We Belong to Each Other

“… each member [of the body of Christ] belongs to all the others. We have different gifts …” Romans 12:5-6 

Have you ever thought that? That we belong to each other? And, if that is true, that we really don’t have the choice to withhold our different gifts? Paul writes that we belong to each other, and that our gifts therefore belong to each other. What are our gifts? Paul lists prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, and showing mercy. There are many more, I’m sure. Later in his letter he writes to be devoted to one another in brotherly love, never lacking in zeal. This is a far cry from doing something once in a while when we think of it and it is convenient.  

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13  

Rather than living this way, I find that I am often despairing, crabby and complaining, lazy and selfish. I mostly forget about the poor among us and tend to be introverted, solitary, private, and would rather be secluded or cloistered. 

Paul goes on to say: live in harmony, do not be proud, do not repay evil for evil, live at peace with everyone, do not take revenge, take care of your hungry and thirsty enemy. How on earth does someone like me do all this? The answer is: I don’t. It would be very sad if it was up to me. But rather, it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) 

In the above verse Romans 12:5, the phrase “we belong to each other” is in the Greek, “each member one.” We are one, or supposed to be. It is the same word that Jesus used here: 

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. John 17:22-23 

“… each member belongs to all the others.” Each member one in complete unity. 

“In a context of humble service, a context that is not only counter-intuitive but also counter-cultural for most of us, Paul tells us to exercise our spiritual gifts in humble service to the Body of Christ. Think about the magnitude of the implication of this … Not only are we to adopt an attitude of true and honest humility, not only are we to consider our positions as members of and belonging to the Body of Christ, but we are to serve the Body of Christ. Yet even more striking than that, we are to rely upon our spiritual gift from God in our service, which is to say that we are not to rely on our own strength, ability or talent, but on God’s grace alone.” — Don Merritt 1 

This is indeed a counter-cultural attitude in this day of independence and a focus on self-awareness, identity and fulfillment. To submerge your “self,” to let the self be crucified, to yield to the will of another, even if that other is God, is viewed as strange and even dangerous. But I pray that the Lord will help us to have the mind of Christ. That He will help us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and work in us what is pleasing to Him. 

I know that the phrase, “God’s gift to the world,” is the butt of jokes, as in “he thinks he is God’s gift to the world.” But in reality, we are, or are supposed to be. If we belong to God, if we are in Christ, then, yes, we have been given gifts to give, but more fundamentally, our lives, we ourselves, are gifts that God desires to give to the church and to the world. It is us, me and you. We are the gift. And God wants to give us away that His glory may be seen in all the earth.

He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29 

And now may the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

… each member belongs to all the others … 

1https://lifeprojectblog.com/2022/08/07/sunday-sermon-notes-august-7-2022/ 

Photo, Gift, by Asenat29 https://flic.kr/p/aVmeYp  

To make us rely not on ourselves …

It was like the Lord said, read your blog.

A miracle happened as I cared for my elderly parents a while back. I wanted to share it with you, but in the mean time my dear Dad passed into glory, and the caregiving for my bereaved Mom has been overwhelming. But I keep thinking that this may help someone else, so here it is.

You will understand how wonderful this was if I if I go back a little. Ever since I can remember, as the oldest daughter, I was made to feel that it was my responsibility to “save” the family. As a child as young as five I remember being asked to solve adult-weight possible catastrophes. So, my parent’s recent devastating health (dementia, COVID, COPD, heart failure) and resulting financial problems have triggered a lot of anxiety and panic and even despair in me.

This particular day, my parents called me in a panic because they had purchased 400 dollar’s worth of Target gift cards to send as gifts and were positive that either they had left them at the store on the counter or in the little basket of the motorized cart my dad was using, or that my mom had thrown them away in the garbage (part of the dementia is an obsessive urge to clean and clear away clutter). So, I went over there to help them find the cards, or, if possible have them canceled so they could get their money back.

First, I looked around in the house just in case. My dad said to look for a little grey Lowe’s bag and that he was pretty sure they were in the garbage. Luckily, they had failed to get the two cans out to the curb, and they were very full. So, I went through both, item by item, refilling garbage bags. Some of it was pretty ripe. Anyway, I found two little grey Lowe’s bags, but no cards. So, then we went down to Lowe’s to see if they could help us.

They were polite, though looked at us with pity. They said no gift cards had been turned in. My heart sunk deeper. The manager said I would have to call the 1-800 customer service number that is on the back of Target gift cards, as they were not Lowe’s products and they could do nothing. So, as my parents sat on a bench, I called the number and talked with a representative. She said she needed some numbers, which apparently are on the cards themselves because they were not on the receipt or the gift receipts containing the activation codes. In that case, she said she would send me an email and that I should respond with photos of the all the receipts.

I waited and waited but the email did not come. As I stood there, I asked God again to help us, and it was like he pointed me to the receipts I had in my hands and said if we had all the receipts and codes, why didn’t we have the cards too? I felt Him say that the cards were in the house. I knew that God had delayed the email so I wouldn’t get the cards canceled.

Let me go back again. A few months ago God gave me a blog post about these two verses:

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

That morning before I left my house I had been crying out to the Lord and asked him for a Bible verse I could hang on to that day. It was like he said to me, read your blog. Ha ha. So, I did and grabbed unto Philippians 4:6. I had just enough strength in the panic and despair to present my requests to God and try not to be anxious. As we drove back to the house, I cried out to God again, but this time said to him: it’s not up to me to save anybody, it’s up to you, and even if we never find the cards, I will trust completely in You and believe that you have good in mind for my parents. Suddenly, every burden lifted off me and I was at complete peace.

When we got back to their house I asked if I could poke around. I looked in every drawer, every closet, every shelf (I did find my mom’s glasses that had been missing for months!), under piles of junk mail, under furniture. I looked in the attic, in every room on the main floor, and in the basement. While in the basement, I felt sure that the cards were in the kitchen, though I had already searched there several times.

There are two deep drawers in the kitchen packed with random items and junk mail so that you can hardly open and close them. And as I took things out a few at a time, there were the cards about a third of the way down. I was jumping up and down and praising God and they were looking at me like I was strange, but smiling. I knew it was a witness to them because I had prayed with them that God would help us find the cards.

So, God did a “three-for” as my Dad used to say. I believe God healed me deep down of some of the childhood trauma and gave me faith to believe for other grave situations in my family, and he helped me find the gift cards, saving my parents a lot of money, and he showed them that he cares for and loves them. My sister later told me that she was praying “that God would show you where the cards were so that you would feel deep in your heart that God loves you, cares about you and would never leave you.” Thank you thank you thank you sister! God heard you and answered. Praise God for His love and mercy towards us!

But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God.

Even When

In their hunger You gave  

bread from heaven  

and in their thirst You brought  

water from the rock 

But they 

but they 

Forgiving God  

gracious and compassionate  

slow to anger and abounding in love 

You did not desert them  

Even when 

even when  

You did not abandon them in the wilderness  

the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them   

the pillar of fire to shine on the way  

You gave  

Your good Spirit to instruct them  

You did not withhold  

manna from their mouths  

You gave  

water for their thirst 

Your compassion delivered them

Even when 

even when 

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. Ephesians 2:4-5 

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 

From Nehemiah 9:15-20 

Image by Derek Bair

Patches of Joy

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog called Grace Recognized. That is the definition of the Greek word translated “joy” in the New Testament – just recognizing God’s working around us. And many times, just as His voice is not a loud shout, but a still, small voice, His works of grace are found in what C.S. Lewis called “patches of Godlight.” I hope these quotes will bless you and help you recognize these patches of joy. 

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, San Diego: Mariner, 2002. 

I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he returns home, I always expect him to tell me about the difficult economic situation of the countries he visited, about the great injustices he heard about, and the pain he has seen. But even though he is very aware of the great upheaval of the world, he seldom speaks of it. When he shares his experiences, he tells about the hidden joys he has discovered. He tells about a man, a woman, or a child who brought him hope and peace. He tells about little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of all the turmoil. He tells about the small wonders of God. At times I realize that I am disappointed because I want to hear “newspaper news,” exciting and exhilarating stories that can be talked about among friends. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He keeps saying: “I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.”  

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.  

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. – Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (full quote here https://generositymonk.com/2020/01/27/henri-nouwen-learn-to-steal-and-lift-up-real-joy/

Lord, make me see thy glory in every place. — Michelangelo 

You Loved Me Back

It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 

The word translated bitterness above is the Hebrew adjective mar or marah. It means angry, bitterly chafed, discontented, great (as in greatly or bitterly distressed), heavy (as in have a heavy or bitter heart).1 It comes from the same root as the name Mara, or bitter, which Naomi called herself after her sons and husband died, leaving her bereft in a foreign land. 

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20 

We have all, or I’m betting at least many of us, have felt like Naomi. Life has not turned out as expected. We have been dealt a bitter blow. We have lost loved ones. We have been left alone. It can be easy to become angry at God, bitter, discontented.  

In the verse above from Isaiah, Hezekiah is recounting how very bitter he was when he was told that he had a terminal disease. He even repeats the word twice for emphasis in the Hebrew. He literally says “it was bitter, was bitter unto me,” or “I had such bitterness, such bitterness.”  

But then he declares the most wonderful thing: but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. 

Do you know what that says, literally, in the original Hebrew? “Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption,”2 or “thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction – as if God’s love, beaming on the monarch’s soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit.3 

You have loved my soul back! Oh, yes! What amazing grace! How many times has He done that for me? It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck. Loving me back from anger and discontent and bitterness. Pulling me up out of depression, fear, despair and hopelessness. He has loved my soul back. 

But the most wonderful thing is: for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Picture that – God throwing my sins behind His back “Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered.”3  

And what does Hezekiah say about why all this happened to him? It was for my welfare. Literally, it was for my shalom: my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

It was for my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. But you have loved me back from the brink – from the pit of destruction, corruption, failure, nothingness. For you have cast away, thrown, flung, hurled all my sins behind your back.  

“The worst-case scenario is that all the very worst things happen, and I am still loved.” — Ann Voskamp, excerpt from the WayMaker Study Guide 

Yes, we are still, always, loved, even when the worst-case scenario happens. And He is drawing us – me and you – always loving us back. Back to Him. Praise for His amazing grace! 

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (ESV) 

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:1-2 

“Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering 

1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

3Pulpit Commentary 

Image, Killer Cliffs! by Martin Cathrae https://flic.kr/p/jqrf5

Grace Recognized

If joy is grace recognized, then I begin to see why I have had such a hard time with joy.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:9-12 

Joy = xará (χαρά) 

To me, the verses above in John have been like a Rubik’s Cube. I kept moving the parts – love, commands, joy – around, trying to make sense of them. I have written before about having trouble grasping joy. But this time, as I looked at the meaning of the Greek word translated joy above, the light broke through and I felt the last piece slide into place. 

As in the movie Princess Bride, the word does not mean what I think it means. The definition says nothing about emotions or feelings. It does not focus on me at all. But rather, it turns and looks in wonder at God. The word simply means the awareness of God’s grace and favor; it is “grace recognized.” And if joy is grace recognized, then I begin to see why I have had such a hard time with joy. 

Xará is one of three cognates of, or words that derive from, the root xar- “favor, disposed to, inclined, favorable towards, leaning towards to share benefit.” The three are xaírō (“rejoice because of grace”), xará (“joy because of grace”) and xáris (“grace” the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is “always leaning toward them”).1 

If you have never felt that kind of favor inclined towards you from humans, especially from your parents, then it is hard to recognize it from God. “[T]he Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10).”2 If all the “favor” or approval you ever received was, or was perceived to be, earned, dependent on approved performance, fulfilling the fantasies and demands of others, then the idea of unmerited grace is foreign. Certainly, joy because of grace is a mystery

The Bible is clear that God’s joy, love and grace are all bound up together in Christ Jesus. According to Romans 5:6-8, grace is a demonstration of God’s love. 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (sick, without strength, feeble, insufficient, unimpressive), Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

I know and believe this passionately. But I am beginning to see that for a long time I have been chained, deeply and unconsciously, to the insufficient and unimpressive parts of the above translation. The recognition, the awareness – the joy – of God’s unmerited grace has been like brilliant sunlight shining down briefly through a hole in dark clouds. Like a bright light hidden under heavy blankets of oppression. Maybe that is why Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light (Luke 8:16).” Maybe it’s so that I can see it too. 

Jesus’ joy is also the awareness of this grace. The grace that demonstrates the Father’s unconditional love. The grace and love demonstrated (freely extended to give Himself away) by Jesus who would endure the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).  

So, joy is not just another performance – how high I can raise my hands, how loudly I can sing. It is not another opportunity to fail to get it right, to be insufficient, unimpressive. But rather, it is “merely” a recognizing, an acknowledging, an awareness of the gift offered in his outstretched hands – 

the sun on my face 

bird-joy greeting the dawn 

the unfailing Presence 

a Father’s love leaning towards me 

blood running down a wooden cross 

… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame … Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) 

He is not here; he has risen … So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy (grace recognized), and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings (Rejoice!),” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Matthew 28:6-10 

1 All definitions from Bible Hub https://biblehub.com/  

2 What is the definition of grace? Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/definition-of-grace.html  

Image, A shaft of sunlight pierces the threatening clouds, by Mark Levisay  https://flic.kr/p/J9cBSr  

God is Pleased

This pleasure doesn’t just mean to be happy, but reaches out to embrace me by accepting the sacrifice made on my behalf.  

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Psalm 40:12 

“My heart fails.” How often lately have I felt that way! I was drawn to look closer at this verse and was amazed (but I shouldn’t have been!) to find it leading me to the passion of God for the reconciliation of the world to himself. It all leads back to the Cross where the way back to God was opened. Everything leads to the Cross. 

Though I went looking specifically at verse 12 and the “my heart fails” part, it was the next verse, Psalm 40:13, that arrested me. 

Be pleased (with me, delight yourself to make me acceptable, accomplish, accept the sacrifice, satisfy my debt, reconcile me, pardon me) to save (deliver, rescue) me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me. Psalm 40:13 

It was the “be pleased” part that struck me. When I looked at the Hebrew I saw that it doesn’t just mean to be happy, but reaches out to embrace me by accepting the sacrifice made on my behalf.  

The Hebrew word is ratsah (רָצָה). It means, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “to be pleased with; specifically, to satisfy a debt.” It means to be acceptable, approve, delight yourself, enjoy, pardon, be favorable, reconcile.  

God is pleased, delights even, to make me acceptable. He takes pleasure in accepting the sacrifice satisfying my debt. He delights to reconcile me, pardon me, save me!  

For God was pleased (took pleasure, was willing) to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 

What amazing grace! My heart fails from sin. I am oppressed and trapped under impossible debt. What is God’s response? He is pleased – takes pleasure, enjoys, is willing – to reconcile me to Himself, through the shed blood of His Son. It is not because He has to, but because it makes Him happy. It gives Him great pleasure. It delights Him. And even more than this, God is pleased to give me the kingdom, an everlasting inheritance with Him. God is pleased to do this as Jesus affirmed in Luke 12. 

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased (takes pleasure, is willing) to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 

I am overtaken now, not with my inescapable sin, but with His overwhelming, unfailing, unending, amazing grace and compassion. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion (inheritance, allotment) forever. Psalm 73:26 

The Dirty Work

(As part of the “sandwich generation” I have been called recently to a lot of caregiving. While I love deeply those I am called to serve, I am not always very willing and cheerful about it. That is why I am eternally grateful to my fellow bloggers this week for faithfulness to share their encouraging words.) 

“When you love someone you will do anything they ask; such is the case in relationships amongst young couples and even in old couples where the flame of love still burns strong. I have no problem admitting I love my wife and would do anything for her, to help her or make her happy. But sometimes our loved ones or those we respect will ask us for something which is difficult, something we would prefer not to do. Sometimes that loved one asking something of us that is difficult is God our Father.” — (blogged by Alan Kearns, Devotional Treasures https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/01/22/when-obedience-is-hard/

“You know, being a caregiver of any sort can be exhausting.  Being a mom…a homemaker…the one responsible for the needs of whomever is under our care…has its many moments of humbling work. Special needs or other health issues certainly add to the mix a new level of care. And a new level of seemingly lowly service … Even as Christ followers, we envision that the far-away mission field is more glorious and honoring than the dirty work we often do within the walls of our own home.” — (blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks https://hesaidwhatks.blog/2022/01/21/glamorless-glory/#like-6593

(Ah, yes, the dirty work!) 

“When Mary was not nursing her son, she placed Him in an unused feeding trough (of wood or stone) right next to her…But a feeding trough! Let us never be surprised at the humility of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks (Question 27) Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’ Its scriptural proof text for that ‘low condition’ is Luke 2:7. In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of diaper. How very incarnate the incarnation is! And yet what encouragement is here. For if Christ stoops so low, to such a ‘common’ level, does this not sanctify all that seems common and ordinary and unimpressive in the lives of His people? To be quaint and go back a few years–the weaver laboring at his loom, the farmer putting up hay, the mother cleaning her oven, or the teacher tutoring her ‘slower’ student in reading, the accountant preparing tax returns, the pastor reading in his study, the doctor diagnosing a perplexed patient. Jesus’ feeding trough suffuses all the glamorlessness of our callings with a touch of His humble glory.” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Luke 1-13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor”, pp. 46-47, blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks, same as above) 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 — (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/21/hope-for-today-faith-produces-perseverance/

(I love this one by Tozer!) 

The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (blogged by beingcreatedinhisimage https://deepcallstpdeep.wordpress.com/2022/01/21/removing-the-veil/

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/22/leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms-2/

(Thank you Lord for your grace, your grace, your amazing grace!) 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

Compassionate and Gracious

Like a lover, totally focused on the beloved, leaning forward wanting to hear every word, every sigh.

He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:7-8 (ESV) 

And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness … “ Exodus 34:6 

The psalmist says that God made his ways and acts known to Moses. God always wants to be known. I am thinking that I should pay attention when God defines himself. God describes himself this way: compassionate and gracious (or merciful), slow to anger and abounding in love. I looked at the first two attributes and was overwhelmed. I would like to save the second two for a future blog. 

The first two words are the Hebrew rachum and channun. These two words are each used thirteen times in the Old Testament. Linked together, to describe God, they are used twelve times. Alone or together, they are always only used as attributes of God. Rachum means full of compassion, merciful; channun means gracious, “as hearing the cry of the vexed debtor.”i 

John J. Parsons has this to say about these concepts: 

“Notice first that the LORD calls himself rachum v’chanun, often translated ‘merciful and gracious.’ The noun rechem means ‘womb’ in Hebrew, indicating that God’s compassion is like a mother’s deep love for her child. The word chanun (from chen, grace or favor) indicates that God is a graceful giver who is favorably disposed to help those in need. God is compassionate and favorable to those who call upon Him.” — John J. Parsons, Hebrew for Christiansii  

The adjective rachum comes from the verb racham, to love, to have compassion, or to compassionate. A.W. Tozer explains it this way: 

“According to the Old Testament, mercy has certain meanings: to stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon and to be actively compassionate. It used to be a verb form of the word compassion, but we don’t use it anymore — maybe it’s because we don’t have the concept anymore. God actively ‘compassionates’ suffering men — I like that wonderfully well. For God to feel compassion at a distance is one thing, but for God actively to compassionate with people is something else.”– A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God  

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9 

The second word, channun or gracious – hearing the cry of the debtor and being favorably disposed to help – reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 of the man who came before the master with overwhelming, impossible debt. But when he cried out for mercy “the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” 

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 

The compassion and grace of God are tightly woven together. God’s rachum, the deep love of a parent for a child, moves him to be gracious. Tozer notes in his book, The Attributes of God, that grace and mercy are not things that God does, but who God is. God is forever the compassionate Father favorably disposed toward those who cry out to him, always welcoming home the prodigal. 

And Jesus was saying to us, ‘You went away in Adam, but you’re coming back in Christ. And when you come back, you’ll find the Father hasn’t changed. He’s the same Father that He was when you all went out, every man to his own way. But when you come back in Jesus Christ you’ll find Him exactly the same as you left Him–unchanged. And the Father ran and threw his arms around him and welcomed him and put a robe and a ring on him and said, ‘This my son was dead, and he’s alive again’ ([Luke] 15:24). This is the grace of God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (emphasis mine) 

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11 

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to confidently draw near to God because of these two attributes. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy (pity, compassion) and find grace (kindness, “the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is ‘always leaning toward them’”)iii to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 

Isn’t that amazing and wonderful? The word for “grace” in the Greek includes the picture of God “freely giving himself away to people” and “always leaning toward them.” Like a lover, totally focused on the beloved, leaning forward wanting to hear every word, every sigh. Like a parent leaning forward to catch the newly walking toddler. Like the father leaning forward, straining to see the very first glimpse of his returning child. 

For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him. 2 Chronicles 30:9 (ESV) 

… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:12-14 

Come back. If you have wandered far away, come back. If you are near, but have hardened your heart, come back. Come. Jesus has freely given himself for you on the cross. He is leaning toward you. He is the same unchanging God that introduced himself to Moses, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” 

Salvation

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Not Karma

Pay them back what they deserve, O Lord, for what their hands have done. Lamentations 3:64 

Jeremiah, the prophet whom God sent to warn Israel of impending disaster, had, for his troubles, been made a captive, thrown down into the bottom of a muddy, empty well to die, been beaten and put in stocks, mocked and insulted. And here he cries out to the Lord for vengeance. “Give them what they deserve Lord!” 

That is our natural reaction to mistreatment, isn’t it? Hoping they get what they deserve; hoping that karma will do its thing. The problem is, it is a two-way street. Reading this, I all of a sudden saw the contrast between Jeremiah’s natural reaction and the cry of Jesus from the cross: “Father forgive them!” 

Jesus was cruelly treated too, but he said something different. He pleaded for God to forgive. He didn’t cry out for karma or revenge. Jesus showed us another way. “Father forgive them!”  

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Jesus came as the exact representation of God. Jesus came to show us what God is really like. “Father forgive them!”  

Jeremiah didn’t have that. But we do because of what Jesus did on the cross. It is the “Good News,” the gospel message. You are forgiven. They are forgiven. Jesus made the way for our forgiveness, and gives us the power, through his Spirit to forgive. We don’t have to trust in, or be the victims of karma. We may have done really horrible things, and people may have done horrible things to us, but God hears the cry of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them!” 

You are forgiven. Come and receive what Jesus did for you by dying on the cross. If he or she or they have mistreated you, forgive, let it go, put it God’s capable hands. Let God love them back home, just as he is doing for you. That’s quite a bit different from karma. Karma wants revenge. God wants redemption.  

Lord forgive us and make us a new creation. Give us the power to say with you, “Father forgive them!” 

What does the Bible say about Karma?

Image, Niagara Falls, by Boris Kasimov  https://flic.kr/p/2g3fgeL

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