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. 

A Hardhat Kind of Love

This kind of love is a “hard hat, lunch pail, pick axe” kind of love.

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up … Acts 3:6-8 

Usually, I focus on the first part of this verse, the silver and gold part. Peter and John didn’t have a lot of money but they had a real treasure – the power of the Name of Jesus. A power that heals and renews and repairs and restores. As Peter explained to the astonished crowd: 

And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16 (ESV) 

And as Paul encouraged the Corinthians, we have this treasure of the knowledge of God and what Jesus has done for us on the cross. 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV) 

Silver and gold most of us do not have, but we can have the most precious power in the universe. But this time as I read the passage above in Acts, I was drawn to look at the second part of the verse. The part where Peter reaches down and takes the man by the hand. And I saw that faith in the Name is the treasure, but love, or “works” as James put it, is its expression. 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-18 

This kind of love is, as my pastor Troy Gentz put it in a recent messagei, “a hard hat, lunch pail, pick axe” kind of love.  It is a reaching down, taking by the hand, helping up kind of love. It is not philosophical. It is not just reading about faith and mentally, or even from the heart, assenting to what is written. It is not even just giving of our resources. It is giving ourselves. 

As I was searching for a way to express the love God requires, I came on this list of synonyms: “hands on, personally involved, front line, in the trenches, in amongst it.”ii  Yes, “in amongst it”! Just like Jesus is in amongst us – our Emmanuel (see Jesus in the Middle). 

Love cannot stay just in our minds or even in our hearts. It can’t remain as words on a page, no matter how adored. It was made to be – it exists to be – expressed in works of love that reach out and grasp people by the hand and pull them up and out. As Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). 

In the same sermon Troy Gentz said, “The love of God is an ocean and it shouldn’t trickle down to a dirty little puddle that we share with people.”iii  What keeps the treasure we have from gushing out all over the place in refreshing, life-giving, good works of love? Fear, prejudice, self-preservation, selfishness, apathy – all things that Jesus addressed in his time here on earth (ex.: Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 12:15-21).  

“We should resemble God … look like God’s kids. It’s [love is] a family trait.”iv 

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you. Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13 

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16 

i Troy Gentz, Greatest Sermon series, Sunday June 6, 2021 https://youtu.be/D-6fr9HWDnw?t=1636  

ii Word Hippo https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/down_and_dirty.html  

iii ibid, Troy Gentz 

iv ibid, Troy Gentz 

Image in the Public Domain from Wikimedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hard_Hats_Required.jpg

Your Love is Captain

Your compassion is great, O LORD …  Psalm 119:156 

Your compassion is great (Hebrew = rab), much, abundant, strong, greater, enough 

Your compassion is rab, captain, chief, shipmaster, prince 

Your compassion is rab (Greek = rabbi), Master, Teacher, Christ 

Your compassion (Hebrew = racham), tender love and mercy is The Rabbi

Your tender love and mercy is Master, Teacher, Shipmaster, Christ 

Your tender love and mercy is Jesus 

Your love is Captain  

Image, Gandalf’s Gallery, Ludolf Backhuysen – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee [1695], https://flic.kr/p/22qS8Sx  

No Boundaries

The question is not who is my neighbor – who deserves my love – but how can I be a neighbor, how can I love.  

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 

“Who is my neighbor? Which ones do I have to love?” Possibly even, “Which ones deserve my love?” The expert in the correct interpretation of the law wanted to put some kind of boundaries around this amorphous love thing. 

In reply Jesus said: “A man …” Luke 10:30 

I think most of us have at least heard about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.i  The story of a person who was beat up and left for dead in the road, and how two very religious types turned their heads and walked by on the other side of the road. But a person who in the Jewish culture of the time was considered unclean and an outcast – that person, not only stopped, but gave of his time and resources to take care of the wounded man. 

The Jews of the time thought, “Samaritans were half-breeds who defiled the true religion. ”ii According to Got Questions, “The Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions … [This probably really irked the expert in the law.] From these causes arose an irreconcilable difference between them, so that the Jews regarded the Samaritans as the worst of the human race (John 8:48) and had no dealings with them (John 4:9).”iii  

I think it is amusing how Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of the story. This person who rejects all the expert’s “correct” interpretation and sage wisdom is the one who gets it right. The Samaritan does not stop to figure out who deserves his love – he just loves. That is interesting in itself because, remember, Jesus was rejected in Samaria because he was going to Jerusalem, the “wrong” place to worship (Luke 9:51-56).  

But Jesus did not reject the Samaritans. He shocked everybody by reaching out to them at Sychar – and to a woman at that! (John 4:4-42). Jesus totally ignored all the arguments on both sides about words and correctness and, ultimately, pride of being on the right side, and went straight for the heart. 

Because the question is not who is my neighbor – who deserves my love – but how can I be a neighbor, how can I love.  

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:35-36 

People are always trying to put boundaries around love, always trying to justify themselves “Surely, you don’t mean that person?” But love is meant to be given, to be done, to be lavished. Jesus showed us how. He set love free; he tore down the walls. There is no justifying and being RIGHT. There is no “who,” there is only “how and what.” “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  

Jesus washed even Judas’ feet, showing us the “full extent of his love” (John 13:1 NIV). 

The expert got it right the first time: 

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

i If you have never read the whole parable, you can do so here https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37&version=NIV 

ii Alyssa Roat, Bible Study Tools https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/the-samaritans-hope-from-the-history-of-a-hated-people.html 

iii Samaritans, Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/Samaritans.html 

Image, Old Barbed Wire, by arbyreed, https://flic.kr/p/9fTHVa  

Splashing Indiscriminately

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. Matthew 5:44-45 (NLT) 

Like perfume dripping down 

like rain on the evil and the good 

like drink offerings lost in the dirt 

vessels of his love-glory 

pour yourselves out 

tip yourselves over 

lavishly 

wastefully 

splashing indiscriminately 

not thinking of merit 

no one deserves 

his love 

Image by Mark Ordonez  https://flic.kr/p/6DhvmR  

At a Distance

We are not betting on ourselves.

“Our heavenly Father isn’t looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. He’s looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because we’ve settled once and for all, ‘My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.’” — David Wilkerson 

For some reason, this quote is really hitting something at my core. I recognize that this is what I have been doing – dredging up the faith for one horrible incoming missile at a time. But a “lifelong commitment to believe for the impossible”- why is that so hard for me? I think because I am following at a distance.  

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14:54 

The truth was, that even though Peter had walked on the water; even though he had seen the transfiguration and declared Jesus the Christ – Peter still wasn’t irrevocably committed. He was waiting to see what would happen. Like me waiting to see where this next bomb will fall and the outcome before committing to faith for the next one. 

“I think most of us do everything we can, unconsciously, mostly, to detach ourselves from The Story and stand by, observing from a safe distance. But the point of The Story is this: the Christ event was not a bittersweet event long ago that we reenact liturgically and aesthetically to settle some faint longing within. The Story is a template of our own innermost truth. To live we must die.” — Suzanne Guthrie 

Ah yes, observing from a safe distance. But “lifelong commitment” demands being willing to die. Or, as A.W. Tozer put it, “Christians ought to be those who are so totally committed that it is final.”i  Our God, who is forever fully, intensely, passionately, one-track committed to us, desires this kind of final lifetime faith from us. A faith that does not watch from a distance, but is willing to go, with him, all the way to the cross. 

Does the Scripture mean nothing to you that says, “The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us”? James 4:5 (TPT) 

Because Your loving-commitment is better than life, my lips do praise You. Psalm 63: 3 (The Scriptures 2009) 

The Hebrew word translated “loving-commitment” above is chesed, or hesed. It’s meaning is as big as God himself, including love, mercy and faithfulness. But Koehler Baumgartner’s Lexicon of the Old Testament describes hesed as also including the idea of the “mutual liability of those … belonging together.” I love that – those belonging together – “My lover is mine and I am his “(Song of Songs 2:16). But it is so much more than just a legal liability.  

According to gotquestions.org, “The core idea of this term communicates loyalty or faithfulness within a relationship. Thus, hesed is closely related to God’s covenant with His people, Israel. As it relates to the concept of love, hesed expresses God’s faithfulness to His people … Hesed finds its home in committed, familial love, and it comes to life in actions. 

The message of the gospel—God’s act of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus—is rooted in hesed. Hesed describes the disposition of God’s heart not only toward His people but to all humanity. The love of God extends far beyond duty or expectation. His forgiveness of sin fulfills a need that is basic to all other needs in the relationship between human beings and God—the restoration and continuation of fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. God’s hesed manifested in forgiveness makes a relationship with Him possible. That forgiveness comes to us freely as a gift from God based on the sacrificial act of Christ.” —  https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-hesed.html  

And, as to those incoming missiles, I think J.D. Walt says it best. 

“We do not fret as to whether the odds are in our favor precisely because we are not betting on ourselves. The odds do not matter one whit to those who are already ‘all in.’ It is God with whom we deal, not our detractors or enemies.” — J.D. Walt 

Am I “all in?” Are you? It is the essential question of our times. 

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:8 

Reckless Faith

I think that kind of reckless love deserves a reckless faith in return.

“The Lord desires that you believe him to bring you into his promised rest. God never intended that his children live in fear and despair. We need a reckless faith and trust in God in the face of fear, trouble and death itself.” — David Wilkerson (1931-2011), Promises of God for Every Season 

What a good quote for the times we are in! The phrase, “reckless faith,” especially caught my attention, for a couple of reasons. Most of the time, the word “reckless” has a negative connotation to us. While to “reck” means to care, even to worry, about something, “reckless” is defined by The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “Careless of the consequences of one’s actions; heedless (of something); lacking in prudence or caution.”  

The phrase also reminded me of Cory Asbury’s song, Reckless Love.  

The overwhelming, never-ending 
Reckless love of God 
It chases me down 
Fight ’til I’m found 
Leaves the ninety-nine 
I couldn’t earn it 
I don’t deserve it 
Still you give yourself away — from Reckless Love by Cory Asbury 

Cory received some criticism for calling God’s love reckless. I love the defense and explanation he offered on his Facebook page: 

“When I use the phrase, ‘the reckless love of God’, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.” — Cory Asbury, on Facebooki 

God’s reckless love is portrayed by the father in the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal’s father was reckless with his love. Running out like that with his robe flapping, probably exposing his legs (and himself to ridicule). Going against all polite etiquette, tradition and rules pertaining to that sort of situation. Risking his success, reputation, possessions – everything he had worked for all his life.

God’s love is that kind of love – the kind that would send his only son down into this hateful, dark chaos and broken mess. The kind that would “bankrupt heaven” for us.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 

I think that kind of reckless love deserves a reckless faith in return. David had such a faith. Running straight out toward the giant (1 Samuel 17:48), dancing in crazy joy at the return of the Ark – heedless of what people thought, lacking prudence or caution for his safety or reputation.  

David returned home to bless his family. Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to greet him: “How wonderfully the king has distinguished himself today—exposing himself to the eyes of the servants’ maids like some burlesque street dancer!” David replied to Michal, “In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! Oh yes, I’ll dance to God’s glory—more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned . . . I’ll gladly look like a fool . . .” 2 Samuel 6:20-22 (Message) 

What David was saying is, “I will praise and glorify God with all my strength, with all my being, not caring what anybody thinks!” David was a “man after God’s own heart” because he had reckless faith, banishing all care about his reputation, or even care about his personal welfare, striving only to delight his God. In Psalm 62 David wrote: 

My salvation (deliverance, salvation, rescue, safety, welfare) and my honor (glory, reputation) depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Psalm 62:7 

Lord, thank you for your reckless love for me. I want to have a reckless faith in return. In this time of “fear, trouble and death itself,” help me not to live in fear and despair. Give me a reckless faith, a reckless trust, in you and you alone. A faith that simply gives myself away. Let me proclaim, “My salvation and my honor depend on God.” 

And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. — J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King 

i quoted by Jake Gosselin in Reckless Love by Cory Asbury – Song Meaning, Review, and Worship Leading Tips https://churchfront.com/blog-churchfront/2017/11/8/reckless-love-by-cory-asbury-song-meaning-review-and-worship-leading-tips  

Photo, Sunrise on the River, copyright Derek Bair

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

The Everlasting Lyrics

Jesus knew what he was singing, but did the disciples?

The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving praise to the LORD—” for His lovingkindness is everlasting” … 2 Chronicles 7:6 (NASB)

1 Chronicles 16:39-41 records how David appointed worship leaders and established the way to give thanks to the Lord saying, “for his lovingkindness is everlasting.”  It appears that by the time of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple this phrase, His lovingkindness is everlasting (or His love endures forever), had become the standard for praise. Ezra 3:10-11 confirms that “according to the directions of King David of Israel” they were to play the musical instruments and praise God in this way.

The Psalms are full of this phrase. It is used 26 times just in Psalm 136. Wouldn’t you love to know how the music went? But even more important is to know why that phrase? What is so important about these lyrics – for his lovingkindness is everlasting?

Psalm 118, one of the great Messianic prophecies, foreshadowing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his death as the Passover lamb, uses this phrase five times. The Psalm declares that “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone,” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” But it also says this:

The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Psalm 118:27-29 (NASB)

What is this festival sacrifice mentioned here? It is the sacrificial lamb. Did you know that on major feast days, according to Jewish tradition, a set of Psalms were sung that are referred to as the Hallel? It includes Psalms 113-118 and 136. So, these words could have been among the last that Jesus and the disciples sang before they went to the Mount of Olives the night Jesus was arrested.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:20

The Greek word translated “hymn” here is humneo, which is the “singing of paschal hymns … Psalms 113 – 118 and 136, which the Jews called the ‘great Hallel.’”[i]

Jesus knew what he was singing when he sang “bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar,” but did the disciples? Did it, maybe, dawn on them later the everlasting meaning of those last words?

Give thanks (shoot arrows, extend your hands in reverent worship, confess the name of the Lord, praise, give thanks) to the Lord,

for He is good (gracious, joyful, kind, loving, precious, sweet);

For His lovingkindness (goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, pity)

is everlasting (from the beginning of the world, perpetual, continuous, eternal, to the vanishing point). Psalm 118:29

I’m not sure David understood what he was singing. I don’t think the disciples did either at first. But this perpetual, continuous, gracious, loving, precious, sweet goodness, kindness, mercy of God has always existed. It was his plan from the beginning of the world, this sacrificial Lamb.

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. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:18-20

Let us join in the eternal song. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting!

Image, Silk Willoughby church, East Window detail, by Jules & Jenny on flickr.com https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpguffogg/


[i] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

His Hand

I might get a little singed by the refining fire, but no one can snatch me out of His mighty, loving hand.

Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it? Isaiah 43:13

Usually when I read the above verse it is with a negative connotation: you’re not getting away from me! You can’t escape. I confess I sometimes feel like Job.

You know good and well I’m not guilty. You also know no one can help me [deliver me out of your hand]. Job 10:7 (The Message)

But today the phrase “no one can deliver out of my hand” was a comfort. Today I feel like David. I would rather be in God’s hands, no matter what.

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” 2 Samuel 24:14

His mercy is great. I can trust Him. Even though his all-consuming fire may be consuming the dross in me – the hay and the straw and the stubble – I can trust in his mercy.

But you know what? That word translated “deliver” means more. It is natsal (נָצַל ) and means to snatch away (in a good or bad sense), deliver, rescue, save, strip, plunder. It is used for taking plunder or spoil after a battle. No one can snatch me away out of His hand. No one can take me as plunder, for no one can be victorious over God. He roars jealously over me.

Jesus repeated this, what is actually a compassionate, unfailing love, full-of-grace-and-mercy, promise.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:28-29

I might get a little singed by the refining fire, but no one can snatch me out of His mighty, loving hand. He is the same God, Old and New Testament. He does not change.

See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver (snatch, take as plunder) out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

Photo, Sheep Drinking at the River by Kevin Ryder, https://flic.kr/p/fCcjsP