Easter Saturday

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (conquered, prevailed, been victorious).” John 16:33 (NIV)

You probably already knew this, but I just realized that Jesus said this to his disciples at the last supper. After Judas had left to betray him.

Yet, Jesus said, “I HAVE overcome,” because from where God sits, there is no time. Jesus had already overcome, in fact he had overcome from the foundation of the world.

He [the Lamb who was slain] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:18

Jesus knew what the disciples were going to experience in the next days and he wanted to give them something to cling to. He hoped they would remember his words in that dark day between the despair of the crucifixion, and the blazing light and joy of the resurrection. As Philip Yancey wrote, “It was no accident, I believe, that Jesus spoke his triumphant words, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD, even as Roman soldiers were buckling on weapons for his arrest.”

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. Let us rest and abide in the One who promises to always be with us. Let us be still and know that he is God. He has already overcome this dark world, and whether we live or die, our peace is in him, our ultimate home is with him. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“It is a good thing to remember, when we encounter dark, disturbing times, that we live out our days on Easter Saturday.”—Philip Yancey[i]

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NASB)

 

[i] Where is God When it Hurts?

 

God’s Proposal

Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention?

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 (prothesis). For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

I have always read this verse and stopped at the comfort of its promise: that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. This time I thought I would go through it carefully, word by word, and study it. When I got to the word translated “purpose” I was stopped in my tracks at the amazing depth and fullness and loving message hidden there.

The Greek word is prothesis. It means “a setting forth of a thing,” figuratively, a proposal or intention. Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention? The word prothesis also contains the answer to that question.

Prothesis also means a setting forth of the shewbread in the Temple, as exposed before God. The shewbread, or showbread, was the Bread of the Presence, which God commanded to be always before him.

Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. Exodus 25:30 (NIV)

Prothesis is the same word that Jesus used in Matthew:

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread (shewbread, loaves of presentation)—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Matthew 12:3-4 (NIV)

The noun prothesis comes from the verb protithemai, which means to place before, to set forth to be looked at, expose to public view. It was used of the bodies of the dead that were let lie in state. In ancient Greek it referred to the laying out of a dead body during the funeral (exposing the body for viewing), also called lying in repose. The laying out, or exposing of, the shewbread in the temple was like the lying in repose of the body of Christ. It was the exposing of God’s intention, his Grand Proposal to save the world.

God’s purpose, his proposal, his intention, that, Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread of the Presence, Immanuel, God with us, would die for us.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:48-51 (NIV)

This was always God’s intent, but there is more in Romans 8:28-29: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. He wants us to be like Jesus. To lay our lives down too. To help bring this life, this Bread, to the world. To share the good news of God’s grand proposal: that Jesus died and rose again from the dead to save us from our sins.

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:7-11 (NIV)

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26 (NIV)

 

Rise up and help us; redeem us because of (for the sake of, for the purpose of, to the intent of, on account of) your unfailing love. Psalm 44:26 (NIV)

 

Image by Heartlight https://www.heartlight.org/articles/201703/20170304_worthy.html

You Shall Love, I Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Middle of the Story

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Faith thanks God in the middle of the story.”[i] The middle of the story is the hard place, where behind me, and at my feet, is the stumbled-over rubble of past mistakes, rebellions, regrets. And before, is the obscured darkness of unknown hazards and hopes. Faith thanks God amid the wreckage. Faith asks me every day to turn from fear and trust the One who has promised. How do I do that? Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The amazing Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis.  It partly means “steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution, confidence, firm trust, assurance,” and it is mostly translated that way as “confidence.” It literally means “a setting under”[ii] as in setting under a support, a substructure, a foundation, that which is firm. Faith is the setting under me of the foundation that makes or causes me to stand and be confident. Jesus is that foundation[iii] under me. He is the Rock on which I stand.

Thinking of it this way helps me, because it makes me realize that faith is not so much something that I “have,” something I am required to manufacture or come up with. But faith is something I do. I simply step onto the Rock. I place my faith and hope, not in my ability to produce faith, not in something that may or may not happen, but in Jesus – his faithfulness, his truth, his Word, his love and care.

But, the hidden treasure in this word is another facet of meaning. Hupostasis also means “actual existence, substance, real being, essence.” It is used in this sense in Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (hupostasis) sustaining (bearing up, upholding, keeping from falling) all things by his powerful word.

Faith is the essence of hope as Christ is the essence of God – His exact representation. When I step onto the Rock, I am sustained, upheld, kept from falling by the very essence of God, which is love. God is love; his real being is love. I will thank God here in the middle of my story, confidently standing on Jesus, the Rock of my salvation, supported and sustained by his Love that was proven at the cross.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

There is so much in Hebrews 11:1! I will look at the second half of the verse next time. Read more about faith in the blog Faith, Part Two

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

[ii] All translations from NetBible.org and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:11 

 

The Ram

I just recently discovered an amazing, wonderful hidden treasure looking at this verse.

Blessed (adored, knelt down to, praised, thanked) be the Lord,

who daily, daily (perpetually, presently, continually, today, yesterday, tomorrow)

bears our burden (our heavy burden, carries our load),

The God (the powerful, strong, mighty God) who is our salvation (welfare, deliverance, victory, Yeshua!).

Selah (pause, lift up, exalt). Psalm 68:19

 

I just recently discovered an amazing, wonderful hidden treasure looking at this verse. The Hebrew word translated God is el (אֵ֣ל). And, according to Strong’s Concordance, el is a shortened form of ayil (אַיִל), which means strength, or anything strong, like a strong man, a pillar, or a mighty oak. But it primarily means, and is mostly used (156 times) to mean a ram, like a ram for the burnt offering. I had to selah, pause, a minute to let that sink in.

Ayil is the word used in Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to test his faith. It is the word used for the ram that Abraham looks up and sees with its horns caught in the thicket, the ram provided by God to be a sacrifice in Isaac’s place, the ram that foreshadowed the Lamb of God who would carry all our sins and sorrows and pains and sicknesses – our heavy load – to the cross.

The one who still daily bears our burdens. The Hebrew word for daily is repeated for emphasis – he daily, daily, day after day, perpetually, presently, continually, today, yesterday and tomorrow bears our burdens as our Intercessor, Comforter, God With Us.

The strong one, the mighty one who willingly let himself be caught in the thicket to be our sacrifice. The One provided by God to be our salvation, welfare, deliverance, victory.

Yeshua.

Jesus.

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” Genesis 22:13-14 (NIV) 

Blessed, adored, knelt down to, praised, and thanked be the Lord!

Selah

 

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

Hoping From

We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25 (NIV)

I recently read an article by J.D. Walt in Seedbed (Take the Long View https://www.seedbed.com/step-3-take-long-view/ ). He was commenting on a quote about hope by British theologian, Jeremy Begbie.

“Christians do not hope ‘in’ the future. We hope ‘from’ the future.” In other words, we aren’t hoping everything is going to turn out ok in the end. We live as those who have already won. The future is a settled matter. Because of Jesus, the future is as fixed as the Sun. Our hope is not rooted in our hopefulness. It is securely anchored in the settled future. We hope “from” the future … He not only holds our future, He is our future.” J.D. Walt

Hoping from the future. Our hope is not wishful thinking. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20).” This idea of “hoping from” made me think of one of the most magnificent statements of hope and faith in the Bible spoken by Job:

“I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet (yet!) in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

Job is not hoping his Redeemer lives. He knows; he is hoping from an assured future. Job looks ahead to the end and declares this amazing prophetic affirmation of the return of Jesus and of the resurrection of the dead. It affirms the resurrection – I myself will see him with my own eyes (but argues against reincarnation – I, and not another). But as I looked at Job 19:25 word by word in the Hebrew I discovered some additional “wonderfulness.”

There is so much in just the word “redeemer” – ransom, act as kinsman-redeemer, buy back – but that will have to wait for another day. What really stopped me in my tracks was the word “earth.”  I was expecting the Hebrew word erets – אֶרֶץ. It is used for earth or land all over the old testament, over 2,500 times, starting in Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (erets). Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Strong’s Concordance says that erets comes “from an unused root probably meaning firm.” This reminds me of “terra firma,” solid ground. But I was surprised to discover that erets is not the word translated earth in Job 19:25. The word is aphar – עָפָר. Aphar is a very different word, meaning  ashes, dust, earth, ground, mortar, powder, rubbish. I imagined Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, victorious returning conqueror, planting his feet on a rubbish heap. What could it mean?

This word, aphar, does not have the meaning of permanence or solidity, but rather, weakness and impermanence.

Then Abraham spoke again. “Since I have begun, let me go on and speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust (aphar) and ashes. Genesis 18:27 (NLT)

For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust (aphar). Psalm 103:14 (NLT)

And then I realized. God made the Earth firm, solid, perfect. But when Jesus comes back, he will not stand on an Earth that is firm, as some permanent, rock-solid place. But, he will stand in the debris of our sins and rebellion, on the rubbish heap, in the blowing-away dust, this dying place. And He will change it as He changes us, making all things new. We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope. We can’t hope “in” the ruined rubbish heap of this world. We can’t hope “in” our own hopefulness, our own fleeting strength. But we can hope “from” that future with Him, that “settled matter,” the everlasting, the unchanging, the unfailing. For by faith we are already there, seated with God in the heavenly places if we are in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We can live as those who have already won. Hope from!

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35 (NIV)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13 (NIV)

He raises the poor from the dust (aphar) and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. Psalm 113:7-8 (NIV)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 (NIV)

I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:27 (NIV)

Every Evil Attack

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24 (NIV)

For months I had felt the urge to go on a road trip. I thought God was prompting me to go to a women’s conference. I asked friends and family to go with me to various conferences, but nothing worked out. Then out of the blue I was given a brand new pair of perfect fitting hiking boots (my old ones had literally fallen apart), and a couple of weeks later my son asked me to go with him to Yellowstone National Park. What a glorious gift! I knew this was what God had been preparing me for.

I had some qualms. First, I have always been afraid of the grizzly bears and wildfires “out west.” My niece was just then a few miles from the Carr fire in Redding, California. To be honest, I was also afraid of things going wrong – again. My son has had a lot of challenges in his life. Born premature, he suffered from severe asthma growing up. He also has a learning disability and endured bullying and misunderstanding from students and teachers. More recently, he had been beat up by a couple of teens playing the “knockout game,” been diagnosed with more severe health issues, and consequently lost his job. The year before he had tried a Yellowstone trip only to have it cut short when his car broke down. While his advice to me when I had my panics was, “Don’t worry about it” (with a Rocky Balboa accent), he had to fight off defeatism. So, I asked God for a verse or two to cling to, and he gave me the above verses. I particularly hung on to “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack,” thinking of the bears. What I didn’t know was that the “attack” God was thinking of was not to be a physical one.

As we traveled, we prayed together Psalm 73:23-24, that the Lord would hold us by our right hands and guide us with His counsel. The trip out was wonderful – beautiful scenery (we saw a waterspout coming down from a big, white thunderhead surrounded by a rainbow, antelope in endless grasslands, and miles of sunflowers) and sweet fellowship. When we arrived at Yellowstone, we were greeted by two things: a small forest fire started by lightning (https://yellowstoneinsider.com/2018/08/07/new-yellowstone-fire-emerges-bacon-rind-fire-keeps-growing-albeit-slowly/), and a sign at the campground announcing that grizzlies frequent the site. Did I mention that we were tent camping? I could almost hear God chuckling. But, we drove in and immediately got a place to set up our tent, though we had no reservation. I clung to 2 Timothy 4:18, especially the first part – tried not to think about the “heavenly kingdom” part.

Every day we had a wonderful time praying together as we drove through amazing scenery. Once, overcome in the Holy Spirit, my son had to pull over as he prayed. We kept praying Psalm 73, that God would hold us by our right hands and guide us with his counsel, and things went well. We got places to park in crowded parking lots where long lines waited just as someone was leaving. Geysers erupted as though just for us. We had good weather, no rain, we didn’t hear anything more about the fire – and we didn’t see any grizzlies. It was glorious. But after a few days I felt a warning from the Lord that a time of testing was coming and to be ready.

The first thing that happened was that Derek’s GPS died and he ran out of minutes. We had been relying on the lady in the phone to tell us where to go and we had no maps with us. All I had was a little 10-year-old flip phone and no way to charge it, so it was fading fast. Our next destination was Mount Rushmore, but as we headed East with no map and no place to buy an atlas, we both were fighting off fear and not a little panic. We prayed Psalm 73 out loud and asked God to continue guiding us. And God continued to give us little gifts along the way. We found ourselves driving right past Little Bighorn, a place we had wanted to see but seemed too far out of the way on our previous route. So we stopped in. We got a little more direction there from a park ranger and found our way to Mount Rushmore. At that park we picked up a little one-page handout that got us on the road again heading East, and I noticed going right through Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Wall Drug store, another place I had always wanted to visit. We decided to stop there for the night.

Wall Drug was very cool, but when we came out and got in the car it would not start. My son chose now to tell me that he had been having trouble with the starter. We tried some things and a couple of helpful men on the street took a look, but they just shook their heads and, yep, pointed to a possible problem with the starter.  I called my sister for prayer, but my phone ran out of power just as I finished telling her the problem. And there we were. Almost a thousand miles from home and no phone. It occurred to me that God was slowly taking away from us everything that we had been relying on, leaving us with only Him. I was immediately in my paralyzed PTSD panic mode and my son started to sink into a familiar “what’s the point?” mentality, a feeling my husband had identified as futility.

The Sheriff deputies assured us they wouldn’t tow the car and pointed us to a repair shop that would open early the next morning, so we loaded up and walked to the motel. I knew we needed another word. I told my son to ask God for a verse to hold on to and he opened up the Bible. In just a few seconds he looked up and said to me, “Mom, repeat this after me.”

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22 NIV)

With tears I sang it back to him, for these were words to a song that God had given me when my son was a baby. I had offered it to the music ministry at church, but it had never been used and had lain dormant all these years. “God meant it for now, Mom,” he confirmed. My son’s faith was boosted. Mine not so much – too many bad things had happened – I was having a real hard time.

The next morning, we got up early to walk to the auto shop and wait for the mechanic to arrive. On the way my son decided to try once more to start the car. He put the key in the ignition and then stopped and looked up at me. “Mom, do you believe?” I admitted my struggle, but I had to make the decision to put faith in God’s Word and fight off fear. “Yes,” I told him. He turned the key and it started. I knew I was watching a miracle happen – and not just the car, in my son. We drove over to the repair shop where the mechanic told us we could wait around for a couple of weeks for a part, or drive all the way home without turning the car off. At first, in the cool of the morning, we thought, sure we can drive 16 hours straight if we take turns. Well, that didn’t happen. We had to turn it off a couple of times, but, as we trusted in Him, God was “our help and our shield” and we got home the next day with no problems.

When we returned my sister told me that, while praying for us, God had given her a vision of two big, strong men, dressed in black, attacking us by the car. She thought it was a physical attack and prayed for our safety and help. But those two big strong men were fear and futility. Faith is something, I learned, for which we must fight.

Fight (struggle, compete for the prize, contend with the adversary) the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 (NASB)