You Loved Me Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

3Pulpit Commentary 

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

Greatly Huge Love

Your abundant, excellent, multitudinous, greatly huge love …

But I pray to you, LORD,  

in the time of your favor (an acceptable time, your will, good pleasure, delight);  

in your great (abundant, excellent, multitudinous, greatly huge)  

love (goodness, mercy, pity, kindness, lovingkindness, merciful kindness),  

O God, answer me (respond, sing, shout, testify, announce)  

with your sure (firm, faithful, true, assured, right, certain, trustworthy)  

salvation (deliverance, rescue, safety, saving). Psalm 69:13 

****

Lord at the time acceptable to You,  

Your will be done 

your delight, your good pleasure,  

(for you love mercy) 

In your uncontainable love  

your abundant, excellent, multitudinous, greatly huge love 

(language cannot contain it) 

sing, you who are my Song!  

Shout, testify, announce to me 

your salvation that is sure,  

forever unchanging, 

trustworthy,  

certain,  

Faithful and True 

****

This is what the Lord says: 

“In the time of my favor I will answer you, 
    and in the day of salvation I will help you; 
I will keep you and will make you 
    to be a covenant for the people, 
to restore the land 
    and to reassign its desolate inheritances, 
to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ 
    and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ 

“They will feed beside the roads 
    and find pasture on every barren hill. 
They will neither hunger nor thirst, 
    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. 
He who has compassion on them will guide them 
    and lead them beside springs of water. Isaiah 49:8-10 

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2 (ESV)  

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11 

Lord, thank you for your greatly huge love!

Photo copyright by Derek Bair

Unchanging

Do you see how one-track God is?

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35 

The two phrases in this verse – “come on you” and “overshadow you” – tell an amazing story. 

The phrase “come on you” is the Greek word epercomai (ἐπέρχομαι) which means to come upon, come to, arrive, come on. But more than just arriving, what comes upon “comes and leaves its appropriate, inevitable effects that build on the particular coming. (Note the prefix epi, showing the action as the ‘epi-center’ of what happens.)”i 

“Overshadow you” is the word episkiazó (ἐπισκιάζω) which means overshadow, envelop, to cast a shadow on, and leave “a natural (apt) result.” The word is “used in the NT of God’s over-shadowing presence – which always brings His boulē-plan to pass.” God’s boulḗ is “God’s immutable will for physical circumstances.” 

God’s coming causes something to happen! His coming upon and overshadowing of Mary was the epicenter of a history-splitting event, an inevitable effect, the natural result of the Most High God touching His creation and bringing His plan and purpose to pass. And the writer of Hebrews says that this plan and purpose of God is unchanging. 

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose (boulḗ) very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. Hebrews 6:17 

When God overshadows something or someone His unchangeable, immutable, unalterable purpose is accomplished. This overshadowing, purposeful, building Presence calls to mind Genesis. In the beginning God overshadowed, hovered over, the world to accomplish this purpose. 

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2 

What was God’s original plan and purpose? To have relationship; to have sons and daughters to communicate Himself to and to love. And so, He created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were unfaithful to Him and rejected Him. But His purpose remained unchanged. So just as God hovered over the earth in the beginning and created the first Adam, he hovered over Mary to create the last Adam, Jesus Christ Son of God, who would bring God’s boulē-plan to pass. 

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:45 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:7-10 

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:38-40 (ESV) 

“The Lord was never a passive or unconcerned God; rather, He was always actively intervening, even invading the affairs of men. His incarnation as one of us is the most spectacular example of the Lord’s lovesick and purposeful involvement in the earthly realm.” — Jill Shannon, A Prophetic Calendar 

Do you see how one-track God is? His purpose has always been to love us and to be loved back. And if we cooperate by turning towards Him, with even the feeblest opening of our hearts, He is there. When we crawl under the shadow of His wings, and let God overshadow us; when we hide ourselves in and cling to Him, then we put ourselves at the epicenter of His life-giving and creating and redeeming power. We allow Him to complete His passionate purpose in our lives. And nothing can come between us and God’s passionate, one-track, love and purpose for us. No matter the circumstance. No matter the storm. No matter the attack of the enemy. No matter even our own rebellious, struggling, wavering hearts – for even a faintly burning wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42: 3). God will fulfill His purpose for us. 

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. Psalm 57:1-2 (ESV) 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 

So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Romans 8:38-39 (The Passion Translation) 

iAll definitions from HELPS Word-studies, Discovery Bible (2021), and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

Lord, Lord

Jesus was always nudging people towards his true identity.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23 

Reading these familiar verses, I wondered about the repetition of the name “Lord.” It reminded me of the verse in Exodus where God proclaims his name to Moses. 

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 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 34:5-7 

The people calling Jesus “Lord, Lord” were using the repetition of the Name in their defense. The first group called him Lord, Lord but didn’t do what he commanded. If you look at the previous verses in Luke 6, this includes, as God had described himself to Moses, loving your enemies, not condemning, but having mercy, forgiving sins, and saving the lost.

The second group defended themselves with works they had performed. But the works with which they defended themselves were the more spectacular and self-promoting. They said they did these works in his Name. Yet, again, they didn’t mention compassion, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness.  

I am not saying that prophesying and driving out demons and performing miracles are not good and important. Rather, I am thinking, along with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that “We can worship religion and be very religious without God.” We must always intently have as our focus the glory and the will of God – knowing God – day by day, step by step. The temptation to glorify ourselves is insidious. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 

Jesus was always nudging people towards his true identity. “Who do you say that I am?” “Why do you call me good? No one is good save God alone.” “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. John 12:45-46 (ESV) 

Could these “Lord, Lord” references be another way of making them think? Remember Jesus said “I and my Father are one,” deeply offending the religious leaders by calling himself equal to God. Could the repetition of the title Lord, as God himself had introduced himself to Moses, be another nudge? If you think I am the Messiah, the Son of God, the Anointed One – if you call me Lord, Lord – why don’t you obey my commands? 

If what we work toward is not to be spectacular or religious, but rather to know Him, then we will know and experience His great heart of compassion and mercy. That great heart that came down with Jesus 

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13 

Oh Lord, may you never have to say to me “I never knew you.” May I be ever sensitive to your heart, listening for your gentle voice telling me what you want me to do – or better, what you want to do through me – right now. May I live in you and you live in me such that the light of your compassion and grace, patience, love, faithfulness, and forgiveness shine out into this dark and hurting world.  

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (ESV) 

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

Photo of rainbow by Jack Bair

God is Pleased

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ Spit

For everything they did to him, there was a counterpart of love and mercy.

I was reading the account in Matthew 27 of the soldiers mocking Jesus before they took him to be crucified. When I got to the part about how they spit in his face (oh think of that! The Face of God, the Presence!) I thought about what Jesus had done with his spit. He had used it to heal the blind and the deaf.  

And then I looked at all of the things the soldiers did to Jesus that day and saw that for each one there was a counterpart of love and mercy. Where Jesus was stripped, we have been clothed. Where he was mocked to belittle and shame him, we are encouraged and comforted and named. Below is Matthew 27:27-31 with what Jesus endured from the soldiers interspersed with His compassionate response. See what great love the Father has lavished on us! 

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him 

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness … Isaiah 61:10  

and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. 

Bless the Lord O my soul … who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion … Psalm 103:4 

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4 

They put a staff in his right hand. 

… your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 

Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.  

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:5-6 

As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” Romans 9:25-26 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1  

They spit on him 

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. Mark 7:32-33  

He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” Mark 8:23 

After saying this, he [Jesus] spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. John 9:6 

and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.  

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 

Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle. Psalm 140:7 

After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. Matthew 27:27-31 

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:16 (ESV)

Image in the Public Domain

His Love-Banner

His love-banner over me? 

Not the empty flagpole 

tipping over in the sand 

I cling to, but 

billowing, joyful 

He waves it himself 

wooing, shouting 

laughing, triumphant 

Come! 

Stand with me 

here on this Rock 

Come! 

Let me 

wrap you 

clothe you 

keep you 

lead you on 

“He welcomes me to His banqueting table. His banner over me is love.” Song of Solomon 2:4 (paraphrased)

Image in the Public Domain: Woman standing on a rock near Villa de Leyva, Colombia by Joshua Earle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_standing_on_a_rock_near_Villa_de_Leyva,_Colombia_(Unsplash).jpg

He Who Overcomes

It seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 

Last time I started looking at the concept of overcoming or conquering (Greek = nikaó) and what it means. This week I decided to take a look at the verses in the Bible where the word is used. I found there are a lot of them in Revelation, and they are all accompanied there with promises. 

The one who conquers (nikaó) and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-27 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó) will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Revelation 3:12 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21 (ESV) 

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers (nikaó) will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:16-17 (ESV) 

What struck me about these verses in Revelation was the similarity in outcome and promise to the parables that Jesus told in Matthew 25: 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins: But while they were on their way to buy it, the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the other virgins arrived and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:10-13 

The Parable of the Talents: His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21 

The Final Judgement: Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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 took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Matthew 25:34-36 

Two things stand out to me in all this. First, the readiness and the faithfulness and the true serving of Jesus by loving others must be related to this overcoming thing. For they both have the same reward: to be admitted into the Kingdom and to the family, to sit on the throne and have authority. The second thing is that it seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 

And how does that happen? John says it is by faith, by believing. But, how does that work in everyday life? In Proverbs there is a verse about a disciplined servant that helped me to see it. 

By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond. Proverbs 29:19 

If the Bible is “mere words” to me, by it I cannot/will not be disciplined – chastened, admonished, corrected. It must be more than words, more even than mere understanding of the words. Mere words won’t change the servant. He must be in love with the Master. 

Isn’t that what happened with the virgins who ran out of oil, and the servant who buried his talent, and the “goats” on the Lord’s left hand who did many things, but never out of love, never for the love of the Master. They only heard mere words, they only did just enough to get by, to technically obey. They never let the Master correct their wrong thinking. They never had that close relationship that is requisite, walking along side, carried in the Everlasting Arms. 

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven … But I tell you: love … Matthew 5:20, 44

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 

To overcome there must be faith and trust in, and love for, the Author of the word, not just head knowledge. Love of the discipliner, love of the Father. And we can’t love Him unless we know Him. We can’t truly respond except through love. And all of this must be a work of the Spirit of God in us. 

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world … Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:4, 7 (ESV) 

Next week, the glorious key.

Image of oil lamp by Bee Collins https://flic.kr/p/bSdftM 

Compassionate and Gracious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvation

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Holiness – Purity

… to be a conduit of God’s love. 

Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:3  

According to James V. Brownson there are three aspects to holiness:  

  • Differentiation, or being set apart from the world 
  • Openness to God, an availability to God’s presence, or being set apart to God 
  • Purity  

We looked at the first two aspects in Holiness – Set Apart. Being separated out, or chosen, and setting our hearts and minds on obeying God leads to a passion for purity. Holiness, in the purity sense it seems to me, is becoming “like Jesus,” conformed to his image. It is “the restoration of the image of God,” as Wilberforce described it. Brownson defined purity as finding our true identity in Christ: 

“In the broadest sense, purity consists in actions that are in accordance with our God-given identity. The life of faith is the life that lives out our identity given to us Christ. ‘Seek first God’s kingdom,’ says Jesus, ‘And everything else will be yours as well.’ Or as Kierkegaardi paraphrases the same notion, purity of heart is to will one thing, to consistently set one’s will toward being the child of God that God has called you to be … To allude to the words of Jesus: the soul preoccupied with many things can miss the one thing that is necessary. To live by the one thing that is necessary is what purity is all about.”ii 

The purity of holiness means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is our focus, our pursuit, our “one thing.” And it is not primarily for ourselves, but for others. It is not so we can pat ourselves on the back, but because when Jesus is lifted up, all men are drawn to him. When we are truly like him, people see what God is really like; they know his love for them; they experience all that God yearns for them: the healing and restoration and being set free, loosing of bonds, breaking of chains. Jesus wants to become “the firstborn of many brothers.” Holiness is submitting ourselves to that passion, dying to ourselves to help make that happen. 

“As reflected in the life of Jesus, spiritual formation, or sanctification, is the growth we are to experience as people who believe in Jesus—growth that moves us toward the image of God.” — J.D. Walt iii 

Holiness means obedience to the will of God which is all about love; it’s about doing the good works that we were created to do, which are all about helping to bring his lost children home. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8 

Jesus’ command was not you will witness – not you will knock on doors, or hand out tracts, or however people witness in our day – or not even that you will write blogs. But that you will be witnesses. That word translated “be” – eimi – means to be, to exist. In other words, you will exist as a witness to God’s glory, it will have become part of your being. When people look at you, they will see Jesus in you. 

“It is through Christian people that the Lord Jesus is glorified; that is why he is concerned about these people. Let us remember that the world knows nothing about him apart from us; it gets to know him through us, and judges him by what it sees in us. Indeed, he put it still more specifically by saying that even as God had sent him into the world to manifest the glory of God, now he sends his people into the world in exactly the same way, so that he may thus be magnified and glorified through them.” — Martyn Lloyd-Jones iv  

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you– from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (Message)  

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29 (ESV) 

So, there are two reasons to pursue holiness which correspond to the two consuming passions of God. First, that we might see and know and love him as our Father, and second, to love our fellow humans with God’s love so that they might be brought into his family too. 

Holiness as purity is not so we can be “holier than thou.” It means to be holier and holier toward God, holier and holier because of God’s work in us, holier and holier for others, holier and holier for love – to be a conduit of God’s love.  

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31 

 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)  

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. John 12:32 (ESV) 

i Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. Sören Kierkegaard. 1938.  https://www.religion-online.org/book/purity-of-heart-is-to-will-one-thing/  

ii Holiness and Hermeneutics. James V. Brownson. Western Theological Seminary. 1999. 

iii The Image of God and the Quest for Holiness. J.D. Walt.  https://www.seedbed.com/the-image-of-god-and-the-quest-for-holiness/  

iv Sanctified Through the Truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Crossway Books, 1989. 

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