The Verge of Overthrow

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 

Did you know that the first time the Greek word “you” is used in the above verse it is plural? According to NetBible Study Notes, “This pronoun is plural in the Greek text, so it refers to all the disciples of which Peter is the representative … Satan has demanded permission to put them to the test. The idiom ‘sift (someone) like wheat’ is similar to the English idiom ‘to pick (someone) apart.’” 

That was an eye-opener to me. All of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat, not just Peter. If I count myself as a disciple, I will be too. 

The Greek word translated “sifted” is siniazo, and this verse is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It means to sift, shake in a sieve … “to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow.”i 

All the disciples will be sifted. However, the second time the pronoun “you” is used, “I have prayed for you, Simon,” Jesus is singling out Peter. I find myself shaking my head at Peter, “They’re all going to be sifted, but wow, poor Peter. He needs special prayer.” It is implied that he will turn away from God. “When you have turned back.” The word means to turn one’s self about, turn back, to return, come back to the worship of the true God, to the love and obedience of God, to the love for the children, to love wisdom and righteousness. It means to revert, to come again, to convert. Faith tried to the verge of overthrow. 

But I realize as I ponder this that I have needed Jesus’ special prayers a lot. I have needed to turn back many times – from rebellion, from error and deception, from wandering off on the wrong path, from the verge, the edge of the cliff, from anger at God, and, again, from anger at God. 

The point is that all of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat. All of us will be. And all of us will need the special prayers of Jesus. We can’t just point at Peter and shake our heads. He is our representative in this instance. Peter definitely typifies my struggle. But praise God, Jesus is always and ever interceding for us even today, even right now. And if you look at the verse above you see that Jesus prayed for Peter before he messed up. And – amazing grace!- Jesus said, “When you have turned back.” 

I don’t think (unfortunately) that this sifting is a big, one-time event and then we’re done. Peter messed up again – and probably again. The refining process is life long. But, we can be sure that if we keep yielding, if we keep repenting, if we keep letting him change us, each time we turn back we will have more to give, more to share, a stronger witness to his amazing grace and unfailing love.

Do not despair in the sifting! We will all be picked apart and shaken to remove the little pebbles (and the big stones) and the inedible chaff. But God’s ultimate purpose in the trials and the sifting and the turning back will be accomplished, and afterwards we will be used to “strengthen our brothers” and feed Jesus’ sheep with the good wheat, the Bread from Heaven.  

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34 

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17 

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish (be lost, ruined, destroyed, rendered useless), and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 

i Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Joseph Thayer. 

Image, Dangerous Cliff Edge, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, by Anna & Michal https://flic.kr/p/4rz2ga  

Joy Beyond

In this dark world the shepherd needs to be our LORD.

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. Hebrews 13:23 

This verse is a little oh-by-the-way postscript to the letter to the Hebrews. It is like “and, oh yeah, Timothy has been released from prison.” The way it is tacked on at the end like that really struck me. It communicated to me that this was a common occurrence. This idea of persecution for our faith is foreign to most of us in the United States. But there are thousands and thousands across the world for whom this, and worse, is still common. I was thinking about this when I read this from A.W. Tozer speaking to the Church here in the U.S.: 

“The gradual disappearance of the idea and feeling of majesty from the Church is a sign and a portent. The revolt of the modern mind has had a heavy price, how heavy is becoming more apparent as the years go by. Our God has now become our servant to wait on our will. ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ we say, instead of ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ and the difference is as wide as the world.” — A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man 

The first emphasis keeps our gaze on ourselves. What we crave, what we need, what we think we deserve. Affliction is no longer unexceptional, it is unacceptable. The idea that “the lord is my servant, I shall not want,” keeps us in the little-lamb baby state always looking for the next blessing. When my heart’s attention is only on what God can do for me, it is easy to slide into errors like prosperity-gospel-type thinking. Trials and afflictions shake my cozy, planned-out little world and my faith wavers. 

But, the second emphasis puts our Lord on the throne (or realizes that he is on the throne). It opens our eyes and minds and hearts to Amazing Grace. The amazing, almost incomprehensible, uncontainable grace of the unfailing love of the Mighty God. Creator, King – God of gods and Lord of lords – who has bent down to pull us up out of the pit and lead us into His very Presence. Unworthy, self-centered, rebellious as we are. When the emphasis is on the LORD, gratitude and thanksgiving and praise naturally flow. We are enabled to bear the Shepherd’s rod and staff of testing and discipline willingly and joyfully. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds James 1:2 

This is a hard saying whenever, but it is especially hard when our assumption is that the job of the lord (small “L”) who is our servant-shepherd is to lead us to good pasture and quiet waters and make us feel good. 

“The prosperity gospel believes that God wants to reward you if you have the right kind of faith. If you’re good and faithful, God will give you health and wealth and boundless happiness. Life is like a boomerang. If you’re good, good things will always come back to you. Think positively. Speak positively. Nothing is impossible, if you believe …. 

“In his sermon on the mount, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will never have to deal with infertility. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive a Porsche 911. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will never have medical complications or financial hardship.’” — Rachel Chimits, Do Bad Things Happen to Godly People? i 

But if our eyes are on our majestic LORD and his Amazing Grace we can expect afflictions – In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) – but we can consider it all joy because we see beyond – But take heart! I have overcome the world. 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 

The joy was beyond for Jesus (and that joy was us, by the way, us with him). The joy was beyond the scorning and mocking and shame. It was beyond imprisonment, testing and afflictions and suffering and death and the cross. And if we are going to persevere to that joy we need to be following our Lord (capital “L”), who is also our Good Shepherd. We can trust that shepherd through anything. We can trust knowing we will hear his voice leading and guiding. We can trust the One who has gone this way before, knowing that our hard way produces good – for us and for others – and he will be with us all the way. And if we do that, the joy beyond will be here and now too. 

In this dark time, let us follow the Shepherd who is our LORD.  

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4  

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 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. 

[P.S.] I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. Hebrews 13:20-21, 23 

i Rachel Chimits’ complete blog post here https://worldchallenge.org/blog/do-bad-things-happen-godly-people?ref=em1020 

Photo copyright 2009 by Derek Bair

Another Lost Sheep

Jesus came for the ones who have been written off.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  Luke 15:1-5

This fellow welcomes sinners. One of my favorite verses. He welcomes us sinners! He doesn’t just tolerate us. That word means to receive or give access to one’s self, to admit into companionship, to accept and not to reject. It comes from a word that means to receive into one’s family, to embrace, make one’s own. What glorious grace! And, praise God, he doesn’t wait for us to come to him, because if he did, most of us would never find our way. This fellow goes out and tracks us down.

Everyone will be lost at one time or another. Or many times. Some of us chronically wander into narrow canyons where paths stop so abruptly you can’t even turn around and go back out. Only a shepherd’s crook from an overhanging ledge in the hands of a strong shepherd can haul you up to safety.—Suzanne Guthrie

I love that – everyone will be lost at one time or another. I love, too, the title of the above image by Kristen Klein: Found – Another Lost Sheep. Yes, another.

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … (Romans 3:22-23)

And that lostness does not merely mean the meandering wandering of a confused sheep. The word translated “lost” is the Greek word apollumi, which means to destroy, mar or render useless, perish, be lost, die or kill. It comes from two words:

apo = the separation of a part from the whole; separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed; a state of separation, that is of distance

olethros = ruin, death, destruction

Isn’t that what sin is all about? Separation from the family. Separation from fellowship, leading to ruin, death, and destruction. It’s a hopeless word; it’s a seemingly final word. Yet (yet!), Jesus said he came for us destroyed, ruined, marred, perished, dead ones. He came for us, who by our sin and wandering from the way, have been separated from the flock, separated from fellowship with God, headed toward ruin, death, and destruction.

If you are trapped in one of those dead-end canyons and feel like you can’t turn around, that you can’t go back, that it’s too late for you, know this: Jesus came for the ones who have been written off. The ones, who in the eyes of world and maybe their own eyes too, are already dead. But not in the eyes of God. Never in the eyes of God.

He is seeking you right now. He welcomes you. Cry out to him and the strong Shepherd will be there instantly.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15

For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22-24 (MSG)

 

This blog is also available as a Bible study, free to copy and use, at Another Lost Sheep Bible Study

Image, Found – another lost sheep . . . by Kristen Klein https://flic.kr/p/iZRiZV

The Desert

Our dry, gasping, desperate wilderness experiences are meant to lead us from the cacophony of this world to a place where we can hear God speak to us, commune with us, teach us, name us.

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor [Valley of Trouble] a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

That phrase translated “speak tenderly to her” is literally in the Hebrew “speak to her heart.”

God wants to speak to our hearts. The Hebrew word translated desert is midbar (מִדְבָּר). It means desert, uninhabited land, wilderness. But is also means mouth. It comes from the word dabar (דָבָר) “to speak, commune, talk, name, teach.” It was in the wilderness where God spoke to Moses and taught the Israelites.

So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live. Ezekiel 20:10-11 (NASB)

Our dry, gasping, desperate wilderness experiences are meant to lead us from the cacophony of this world to a place where we can hear God speak to us, commune with us, teach us, name us. The place we can remember who and whose we are. The place where we can return to our first love. The place where we can look up and see again the door of hope.

The amazing thing is that the word midbar also means pasture, in the sense of a place where cattle are driven for grazing. Jesus said:

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 (NLT)

Jesus the door of hope. Jesus our salvation. Jesus the Word of God speaking to us. Jesus our pasture or sustenance.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

Lord, may my Valley of Trouble become for me a Door of Hope. Open my ears that I may hear you speaking to me here in this desolate, wilderness place. Feed me, teach me, woo me, name me again.

Yours

Child of God

Lamb of your flock

Bride

Beloved

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. Job 36:15-16 (NIV)

Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me. Isaiah 65:10 (NIV)

 

For more about the wilderness see Highway to Your City

Image of sheep in pasture by Sheila Bair

Accepting God Accepting Me

Maybe part of returning to God is discovering who he is, his character and unfailing love. And once you know that – not what the world thinks or what you are afraid he is – but who he really is, his true character and identity, then you also know who you really are.

Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope. Zechariah 9:12a (NIV)

In our last Bible study at the jail we looked at the above verse. One of the sweet ladies commented that to her, “returning to the fortress” meant coming back to who God meant her to be. “Accepting God accepting me” is how she put it.

At first, I didn’t get it. Doesn’t “return to your fortress” mean returning to God? But I think she was on to something. Maybe part of returning to God is discovering who he is, his character and unfailing love. And once you know that – not what the world thinks or what you are afraid he is – but who he really is, his true character and identity, then you also know who you really are. Who you were meant to be. The loving Father loving you, his beloved child. The good Shepherd caring for you his little lamb. The hen who gathers her little chicks under her wings. Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NIV)?

“For too long we’ve primarily associated repentance with someone pointing a finger at us and saying, ‘Behave!’ Here’s how I see it. Repentance is the hand of Jesus reaching out to us with the invitation to, ‘Become.’ Becoming begins with beholding God as he truly is (i.e. like Jesus). When a person catches a glimpse of the true and living God and they begin to really believe, they also begin to believe in the possibility of their life becoming far more than they ever imagined before.” J.D. Walt[1]

Concentrating on behaving can turn us into finger-pointing hypocrites. Concentrating on becoming, or being, makes us beloved children with our eyes turned adoringly to our Father. “That’s my Dad! I want to be just like Him.” And Jesus showed us how to do that. We can only truly become who we were always meant to be under the shadow of his wings, abiding in the Vine, following the Shepherd in his flock, with the Father’s loving, guiding hand upon our heads.

As J.D. Walt goes on to say, “Anyone who has walked more than a mile or two down this road knows that behavior has a way of taking care of itself when the Holy Spirit empowered process of becoming takes root.”

Yes. Accepting God accepting me. Return to your fortress, oh prisoner of hope!

 

[1] Taken from Don’t “Behave.” Become by J.D. Walt https://www.seedbed.com/step-19-dont-behave-become/?mc_cid=ad45fa3de2&mc_eid=27234cb1e3

Thank you to Ian Livesey for the photo of the lamb on Flickr.

Parched Place

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time.

“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. (Zechariah 2:10 NIV)

Recently, reading my Bible I saw in the notes that the word Zion means “parched place.” That startled me. What? Parched place? Zion which is called the “joy of the whole earth,” “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2), the place where God dwells, a parched place? In the New Testament it stands for the Church triumphant. It is the place where God lays the “chosen and precious cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6). Why would God name it a word that means “parched place,” extremely thirsty, dry, even gasping?

At first, I thought about how God desires a relationship with us, how He wants to be desired and to be wanted in return. God yearns for Zion to be a thirsty place, a place of longing, a place of “acute desire” as A.W. Tozer put it, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”[i] Jesus said he wished us to be either hot or cold, not lukewarm. He wants us to desire him as much as he desires us. Like so much else in our relationship with God he wants it to be mutual (see The Mutual Gaze)

But then I realized that I was thinking about it all backwards. Yes, God passionately desires us. But he mostly calls us a parched place because we are. Without him we are a dry and arid place.

I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Psalm 143:6 (NLT)

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 (NLT)

We are the Israelites in the desert, dying of thirst (Exodus 17:1-6). Our Rock has been struck for us and the Water of Life pours out, but sometimes we still don’t drink.

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time. I feel a need, it is just not the need to drink. My Dad tells me that sometimes when we are thirsty, we mistake the feeling for hunger and try to eat to satisfaction. That’s what I do. I stuff in more food, that actually causes worse dehydration, when all I really want and need is a drink of water. I need to put up a sign to remind myself: Drink More Water. Pretty pitiful. In the same way, we want and need him, we are dying of thirst for him. But many times we just don’t connect the thirst of our souls with the Water we crave. We try to fill our lives with other stuff, but it doesn’t work.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (NIV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6 (NASB) (see Jeremiah 23:6)

Lord, I am an arid desert. I thirst. I crave. I reach out. Help me know and remember that it is you I’m reaching for, you I desire. Dwell in me. Only you will satisfy my need. When I’m stuffing myself with thorns and briars – anything to fill the need – lead me to the water. Remind me to drink more water.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

 

Image in the Public Domain

As If I’d Never Seen a Miracle

I myself will tend my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NLT)

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10 (NIV)

This Advent time begins the celebration of Jesus coming to earth as Savior. I go to church and sing the inspired Christmas songs heartily. Yet, I go home and, as Susan Guthrie says, “I tend to live as if I’d never seen a miracle.[i]” I waver with unbelief, doubt, fears, depression, hopelessness. I struggle and kick against the Shepherd’s arms.

I tend to live as if he had never sought me out, chased me down in my lostness, carried me home again, bound up my broken places, strengthen my weak places – and still is. As if he had never come and died for me and saved me.

But he has done it – done it all! Whatever else is happening in my life, he has saved me – in all that the word encompasses – is saving me, will save me to the end. He was born for this. He came for this. That is the miracle I need to continually see. Actually, that I am a miracle too by his amazing grace.

Help me keep my eyes on Jesus. Let me live always, sovereign, mighty, compassionate God, as if I have seen the coming of your Son, his living as an offering poured out, his dying as the holy Lamb of God, sacrifice for my sins; as if I’ve seen his resurrection and known it giving me new life. As if I’ve seen a miracle.

He has come for us, This Jesus

He’s the hope for all Mankind

He has come for us, The Messiah

Born to give us life  [ii]

https://youtu.be/twQ631luCd4

 

[i] Praying the Hours, by Suzanne Guthrie. Cowley Publications, 2000 (p. 99).

[ii] He Has Come for Us, by Meredith Andrews

Chase Me Down

I am sure that God has felt, many times in my life, like he was chasing down a fleeing two-year-old.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6 (NIV)

In this Psalm of the Shepherd there is this curious verse. I always think of the shepherd as leading the sheep, and indeed in verses 2 and 3 “he leads me” and “he guides me.” But here goodness and mercy follow. What does that mean? It gets even more interesting when you look at the Hebrew meaning of the word. All of you who have ever chased down a two-year old heading for a busy street will understand this verse.

The Hebrew word translated “follow” in this verse is radaph – רָדַף. It means to run after or pursue. A couple of versions do translate it this way (NLT and Message). It is a much more passionate word than a wimpy English “follow,” like a puppy on a leash. Most people would not indifferently follow a toddler out into a busy street. Radaph means to follow after aiming eagerly to secure, pursue, chase down, pursue ardently, harass, persecute. Those last two meanings may sound weird in this context, but the word is actually mostly used in a hostile sense in the Bible, as in an enemy pursuing me – “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground” (Psalm 143:3). It is also used a few times to describe the pursuit of righteousness or justice, as in Proverbs 21:21. “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

Abraham (then Abram) and David, as foreshadowers of the Good Shepherd and types of the passionate heart of God, go after (radaph) and rescue family members that have been kidnapped.

During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing (radaph) them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (Genesis 14:15-16 NIV)

And He [the Lord] said to [David], “Pursue (radaph), for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all” … So David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives. But nothing of theirs was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that they had taken for themselves; David brought it all back. (1 Samuel 30:8, 18-19 NASB)

Both Abram and David recovered all. None were missing (see John 6:39, 10:29).

But, radaph is only used this one time in Psalm 23 for God in his goodness and mercy ardently pursuing us, chasing us down, so passionate and intense that it can feel like harassment or persecution. The NetBible Translator’s Notes explains this seeming paradox.

 The use of רָדַף (radaf, “pursue, chase”) with טוֹב וָחֶסֶד (tov vakhesed, “goodness and faithfulness”) as subject is ironic. This is the only place in the entire OT where either of these nouns appears as the subject of this verb רָדַף (radaf, “pursue”). This verb is often used to describe the hostile actions of enemies. One might expect the psalmist’s enemies to chase him, but ironically God’s “goodness and faithfulness” (which are personified and stand by metonymy for God himself) pursue him instead. The word “pursue” is used outside of its normal context in an ironic manner and creates a unique, but pleasant word picture of God’s favor (or a kind God) “chasing down” the one whom he loves.

“Chasing down the one whom he loves!” That’s you and me – glorious love! And oh yes, I am sure that God has felt, many times in my life, like he was chasing down a fleeing two-year-old. And I have felt like that kid running away from restricting hands, laughing as I run out into traffic, angry as I am dragged back from what I wanted to do, my will, my plan. Totally not getting it.

Goodness and Mercy pursue me – yes! chase me down – all the days of my life! That I may dwell in your house, in your flock, forever.

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? Matthew 8:12 (NASB)

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10 (NIV)

 

 

Image Public Domain, By Emma Frances Logan, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61776928

You Are Missed

And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about (cared about, attended to, sought, missed) them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. Exodus 4:31 (NIV)

When I read this I thought immediately about the women at the jail we visit. Unstoppable tears stream down their faces as they realize somebody cares about them, God cares and has not forgotten them in their misery. The Hebrew word translated “concerned about” here is paqad – פָּקַד. It means to care for, attend to, be concerned for, but, wonderfully, it also means to seek, look about for, to seek in vain, miss, lack. It means to number or muster the troops, or to be missing from the number or muster. When Saul mustered the troops (1 Samuel 14:17) Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing (paqad). Jonathan told David he would be missed (paqad) from the dinner table (1 Samuel 20:18).

Isn’t that amazing? God missed the Israelites. And when they heard, in their misery and slavery, that the Lord cared about them, was looking for them, missing them, they bowed down and worshiped. God is concerned about you, cares about you, seeks you. If you have wandered far away, he misses you. If you have gotten yourself stuck in a prison and slavery to sin, he has not forgotten you. He wants you in the muster of the great army of God. He wants you there at the banquet table with him. He is always missing, seeking, caring about you.

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13 (NIV)

He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. Job 36:16 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain from the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/item/mpc2010007606/PP

In My Distress

The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. He reached down from on high and took hold of me;     he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. (Psalm 18:1-19 NIV)

I love this Psalm. The imagery of a passionate God tearing apart the earth to rescue me is breathtaking. And it reminds me of something that happened when I was twelve.

My little brother is eight years younger than me and could be very naughty when he wanted, which seemed most of time to his big sister. At four years old, he especially seemed to aggravate one of our neighbors with his antics. My mom tried her best and kept an eye on him out the kitchen window, and his big sister got to babysit. One day, when he was out playing he did something that was the proverbial “straw” and the neighbor raged out screaming at him. I was paralyzed with shock, but in a blazing second, there was my mom standing between my brother and the woman in all the fury and glorious passion of a mother. The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast. That picture is forever seared in my memory and is why I love Psalm 18 so much. The zeal of The Mom for her children – like a mother bear for her cubs – is a perfect picture of God’s love and zeal for us.

Remember that when you feel under attack, when you feel hopeless and helpless as a four year old child, when the enemy stands over you ready to crush you once and for all. Cry out to Jesus and he will come blazing out to rescue you. For he has already stood between – the Intercessor – he took all the blows meant for you. The Good Shepherd, like David, defending his sheep with his bare hands from the destroying lion. He will passionately rescue you. He will be there and hide you in his shadow and comfort.

He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us … We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. Luke 1:69-71, 74-75 (NLT)

The LORD will march forth like a mighty man (champion); he will come out like a warrior, full of fury (jealousy, zeal). He will shout (for joy, triumph) his thundering battle cry, and he will crush (prevail against) all his enemies (adversary, foe). Isaiah 42:13 (NLT)

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