3 + 3 = 1

 

“God loves messes.” Pastor Troy Gentz

“He changes things.” Reverend David Sidwell

 

The above three-word sermons-in-a-sentence were part of two teachings I heard lately. I think these six words equal one passionate, grace filled message. God is always whispering his love.

If your life right now seems like a ruin, trust in him; surrender it all over to him. God loves you in your mess. But he loves your mess too. It gives him the chance to demonstrate how much he loves you, and his redeeming power to transform. He changes things.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:37 (NIV)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 (NIV)

 

Image in the public domain

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)

The Lord Upholding

This is what God is always doing; this is who God is. He is the Lord upholding or sustaining, the Upholder, the Sustainer; He is the Lord lifting up, the Lifter. He is the Lord comforting or the Comforter of those who are bowed down.

Jesus and the Bent Over Woman, by Barbara Schwarz OP

 

The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds (camak) all those who fall (naphal) and lifts up (zaqaph) all who are bowed (kaphaph) down. Psalm 145:13-14 (NIV)

These are beautiful promises. And there is wonder-full hidden treasure in the Hebrew words. The word camak (סָמַךְ) means to bear up, support, uphold, sustain, refresh, revive.  The word zaqaph (זָקַף) means to raise up to life, to comfort. That is wonderful in itself, but the form in which the words are written here makes this verse even more amazing.

According to Barnes¹ camak and zaqaph as they are used here are participles. So, the first promise (camak) reads in the Hebrew “’The Lord sustaining;’ that is, the Lord is a Sustainer or Upholder of all that fall. The allusion is to those who have no power to go of themselves; who would sink under the burdens of life if they were not supported. The idea is, that it is a characteristic of the Lord, that he does sustain such; that all such may confidently look to him to uphold them.”

The second promise (zaqaph) reads, “’he is lifting up;’ that is, he is a lifter up. The reference is to those who are bent and bowed under the duties, the cares, the trials of life; who go bowed down under those burdens. God is able to strengthen them so that they can bear those burdens without being crushed under them.”

So, this verse is essentially declaring: this is what God is always doing; this is who God is. He is the Lord upholding or sustaining, the Upholder, the Sustainer; He is the Lord lifting up, the Lifter. He is the Lord comforting or the Comforter of those who are bowed down. Charles Spurgeon put it this way,

 “The form of the verb shows that he is always doing this; he is Jehovah upholding. His choice of the fallen, and the falling, as the subjects of his gracious help is specially to be noted. The fallen of our race, especially fallen women, are shunned by us, and it is peculiar tenderness on the Lord’s part that such he looks upon, even those who are at once the chief of sinners and the least regarded of mankind. The falling ones among us are too apt to be pushed down by the strong: their timidity and dependence make them the victims of the proud and domineering. To them also the Lord gives his upholding help. The Lord loves to reverse things,—he puts down the lofty, and lifts up the lowly. And raiseth up all those that be bowed down … Many are despondent, and cannot lift up their heads in courage, or their hearts with comfort; but these he cheers. Some are bent with their daily load, and these he strengthens. Jesus loosed a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had so bound that she was bowed down, and could by no means lift up herself. In this he proved himself to be the true Son of the Highest. Think of the Infinite bowing to lift up the bowed, and stooping to be leaned upon by those who are ready to fall. The two “alls” should not be overlooked: the Lord has a kindly heart towards the whole company of the afflicted.”²

 “The whole company of the afflicted.” Oh, I am definitely in that company too!

The word translated “those who fall” in this verse is naphal (נָפַל) and seems to cover every kind of “falling” there is: cast down, fail, fall away, fall down, be lost, overthrown, overwhelmed, thrown down, waste away, die, perish, rot. The word translated “bowed down” is kaphaph (כָּפַף) which means to be bowed down, bent or curved, as by circumstances or disease, to be discouraged. It also means to bow oneself down, as to God. These are the “all” that God cares for – the “failures,” the lost, the prodigals, the fallen, the overwhelmed, the dying, the discouraged and sick. The crippled woman who had been bent over double, bowed down, for eighteen years whom Jesus healed (Luke 13:10-16) was one of the “all,” one of the “whole company of the afflicted.”  I’m sure she was discouraged after all that time, overwhelmed, cast down. But praise God! He does not break the bruised reed, but strengthens it and supports it on His own precious self; He does not snuff out the smoldering wick, but gently blows on it to restore the flame (Isaiah 42:3).

With great compassion, Jesus was continually lifting people up during his earthly ministry. The woman taken in adultery (John 8:3 – 11), the lame, blind, crippled, mute (Matthew 15:30), the widow’s dead son (Luke 7:12 – 15), Lazarus (John 11:28 – 44). And he still is lifting us. He can, and has, and will raise you up.

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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 NIV)

If you are one of the “afflicted ones” or are praying for someone who is, remember and cling to these promises! God IS the Upholder, the Sustainer, the Lifter, the Raiser to Life – and so much more! He is doing it all the time, he can’t help himself – it’s who He Is. Reach out to him, he will not fail you.

But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:27 NIV)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” (even so, surely, truth, verily, yea, yes) in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” (firm, faithful, verily, surely, truly, of a truth, so be it, so it is!) is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

Yes!! And Amen!!

Painting:  Jesus and the Bent Over Woman, by Barbara Schwarz OP http://artafire.homestead.com/  

¹ Barnes’ Notes on the Old and New Testaments, by Albert Barnes
² The Treasury of David, by Charles Spurgeon full-text online