaphero – doesn’t just mean valuable. It also means to bear or carry through a place, to carry a different way, in a different direction, to a different place, to differ, to be more excellent.

To carry a different way. We are carried a different way. God carries everything. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).” He carries the sparrows; He carries the fields that grow the seed they eat. Underneath are the Everlasting Arms. But He carries us a different way.

And he’s carrying us to a different place. He’s carrying us through this valley of the shadow, through this alien place, to the place prepared for us, to the City whose architect and builder is God. He carries us as precious cargo.

Think about when you transport stuff, like when you move. Some things you just throw into the back of the van. Other things get special packing, special boxes and bubble wrap. But some things are too valuable and fragile to trust even to bubble wrap and the back of a van. Some things you carry yourself. And if you are transporting your children, the most valuable of all, you strap them carefully into a state-of-the-art, safety-approved, facing-the-right-way car seat. But, of course, God doesn’t need a car seat. “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you … Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.” (Psalm 89:8, 13 NIV)

Child of God know you are precious cargo. You might feel like you are bumping around in the dark in the back of the van right now, but know you are valuable to Him. And because you are valuable and precious to him, he is carrying you a different way.

There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 (NIV)

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

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain. Thanks to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Point of View Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You (yes you!) matter to God.

 

 

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