Very Present Help

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

God is our strong refuge from the storm,

our hope, our trust, a place of refuge, shelter from rain or storm, from danger,

a helper in time of trouble, adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, tribulation

He is found to be — vehemently, exceedingly, speedily, mightily, greatly present,

He comes forth to meet us in our trouble with muchness

He is able

He is with us

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4

 

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/

 

He Remembers

The LORD remembers us, and he will surely bless us. Psalm 115:12a (NLT)

This verse has been a comfort to me. Going through a hard, dark time; feeling forgotten, left behind. He remembers us! He remembers you beloved. He cannot forget about you.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15 (NIV)

In the desert, in the wilderness, in the valley of depression and pain and brokenness, God has not forgotten you. He sees, he hears, he knows. Every tear you shed is precious to him.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Cling to the assuredness of his unfailing love in the dark place. The light will shine again for you. The Lord remembers us, and he will surely bless!

His love never quits (it is forever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, continuous, unending, through eternity). Psalm 136:23b (MSG)

 

Image in the Public Domain

 

 

Therefore

The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)

At Christmas time we see this verse a lot on memes and Christmas cards and in sermons. But today the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Israel is under attack by two kings, and Isaiah is instructed by God to go to King Ahaz with a message. So, Isaiah tells Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, to “‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’” (Isaiah 7:4). He assures Ahaz that what these two kings have in mind for Israel will not happen. And then, Isaiah gives Ahaz a blank check to ask anything he wants as a sign that God is telling the truth:

“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz refuses.

I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (7:11-12)

I will not – Ahaz continues his rebellion against the will of God. And then he puts on a fake and hypocritical religious posture in order to cover his fear and lack of faith in God, and to make himself look good – I don’t want to put the Lord to the test. After all, he could have added, isn’t that what the law commands? “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

The word translated “test” in both these verses is the Hebrew word nasah (נָסָה), which means “to put to the proof or test.” In the wilderness God was asking them to trust Him to take care of them, but they refused to trust and demanded that He prove it. Here in Isaiah, God wants Ahaz to put Him to the test. This verse reminds me of Psalm 34:8 (NIV).

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

But Ahaz does not want to taste, he refuses. God is offering Ahaz the world, anything at all, but Ahaz does not want to know the goodness, the power, the authority of this God. He doesn’t want to have his eyes opened to “see.” He wants to stick with his own ideas, his own feeble religion.

Doesn’t this kind of describe the whole human race from the beginning? Rebellion, fear, mistrust, unbelief, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, willful blindness. And yet, what is God’s response to all of this? Yes, Isaiah is more than a little irritated at Ahaz, exclaiming, “Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” But what does God say?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

What is God’s response? Mercy, redemption. God says, you don’t want to know me, you don’t want to see, you refuse all the good I long to give you, but I’m going to give it to you anyway! I will give you the deepest depths and the highest heights, I will give you Wonderful, I will give you Truth! I will give you Life! I will give you the Way out of your mess, the way back. I will give you all my love, all my goodness, all my power and authority! I will give you Myself. Me with you and you with Me – always!

Therefore, let us – all us rebels – take God up on his offer. Let’s put God to the test. Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s open our eyes and see and receive how much he loves us. Here is the sign. Here is the miracle. Here is the Gift.

Immanuel!

 

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. John 3:16 (NIV)

 

Image, photograph taken by ESA/Hubble Telescope, NASA

 

You Shall Love, I Promise

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live?

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. —Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

This idea has really captivated my mind – that all of those Old Testament laws, all of those “shalls” and “shall nots” could be looked on as promises, not as commands. As even the longing cry of God: Someday you will love me with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Someday you will love your neighbor as yourself. I promise!

Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17 NLT). Jesus made it possible for me to do the “shalls” in him and through him. He did this by making me a new creature, by changing my heart, by making it possible for me to come into the Presence of the Father and know him.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 11:14-17 (NIV)

He has put his law in our hearts. He has given us new hearts, new minds, the mind of Christ. He has given us grace and power to obey his will, to truly know him, to truly love him.

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live? It would set me free. If I truly believed that God is not a fierce judge, giving me impossible things to accomplish, just waiting for me to trip up, but a loving Father who is by my side, walking through this wilderness with me. A loving Father holding out his arms to this (still) toddler-me, saying, “Come on, you can do it! You shall love!” I would fearlessly go out there and love – not love to be noticed and acclaimed, not love to be accepted and loved back, not love to please people, not love to earn Brownie points, not love to finally “get it right.” But just freely love to please God, to know the joy that it gives Him.

And if I was rejected, taken for granted, ignored, dissed, insulted, criticized, misunderstood, it would not make me stumble as long as my eyes were fixed on his loving face and my ears attuned to his joyful, encouraging voice.

So, you and me, let’s not give up. Don’t despair. Keep going “on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope” through this wilderness. Trust in him. Keep running into his open arms. You shall learn to love the Lord your God. You shall love.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (NIV)

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (MSG)

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 (NASB)

 

Photograph by Jack Bair, copyright 2019, all rights reserved.

Middle of the Story – Part Two

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

The last blog looked at the first part of the above verse – that faith is the substance or essence of hope. It is the setting under me of the solid foundation, Jesus. The stepping up on the Rock. This time I want to look at the second half of this verse – faith is “the evidence of things not seen.”

The word translated “evidence” is the Greek word elegchos. It means conviction, as in assurance, certainty. But it also means proof – as in “that by which a thing is proved or tested.” My faith must be tested, but, as God meets and holds me up in the testing, his Word and promises are proved true to me in my life. They become my assurance, evidence of what I cannot see with my eyes. The word elegchos also means reproof and is used that way in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …

Or as the Message puts it, “showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”

Exposing, correcting, training. It’s not God and his Word that needs proving or testing, but me. Testing is no fun. The Bible compares the testing of our faith to the purification or proving of gold.

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold––and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. 1 Peter 1:7a (NLT)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. Proverbs 17: 3 (NIV)

The proving of precious metals involves heating them to the melting point and skimming off the impurities that rise to the top. For me, there is still a lot of ugly stuff that rises when the heat is turned up.

Testing may seem harsh and even cruel in the midst of it, but God is love and the testing is loving. As Hebrews 12:29 declares, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Love does not let us remain as we are, far from Him and alone. But Love consumes, burns up the barriers and idols in our lives and hearts that divide us from him. Henri Nouwen has written, “Let God love you the way God wants.” Oh, that is hard. I want him to do things my way. I want to choose the test. Giving permission to that consuming passion in my life is scary. I want some kind of guarantee that things will work out the way I hope they will.

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame. But he is always there with me in the proving. Indeed, he is the proof. He is the evidence. He is “the divine Yes–God’s affirmation. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in him” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20 NLT). He is good, and his ways and purposes are good, though I cannot comprehend it. And he is able to do, and is doing, immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, though I may not be able to see it now (Ephesians 3:20).

Lord God, give me the grace to let you be God, to let you love me the way you want, in the murky middle of my story. Call me, draw me, woo me to step up onto the Rock and allow your passionate, cleansing fire to sweep over me. Help me remember that Jesus was tested too, that he has traveled this way before me. And I will thank you in the middle of the story and I will dance with joy to the distant songs of deliverance.

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

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10 (NIV)

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts (who is supported, upheld, confirmed, verified) will never be dismayed (will not topple, give way, run away, will not panic). Isaiah 28:16 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV)

 

Image is in the Public Domain

 

 

Am I Hostile to God?

Beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7 (NIV)

Did you ever think that when you are crabby and despairing, unthankful and complaining, angry and resentful, that your mind is set on the flesh and that you are being hostile toward God? I woke up being all of those things the other day and read this verse in my daily devotions. I was shocked when the Spirit showed me I was hostile to God and his purposes. Why? Because what God desires, what God is all about is love and life, healing and redemption, peace and hope. God is always focused outward. But, my mind, set on the flesh, was focused inward, full of hopelessness and death. Death for me and death for those around me.

In Psalm 73 David complains that the wicked don’t seem to have any problems. Everything goes right for them. He concludes, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” In other words, what’s the point? But then David realizes, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children (dealt deceitfully, treacherously, unfaithfully).” He would have been hostile to God and God’s children.

But David turned himself around. He went back and repented in the Presence and there was able to set his mind not on the flesh, but on God. And then he was able to see as God sees. And he cried out one of my favorite verses in the Bible, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”  Yet! My life may be falling apart; the whole world may be crumbling, but yet (!) God is with me!

This is the mind governed by the Spirit. This is the mind of life and peace. For faith is knowing for sure that what we DON’T see is what’s real and true. That beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh. God is with me! God is always doing life and reconciliation and redemption, and I have a place beside him doing those things too if I keep my mind set on what the Spirit desires. If I “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Lord, help me to keep turning myself around, to keep coming back to your Presence. Help me to be focused outward toward your love, not inward. I don’t have the strength to do it myself, but You are with me. Help me to keep setting my mind on You. Help me say worthy not Worthless Words. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:21-23 (NASB)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain