Lupine

Lupine

glorious

in a burned-out field

anyway

 

Hope

tenacious

in my burned-over heart

yet

 

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.      Psalm 42:11 (NASB)

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.     Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

 

Image, Lupine Amongst the Burn Pile by Alan Levine https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/26676650031

Happy to Be Odd

It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit highlighted two verses to me this morning in my devotional time. One was the above verse and the other was Psalm 107:30 (NLT):

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor!

I have been in a perfect storm of human effort lately trying to take care of hurting and helpless family members. So, these verses meant a lot to me. But there was more (always more grace from God!). After reading and praying each morning I then catch up on the blogs I follow. The following snippets are quotes from my inbox. Do you think the Lord is trying to tell me something? (A rhetorical question accompanied by a big smile.)

Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our work for us. Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)

“Oddly, God loves to choose the most unlikely, untrained, and imperfect folks to accomplish amazing things … the actual work will be done by God’s Spirit through you and me doing things beyond our wildest imagination. It all begins when you offer yourself to serve.” Jim Cymbala, God Uses the Flawed

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

“This kind of love is not a patronizing love for the unlovable— it is His love, and it will not be evidenced in us overnight. Some of us may have tried to force it, but we were soon tired and frustrated.” My Utmost for His Highest

Yes Lord, I am tired and frustrated, but I offer myself to serve again today. Let me, odd and imperfect as I am, be the one you work through today. Let your power be made perfect in my weakness. Let me learn to rest in your safe harbor as you do all my work for me, for my human effort accomplishes nothing eternally. May your love and life pour out of me today to those you love. Thank you for your Word and for encouragement from your sweet followers.

 

Many thanks to Beholding Him Ministries, My Utmost for His Highest, and World Challenge.

The Lord Looked

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away.

And he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).  John 1:42 (NIV)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:21 (NIV)

In both of the above verses Jesus “looked.” The Greek word is emblepo and means to look upon, observe fixedly or absolutely, to discern clearly, behold, consider. Jesus looked at these two men and saw into their hearts, discerning them clearly. He saw Peter’s full commitment, leaving all behind, flinging himself into the sea, stepping out of the boat. Knowing all the missteps and mess-ups that would come along the way, Jesus said, “Yes, this is the one. I’ll build my church here – on a heart that will give up all and follow.”

Emblepo is also the word used in Luke 22:61 when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. “Jesus turned and looked at Peter” (see The Lord Turned). Jesus looked past Peter’s weakness and sin and saw his heart.

He also saw the heart of the other man (Luke calls him a ruler) and loved him. He saw the earnestness to follow God’s laws, to be holy and righteous, to please God. But, Jesus also saw his idol, the thing that entangled him, the slave-chains that pulled him away – materialism and greed, “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This is why Jesus warned against greed so much (Luke 12:15, 32-33).

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away. To turn and walk away from that pure love and fierce passion in the Face of God. How grievous that “stuff” – or anything else – would keep us from that zealous, longing love and life-giving presence. And he does love and long for us. Job declared:

You will call and I will answer you; you will long for (pine after, desire, be greedy for) the creature your hands have made.  Job 14:15 (NIV)

God is greedy for us! He desires for us to love and long for him the same way. To, yes, be greedy, but greedy for God and for him only. To be willing to throw down everything that would keep us from him – and follow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders (every burden, weight, bulging load, encumbrance) and the sin that so easily entangles (skillfully surrounds, clings so closely, besets, thwarts) and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Whether we follow or not, he sees us, he knows everything about us – our sins, our idols, our weakness and doubts. And yet! Yet, yet, yet (hallelujah!) he loves us. Let’s love him back, wholly, undivided. Let’s be greedy for Him – and follow!

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts! See if there is any offensive way (idol) in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NIV)

 

Image, detail from For He Had Great Possessions, by George Frederick Watts, 1894. Photograph by Martin Beek https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413448324

 

 

 

The Lord Turned

He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road.

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14 (NIV)

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.” Luke 22:61 (NIV)

I read a One Year Bible for my devotionals, which divides the Bible into 365 readings, one each from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs. Recently, the above two verses were facing each other on opposite pages, and I realized how alike the situations were. (Read Judges 6:11-22 and Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 for the full stories.)

Both Gideon and Peter were at their very lowest points. Feeling physically threatened and hiding – Gideon in a hole in the ground threshing his meager wheat, Peter crouching with the servants around a campfire, pretending he was somebody else. Both had a low opinion of themselves right at that moment. Both were denying the Lord – Peter outright and Gideon by his attitude. But worse, both felt let down and abandoned by their Lord.

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:13 (NIV)

Yet (!), in spite of their failings and weaknesses, both were being called to do great deeds and both needed strengthening. I had always imagined the looks and words of the Lord in the above verses as negative – a rebuke, a reproach, a look of disappointment.

However, all through the Bible the turning of the Face of God toward his people is a picture of favor and grace, encouraging and strengthening.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:23-26 (NIV)

“The picture is of divine favor – the beaming face of a parent for his beloved.” [i]

Turn to (turn toward) me and have mercy (be gracious, show favor, have pity) on me, for I am alone and in deep distress. Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

But the turning away, or hiding, of God’s face is a sign of rejection.

O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face away from me? Psalm 88:14 (NLT)

But the Lord turned toward Gideon and Peter. Even in midst of Jesus’ great betrayal and passion, he turned in mercy and love, grace and encouragement toward Peter. “Come on, I know you can do it. Am I not sending you?” How that look of love must have pierced Peter’s soul!

“And the Lord turned Himself … and looked upon Peter; with his bodily eyes, with great earnestness, expressing in his looks concern and pity for him; for it was a look, not of wrath and resentment, but of love and mercy, and power went along with it.”[ii]

God calls us when we are in our holes and hiding places. He calls us out of doubt and despair, when denial and worthless words are spewing from our mouths. He calls us at our worst but calls us anyway. Like a father encouraging his little child to walk, “Come on, I know you can do it!” He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road. The Lord is asking you to turn to him. Gain strength and favor and guidance for your way. Turn and look full in his wonderful face, for he has already turned to you.

 

Image in the Public Domain. By Rembrandt – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15417264

[i] NetBible Translator’s Note on Numbers 6:25

[ii] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

 

3 + 3 = 1

 

“God loves messes.” Pastor Troy Gentz

“He changes things.” Reverend David Sidwell

 

The above three-word sermons-in-a-sentence were part of two teachings I heard lately. I think these six words equal one passionate, grace filled message. God is always whispering his love.

If your life right now seems like a ruin, trust in him; surrender it all over to him. God loves you in your mess. But he loves your mess too. It gives him the chance to demonstrate how much he loves you, and his redeeming power to transform. He changes things.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:37 (NIV)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 (NIV)

 

Image in the public domain

Encroachment

 

The slow, unwavering
deliberate will
subtle encroachment
on all that is evil
immovable
save forward
gentle love
never ceasing

by Derek Bair

 

I get so tired at the continual encroachment of evil. Do you ever feel that way, almost suffocating, tempted to despair?  But did you ever think of God’s encroachment on evil? Like yeast in dough, sometimes we don’t see it, but God is working. And we have a job to do in that work. To resist evil – both in ourselves and in the world – to persevere through hopelessness, to keep on believing, to keep doing good. To push back against wrong, knowing that we fight with that gentle, unceasing love that never fails.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

“Perseverance means more than just hanging on, which may be only exposing our fear of letting go and falling. Perseverance is our supreme effort of refusing to believe that our hero is going to be conquered. Our greatest fear is not that we will be damned, but that somehow Jesus Christ will be defeated. Also, our fear is that the very things our Lord stood for— love, justice, forgiveness, and kindness among men— will not win out in the end and will represent an unattainable goal for us. Then there is the call to spiritual perseverance. A call not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately, knowing with certainty that God will never be defeated.”  Oswald Chambers

 

Poem and image copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved

Love Never Fails

[This]
Love
never (not even at any time, never at all)
fails (falls down, falls into ruin, collapses, is overcome by terror or astonishment or grief, loses its authority or force, perishes, comes to an end, disappears, ceases)

1 Corinthians 13:8a

 

 

 

Fragile

In all my over six decades I have never once regretted love, I have never been sorry I was kind, I have never wished I hadn’t been so merciful. But I consistently bitterly regret lashing out in anger, crabbiness, rudeness – worthless words.

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory (checed) is like the flowers of the field. Isaiah 40:6 (NIV)

For the LORD is good and his love (checed) endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

The same Hebrew word, checed  חֵסֵד –, is used in both these verses. Checed means goodness, loving- or merciful kindness, mercy. It is often translated “unfailing love” or “loyal love.” I like how the Message Bible translates it:

A voice says, “Shout!” I said, “What shall I shout?” “These people are nothing but grass, their love (checed) fragile as wildflowers.”

Love as fragile as wildflowers. Isaiah goes on in verse 8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Our love withers and falls, but Psalm 100 promises that God’s goodness, lovingkindness, and mercy endure forever, or is forever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, continuous, eternal, of unending future, from the beginning of the world to the vanishing point. This is proclaimed over 40 times in the Bible, 26 times just in Psalm 136. “His love (checed) endures forever!” Ours withers fast when things get hot and dry.

I have been meditating on how fragile we are. Not just physically, though our lives are very fragile and over too soon. The tiniest things can end it – a mutant cell, a virus. But also, how fragile is our “goodness” and “kindness.” Have you ever been praising God in the car, full of love toward your fellow man, and then someone pulls in front of you or you hit a big pothole, and all that checed evaporates in some not-very-nice words and thoughts? Have you ever come home from doing a “good deed,” feeling pretty good about yourself, only to snap at a family member? You don’t have to answer that. I have too many times. My checed is fragile as wildflowers.

I recently came home from delivering a meal and visiting a sickbed only to take my fatigue and sadness out in a rude email complaining of what I (mistakenly) thought was a flaw in a product I received in the mail.

I was surprised at myself, though I shouldn’t have been. I thought I had learned this lesson. In all my over six decades I have never once regretted love, I have never been sorry I was kind, I have never wished I hadn’t been so merciful. But I consistently bitterly regret lashing out in anger, crabbiness, rudeness – worthless words. One good thing came out of it though: I got to fine tune my well-used apologizing skills. The apology was mercifully accepted. That is one way we can express checed – by forgiving the fragile, withering failings of others.

At one of our jail Bible studies, a sweet, struggling inmate said something that hit home for me. “We have to mess up so we know where our strength comes from.”  Indeed. The strength to love, or to forgive, does not come from me. My beautiful wildflowers wither much too fast. But, hallelujah! His love never fails!

Lord forgive me for my worthless, unloving words. Help me remember my love is fragile. Help me to abide in you, dwelling in your presence always. Love others through me with your unfailing, forever-and-ever checed. You are my strength.

Finally (hereafter, for the future, henceforth, from now on), be strong (receive strength, be strengthened, increase in strength, be empowered) in the Lord and in the strength (great power, force, dominion) of His might (ability, power, strength). Ephesians 6:10 (NASB)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength (my Rock) and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 (NKJV)

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair

Satiate us

Satisfy (satiate, sate, surfeit, fill full, glut) us

with your unfailing love (goodness, merciful kindness, faithfulness),

in the morning (break of day, coming of sunrise, the bright joy after a night of distress)

that we may sing for joy (be overcome, cry out, shout for joy, give a ringing cry of triumph)

and be glad (rejoice, exult, brighten up, cheer up, have joy)

all our days (times, years, day’s journey, yesterdays, todays, tomorrows).

Psalm 90:14 (NIV)

He is Trustworthy

For great (mighty, strong, stronger, valiant, prevailing)

is his love (goodness, lovingkindness, faithfulness, mercy) towards us,

and the faithfulness (truth, sureness, reliability, stability, trustworthiness, certainty) of the LORD

endures forever (is of continuous existence, perpetual, everlasting, unending future).

Praise the LORD!  (Psalm 117:2 NIV)

His love is stronger – His love prevails!

He is trustworthy forever, continually, perpetually.

He will not fail you.