Even If

You cannot say 

“but” or “except” 

to God’s Word 

for you will be sitting down 

at the dusty, choking side  

or veering off  

on the rocky, deadly way 

You can only say 

“yet” and keep going 

but not alone 

You can only say 

“even though” 

but hand in hand 

You can only say 

“even if” 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) 

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 

… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 

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

Image by Sheila Bair

Do Not Go to Pieces

The Lord is present with us, near, at hand, ready to carry us in his arms.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6 

“Do not be anxious.” That is a hard one for me. Actually, anxiety is pretty pandemic right now, wouldn’t you say? The Greek word is merimnáō which means “drawn in opposite directions,” “divided into parts,” “to go to pieces” because pulled apart in different directions. Literally, it means “to be divided.”i 

I am very familiar with the “go to pieces” part of anxiety, also the “pulled apart in different directions” situation. However, the “to be divided” meaning of the word caught my attention and reminded me of David and his undivided heart.  

Undivided heart  

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 

David was actually praying for “unitedness of heart”- a heart not divided into parts, not pulled apart in different directions. A heart not pulled apart by fears and idolatries. A heart united in focus and trust. 

This is not something that we can accomplish ourselves I don’t think, but God promised through the prophets to give us this undividedness, this singleness and unitedness of heart. 

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11:19 

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. Jeremiah 32:39 

One 

The word translated “undivided” and “singleness” in these verses is the Hebrew word echad – one. God was promising to give us one heart. It is the same word as in this verse: 

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 

This is the verse that Jesus pointed to when one of the teachers of the law came and asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Mark 12:28-30 

In the Greek the word describing God as “one” is holos. It means whole, complete. It means “wholly, where all the parts are present and working as a whole.” 

“All the parts are present.” God is always one; he is never divided. He never “goes to pieces.” He is never pulled apart in different directions. All the parts – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One. Present. With us.  

Let’s look at Philippians 4:6 again in context: 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (at hand, near, nigh, ready). Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace (eirḗnē = wholeness, when all essential parts are joined together) of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7 

It looks like not being anxious, pulled apart, and divided, but trusting God with our prayers and petitions, gives us His peace and enables us to have a gentle demeanor, evident to all. After Jesus spoke the most important, or first, commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart – he continued with the second most important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  

This may seem impossible, especially in these anxious and contentious days, but let me leave you with a wonderful hidden treasure in this verse. The word translated “near” in “the Lord is near,” comes from a Greek word that means “an arm, especially as bent to receive a burden.” Do you see what that says? You don’t have to be anxious for anything because the Lord is present with us, near, at hand, ready to carry us in his arms. He carries all our burdens. Our strength and ability are in Him. 

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

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23 (ESV) 

i All definitions from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

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

Not Abandoned

We were on vacation not long ago “up north.” One night I was up alone for hours trying to be quiet in the tiny camper while my husband slept. Couldn’t sleep and very depressed. Thinking about all that was going wrong. Sickness, financial troubles, family members leaving the faith. That is when I told God I felt abandoned. In the morning more devastating family news on Facebook. By the time we were eating breakfast I was bawling. Not a fun time.  

Packing up to go “enjoy” the day, my husband stepped in some doggie doodoo and it got tracked all over the camper. At least an hour was spent cleaning rugs and mats and shoes at the camp water pump. Then he banged his head real hard trying to wrangle things back in. Finally, on our way to the beach, a big heavy, wet floor mat that we thought could ride on the hood a few miles flew up and smacked the windshield while we were driving, covering it and scaring us and making us, shaken and blinded, pull over quickly to the side of the road.  

To top the morning off, when we got to the beach my husband cracked his elbow badly getting things out of the truck. At that we both just started laughing, and I felt God say, now THAT is what it would be like if I had abandoned you. 

Lord, thank you that we aren’t even aware of all that you do for us. Thank you that you watch over us continually, though we cannot see you. That, though bad things happen, you are there with us. That you carry us through it all. But, thank you most of all that Jesus endured abandonment for us on the cross that we might never – ever – be abandoned. 

At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46 (NLT) 

The LORD will guard you from all evil; He will preserve your soul. The LORD will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:7-8 

… and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NLT) 

Image by DVIDSHUB, from flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/13938506188

Yet You Are Near

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) 

The Lord is near (in place, in time, in personal relationship, in kinship, father, brother, friend) 

to the brokenhearted (the heart, mind, soul that is broken, maimed, crippled, wrecked, crushed, shattered) 

and saves (delivers, liberates, gives victory to, defends, helps, preserves, rescues, keeps safe, brings into the spacious place, open, wide, free) 

the crushed (crushed to dust, destroyed, contrite) in spirit. 

When your heart is broken and shattered by this world. When your spirit is crushed into the dust. When you feel like your life is over, that you have messed up irretrievably, and God has turned his back in disgust. Yet – beyond understanding, unfathomable, amazing grace! – that is when God is near. 

Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. Psalm 119:151 

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6 

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 

… the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. Deuteronomy 30:14 

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 

He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Isaiah 50:8 

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (ESV) 

Yet … 

Come near to God Salvation

Image, The Prodigal Son by Sir John Everett Millais. Released by the Tate https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-the-prodigal-son-a00811 Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Don’t You Want to Be Famous?

His whole life Jesus had an audience of One .

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:21-22 

I have read this passage many times, but this time it made me sad. Jesus was in the middle of explaining to the disciples the whole reason why he came, the whole reason he was going to die on the cross for them – and he gets this totally oblivious question. 

In chapter 14 of John, Jesus is telling his disciples that when he leaves them (via his death on the cross and resurrection) the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come. He is revealing to them the whole reason he came – to be, once and for all, the sacrifice for sin so that we could be in the Presence of God once again – that His Spirit could come and be with us and in us. The “Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17). 

But they are still not getting it, and this disciple voices a question that echoes something that Jesus’ brothers had said, “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4). In other words, “Don’t you want to be famous?” 

I had just read this verse about King David when I read the above verse: 

And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. 2 Samuel 8:13 

This is one of the stories that the disciples would have grown up hearing. David’s famous exploits. And wasn’t the Messiah the Son of David? Wasn’t he supposed to come and strike down their enemies? Wasn’t he supposed to be famous? 

But being famous was never Jesus’ goal. His goal was to fulfill the scriptures written about Messiah, one of which is, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets (Isaiah 42:2), or as NetBible translates it, “he will not publicize himself in the streets.” Many times, “[h]e warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 12:16-17). He would choose instead to reveal himself, or show who he really was, only to his followers. 

Jesus warned them about the love that the Pharisees had for honor and fame, and how that desire corrupted all of their good works (Matthew 23). Being famous had become their goal, replacing the desire to please God. Jesus commanded his disciples not to be like them.  

When I was growing up becoming famous was always pressed upon me as the most desirable goal. Being admired by others equaled being of value. So, I pursued a stage career, where standing ovations are the ultimate expression of approval and love. One night, in the middle of performing, looking out at a large, admiring (I hoped!) audience, it all seemed suddenly empty. I thought, “What am I doing here?” And when the run was done, I turned and walked away. It was only a few months later that Jesus revealed himself to me as Lord and Savior and ultimate Lover of my soul. 

If Jesus had only come to do famous exploits, to be victorious over the Romans and set Israel free as a nation, it would have just been another entry in the history books. Like David conquering the Philistines, it would have just been a good story. It would not have meant anything much to me.  

But his whole life Jesus had an audience of One – “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) – and that audience gave him a standing ovation. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). That’s what I want, to have an audience of One, to make pleasing God my life’s goal, and to hear him say someday, “well done, good and faithful servant.” 

“Look,” [Stephen] said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56 

Image, Ovation, by Joi Ito  https://flic.kr/p/R3nQd  

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   

All there is

When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. 

Suzanne Guthrie 
Grace’s Window 

Strange House Guest

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

This one of those verses that most of us would rather skip over. But recently I was drawn to look at the meaning of the Greek words closer. Very interesting, and strangely comforting too. 

The words translated “surprised” and “something strange” in the above verse are the Greek words xenizo (ξενίζω) and its root xenos (ξένος). Xenos means a foreigner or a stranger (it’s where we get the “xeno” part of the word xenophobia); it also means a guest. Xenizo means to be shocked, “to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing.” But it also means to receive as a guest, to entertain, to be host, to lodge. 

It is like Peter is saying, “do not be shocked by the painful trial you are suffering as though a complete stranger had walked into your house looking for lodging.” I guess he is saying that suffering should not, or will not, be a stranger to us. Suffering was not a stranger to our Lord. 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with (acquainted with, knew) suffering. Isaiah 53:3a 

Jesus was intimately acquainted with suffering and, if we are following Him, we share in that acquaintance. 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Philippians 3:10 

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.  

The word translated “fellowship” above is koinonia. It also means association, community, communion, joint participation. It comes from the noun koinonos which means partner, associate, comrade, companion (how wonderful to be Jesus’ companion!).  

But what I love is that the very core root of both of these words is the Greek word for “with,” sun (σύν). It means with or together, companionship, beside. He is with us, beside us, our companion in our suffering. And that makes all the difference. That makes the impossible, possible. 

“It is precisely the presence and help of Christ in times of suffering that makes it possible for us to stand up under pressure … The only way to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this dark road is through union with Christ and with the promise of resurrection to light the way.” ― R.C. Sprouli 

Jesus has suffered for us, and he will suffer with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. 

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  1 Corinthians 1:8-9 

But rejoice that you participate (come into communion or fellowship with, become a sharer, are made a partner) in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 

One foot in front of the other, holding on tight to his hand. 

… that I may know Him 

i R.C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering  https://www.ligonier.org/blog/suffering-well-union-christ/  

Image by Andrés Þór https://flic.kr/p/79jJCz

Yet God

I am reblogging this post from a while ago. Still true. Always my heart.

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

Hidden Treasure

“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!…

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To Him Who is Able

Quite frequently the daily devotionals and blogs that I receive all have the same message. God is amazing and faithful! When that happens, I make sure to pay attention. That happened again this week and I thought, in this challenging time, that the message they convey might be of comfort to you too. 

You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5 (NASB) 

Sometimes, especially when we are facing intense challenges in life, it feels as if God is distant from us. We might even think He has deliberately withdrawn from us. Nothing could be farther from the truth … In fact, at all times, His hand is upon you. — Derek Prince Ministries 

When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8 

Will He find the kind of faith that counts on Him in spite of the confusion? Stand firm in faith, believing that what Jesus said is true, although in the meantime you do not understand what God is doing. — Oswald Chambers 

Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. John 7:17  

Translation: Trust in me, and you will discover the truth of my words. It’s not trust me because you already fully grasp the truth. No, it’s trust me and you will discover the truth and the truth will set you free. Jesus offers the test of active trust. He is looking for people who will choose to belong to him even before they fully believe in him. How does one belong to Jesus? Start following him. — J.D. Walt 

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord. Hosea 6:3  

Not all at once, but by degrees shall we attain to holy knowledge, and our business is to persevere and learn by little and little. We need not despair, though our progress may be slow, for we shall yet know. The Lord, who has become our Teacher, will not give us up, however slow of understanding we may be; for it is not for His honor that any degree of human folly should baffle His skill. — Charles Spurgeon 

To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 1:24-25 

Image by Jack Bair

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