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)

Every Heart

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Genesis 3:8 (ESV) 

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day about cancel culture. The first person says, “I hate cancel culture.” The second one answers, “The very first Bible story is God cancelling two people over an apple.” I wanted to put in a good word for God here.

What this meme defines as “cancelling” was God closing the doors of the Garden and not allowing Adam and Eve back in. They had just sinned, separating themselves from God, causing a rift in the relationship. And they showed a distressing tendency to continue on that path, refusing to admit their responsibility in the matter, pointing fingers at each other.  

God did not want them to eat of the tree that would give them eternal life in that state. They would have been eternally separated from God and his love for them. Isn’t that the definition of hell? It was an act of mercy and compassion banning them from the Garden and locking them out. He was giving them a chance; he was giving them time to turn, time to realize what they had lost. Until God would come back into another garden and open the door again by offering Himself up as the atonement. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. John 18:1-3 (ESV) 

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. John 19:41 (ESV) 

You are invited to turn around and come back into the garden and walk again with the One who loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.  

“God now fills the recovered garden, and we may without fear walk and commune with Him in the cool of the day.” — A.W. Tozer 

Come back  Salvation

Image, hand-colored lino print by Sheila Bair. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved. 

The Assumptions of Grace

Ever wonder what grace really means?

(This post is reblogged with permission from Seedbed https://www.seedbed.com/the-assumptions-of-grace/)

Philippians 4:23

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

CONSIDER THIS

And so it ends as it began, by grace:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

I wish I better understood this little word we so readily throw around in the Christian faith. It has come to mean so much that it means almost nothing. I assume I know what it means, and so I just mouth the words and move on. I mean, I get it, right? You too?

Paul begins and ends every letter he writes with these same words, yet there is nothing standard about these kinds of greetings. He is not saying, “Hello again, hope you are well,” or “Thanks for everything; wish you were here.” He is not extending his own grace to us. He greets us with the very grace of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The little word is loaded with assumptions, and, lest I regularly reexamine them, the word becomes little more than my own presumption.

So what does grace assume? Here goes. It assumes I know I am a sinner; that I was born a sinner; that I am a sinner, not because I sin, but that I sin because I am a sinner. Grace assumes I understand I am a son of Adam, infected with sin-cancer from the start, born with a terminal illness, and destined for destruction. I am, by nature, a child of wrath. It’s not that God hates me; he loves me so much he will not allow me, a depraved sinner, to stand in his presence; for in his presence I am destroyed.

God is holy. This is his nature. Just as a fire consumes anything it is fed, so the holiness of God consumes whatever is not holy. And grace assumes I know that there is absolutely nothing I can do to make myself holy. Grace assumes that I understand that, apart from grace, I am hopeless. The holy God of the universe will not tolerate sin, not because he chooses not to but because he cannot, for to do so would be to deny his nature. The wrath of God is not an emotion but a simple fact of his existence.

Grace also assumes I know I am loved. I was loved at my birth, despite my sinful nature, and loved every day of my life, despite my sin; and loved in and through my recalcitrant, rebellious resistance. Grace wants to make sure I know I am loved, not because of anything I have ever done or not done; nor am I not loved because of anything I have ever done or not done. Grace assumes I know I am loved because it is God’s nature to love me.

Yes, grace assumes I know that God is holy and God is love and that these two eternal verities have been made known to us in this gospel: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Grace assumes I know that understand that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). 

Grace assumes I get it that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Grace is the unmerited, unmitigated favor of God for sinners like me and you. The more we recognize our sin, the more we recognize our need for God’s grace; the more we recognize our need for God’s grace, the more grace we are given; and the more grace we are given, the more we become the agents of his grace in the world for others.

When Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen,” this is what he means.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is grace and truth, holiness and love, God and man, giver and gift. Thank you for the cross where we find grace on grace on grace. Thank you. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Are you growing in your grasp of the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
  2. How has Paul’s letter to the Philippians most encouraged you? Challenged you?
  3. What is your top takeaway from this letter and our journey through it?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief

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

Those Who Knew Him

There was only one thing that could have kept them standing there with him that terrible day.

When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:48-49 

There were two groups of people that day witnessing the death of Jesus on the cross. The Greek word translated “sight” above is theoria, which means spectacle or something to be viewed. It comes from theoreo – to be a spectator. So, there were the spectators. We are very familiar with being a spectator to tragedies these days. We do what they did, mostly, “beat our breasts” at how horrible it is – then walk away and go on with life. 

But those who knew him …  

Then there were the ones who knew him. The word “knew” here does not mean just to know about Jesus, but it means to be well known. They knew him well. They were the ones who had followed him from the beginning. The word comes from a Greek word that is even used for married intimacy. These were the ones who had sat around the campfire with him and told jokes, seen the sparkle in his eyes, heard him call their name, been electrified at the probing questions, felt his touch as he washed their feet. 

But those who knew him … stood. 

At a distance, helpless, in despair, not knowing what was happening. But they stood with him to the end. The women followed his lifeless body to the very end, to the tomb. 

The word translated “stood” is histemi in the Greek. It means “to cause or make to stand … in the presence of others, in the midst, before judges, before members of the Sanhedrin … to make firm, fix establish, to cause a person or a thing to keep his place … [I love this one!] to be kept intact (of family, of a kingdom) … to stand by or near, to stop, stand still, to stand immovable.” 

Soon they would receive the power from on high to go on. But just then, when things were darkest, all they could do, all there was to do, was stand. 

Their leader was being executed. They themselves, therefore, were on a very dangerous blacklist. The fear and the doubt must have been oppressive. There was only one thing that could have kept them standing there with him that terrible day. They knew him – it all comes down to knowing him. 

I can deeply empathize with them. All those wonderful words and promises nailed to a cross and spit upon and dead. All the expectations and dreams bled out, the last breath gasped. Joy suffocated. Hope buried in a tomb. Sometimes the days are very dark. 

Yet (!) I too have heard his voice calling my name. I, too, have looked into his eyes, and felt his touch and the breathtaking power of his unfailing love. I know whom I have believed, and I know that – even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it – he has given me power, not my own, to stand and to endure to the end. 

Family of God, you who are of His Kingdom – you who know him – when you feel lost in the darkness, when fear and doubt overwhelm, when you are tempted to walk away – he will keep you intact, he will cause you to stand, make you firm, fixed, immovable. Fix your eyes and heart on him. Strive to know him and follow him deeper each day. Cling to him. And when there is nothing else you can do, stand. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 

Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Timothy 1:12 

For those who don’t yet know Him, come!   Salvation

Image, detail from Storm by texaus1 https://flic.kr/p/R41Zbp  

Mount Ebal

It struck me as kind of weird that God commanded Joshua to build the altar there.

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. — Joshua 8:30 

After the Israelites had come into the promised land and won a couple of battles, Joshua built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices – the burnt offering and the fellowship offering. It struck me as kind of weird that God commanded Joshua to build the altar there on Mount Ebal because it was the mountain of cursing. 

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. Deuteronomy 11:29 

Half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and call out the curses that would incur to those who failed to obey the commandments (Deuteronomy 27:14-26). And half were to stand on Mount Gerizim and call out the blessings. Wouldn’t God want the altar to be built on the place of blessings? 

But then I saw that this is the whole point.  

God didn’t turn his back on those who committed sin. He didn’t say that he would only receive sacrifices from the ones who perfectly kept the commandments. He knew that the blessing was unattainable without the altar of repentance. But mostly, it was unattainable without the One to whom the sacrifices pointed. God left room for mercy, looking forward to the final sacrifice for sin, to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would set us free from the curse forever. 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Galatians 3:13 

Don’t cover over your sins and try with all your might to obtain the blessing through self-righteousness. Go to the mountain of cursing. Admit your failures before God. That is where the altar is. 

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32 

Image, Mount Ebal (Eival) in Samaria, by Bukvoed in Wikimedia Commons 

May That Grace

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14 

This short benediction at the end of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth contains the whole of the gospel in one sentence.  

May the grace (good will, loving-kindness, favor, merciful kindness of God, gift of grace) that Jesus came to demonstrate and consummate by his death on the Cross – 

Which provided for the forgiveness and forgetting and throwing into the depths of the sea our sins which separated us from our great and compassionate God, ripping apart the dividing veil, opening the door, revealing who he is, making it possible for us to know God, know Him as our Father, and his great love and yearning for us – 

May that grace which made the way for us to come into God’s presence and know the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, abide in him and he in us, that we might be with him and he with us – Immanuel, Friend, Lover, Bridegroom – forevermore – 

May that grace be with you all (individually, each, every, any, all, everyone).  

Find that grace, love and fellowship https://lp.billygraham.org/find-peace-with-god/

Photo by Jack Bair

He Gives Us Bread

It was the freshly baked bread that got me.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 1 Kings 19:5-7

It was the freshly baked bread that got me. Elijah was on the run from Jezebel, fearing for his life. He was at the end of his rope. He was done. “I have had enough, Lord, “he said. “Take my life.” I have felt that way too, especially lately.

Yet, even so, God gave him food and drink. I imagine how tantalizing the warm bread must have smelled and tasted to Elijah. God could have given Elijah anything to eat (bugs for instance), but he gave him something wonderful. He cared about Elijah even in this time of weakness. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” God cared about Elijah in the journey he was on, even when this particular part of the journey was fear and disobedience. Even when Elijah was running away from his mission.

And Elijah kept on running. To a cave in the mountain called Horeb, where the Presence of the Lord passed by him and he heard the gentle voice of God asking him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Sounds like a parent talking to a toddler, doesn’t it?

Did you know that this mountain, Horeb, that Elijah fled to was the same mountain where Moses (also on the run) saw the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2), where God gave Moses the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2), and where Moses struck the rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6)? But, even more amazing, it is the same place where God also passed by Moses.

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, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a

God came with a gentle whisper to Elijah. To Moses, he proclaimed himself a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger.” And he had to be compassionate and gracious to put up with the whining and complaining and outright rebellion of the people of God. They complained about their calling; they ran from their mission. But he took care of them and watched over them and provided for them. And this is very comforting to me because I am just like them. Daily.

God gave Elijah a helper, Elisha, just as he had given Aaron to Moses. But he ignored Elijah’s complaints and excuses, just as he had Moses’. To both of them he said, get up and go. You have work to do.

And you know what is the most amazing thing of all? It was these two flawed men of God who stood with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). A place of honor. A place of unbelievable grace.

Our Father does not reject us or abandon us or give up on us, even when we are on the run. He whispers gently. He gives us bread.

I am the bread of life. John 6:48

Photograph, Detail from Warming Bread by Jason Jones https://flic.kr/p/bKZkHM

Who Will Rescue Me?

(A Good Friday Reading)

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:24-25

The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:2-3

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way. Isaiah 53:6a

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Isaiah 49:2

He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intercede; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. Isaiah 59:16

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB)

The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6b

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:2

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. Psalm 22:16-18

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25

For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. John 3:16 (TPT)

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! Psalm 22:31

It is finished! (completed, accomplished, paid in full) John 19:30

 

 

All verses from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Image in the Public Domain

The Hands of the Loving Potter

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works (deeds, actions). Psalms 33:14-15 (NASB)

These verses are a comfort and hope to me. God’s gaze is on me. He sees me. He understands why I do the dumb things I do. And he is fashioning, forming my heart. Strong’s Concordance defines this forming as squeezing into shape as a potter does with clay. It feels like squeezing too.

And the psalmist says that God sees all the sons of men; he is forming the hearts of all, everyone. This forming is being done where we cannot perceive, deep inside the hidden place. Those people we look askance upon, doing things that, to us, are incomprehensible – their hearts are also being fashioned by the hands of a compassionate, merciful God. I like how the Pulpit Commentary puts it:

“The hearts of all men are in God’s keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to ‘mould’ them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are.”

Yes, that’s for sure. We all stubbornly resist at times, but he does not give up on us. And neither should we give up on each other. This is a gracious hope for me. That God is working in the hearts of those for whom I am praying. That the hands of the loving potter are at work though I may not be able to see it.

If there are ones for whom you have been praying, maybe for a long time, do not give up. Let us wait in hope. Let us keep loving. Let us keep praying. Let us trust that the hands of the loving Potter are upon us all.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. Psalms 33:20-22

 

 

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Buried Treasure

You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

I have always seen this verse interpreted, and thought of it myself, as us finding the treasure of Jesus. And then going off and selling all that we have and following him, like Jesus recommended to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:21 (NIV).

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But this time, as I read Matthew 13:24-44, I saw something else. Previously, in these verses, Jesus is comparing his people, his chosen, as good wheat planted in a field (this world), and the “sons of the evil one” as weeds. What if the treasure found in the field is us too? What if the good wheat and the hidden treasure are the same? And what if the man who finds the hidden treasure and goes away and sells all he has to buy the field is Jesus?

Yes, I believe and know and am joyfully grateful that Jesus is my Treasure, my “Pearl of great price,” worth everything I am and own. But, I am seeing that I am his treasure too. The treasure he came to find. The treasure for which he gave up everything to buy back, to redeem. The treasure that he can rightfully claim as his.

… Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:13b-14 (NASB)

The Greek word translated “possession” in the above verse is periousios, which means peculiar in the sense of special, or one’s own. H. Preisker has written that “Christ’s work of redemption has created for God a people that is a costly possession or special treasure.”[i] A treasure for whom Jesus joyfully went and “sold” all he had, for whom he sacrificed all.

… who for the joy set before him endured the cross … (Hebrews 12:2)

.. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB)

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV)

You were bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIV)

Can you see yourself as a special treasure? You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life. A treasure he has pulled up out of that hole in the ground. A treasure who has, through his death on the cross, been resurrected out of the grave to new life, new value, new hope. You, yes you, are his precious treasure.

“You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9 (NIV)

 

Photo by Puuikibeach on flickr.com https://flic.kr/p/DyTeW1

This post is also available as a Bible study, freely available for use at Buried Treasure Bible Study

 

[i] Preisker, Herbert, “periousios,” in Gerhard Friedrich, ed., and Geoffrey Bromiley, trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), VI, p. 57.