Incognito

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” — C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of incognito: with one’s identity concealed.  

Synonyms for incognito: 

anonymous,    

faceless,   

innominate,  

nameless,  

unbaptized,  

unchristened,  

unidentified,    

unnamed,    

untitled 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:37-40 

Image by Michael https://flic.kr/p/8cP1vw  

All That I Had Hoped For (Lamentations 3:18-24)

My bright always 

never 

my perpetual victory 

annihilated 

all that I had hoped for 

gone 

I remember 

over and over 

my mind locked  

in misery 

cast out wandering 

stillborn expectations 

the poison of bitterness 

begetting deformed memories I cannot stop  

and I sink down 

down in the choking dust 

Yet  

my shattered soul won’t let you go 

Yet 

I turn back 

Yet  

I still dare to hope 

Yet  

I bare my envenomed heart for 

Your love never wanders 

Your compassions  

great love, tender, merciful, pity full  

like a mother with helpless child  

they never fail 

they are new 

delivered anew 

every morning 

as the sunrise 

sparkling on newborn manna 

absolute, unfailing hope 

You are my exuberant share 

therefore 

I will travail 

writhe 

twist 

bring forth  

the birthing you desire 

I wait longingly for 

You 

Hugging the Rock*

Sometimes I feel like I am hugging a rock pounded by the waves and wind 

watching my loved one’s battered little boat being flung around

slowly sinking 

I have tried being out there in the boat with them 

but every time washed overboard  

slapped brutally back against the rock 

Now, Lord, I cry out to You 

There is no one like you, my Lord, to help the powerless against these mighty waves 

Help Lord, help this frail little vessel for we rely on you

only you 

There is nothing I can do except call out my cry for help 

a drowning cry lost in the destroyer’s roar

yet you hear 

In your name I cling here on the Rock hanging on against this vast army-storm 

You are our God, you are God of the waves, God of angel armies 

Do not let it sink 

only You can  

only You will 

bring this little boat  

to the safe haven 

*Inspired by 2 Chronicles 14:12 

Thank you to Beholding Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/10/06/help-us-for-we-rely-on-you/  

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Seascape by Lars Wahlberg, 1945 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skepp_i_storm.jpg  

Our Father – The Gentle Transition

This part of the prayer clearly leads us back to the very first word of the prayer. It leads us back to the “Our.”

I am still camping out in the “Lord’s Prayer” this week, focusing on the amazing fact that I am a child of Our Father. In the first post I saw myself as a child imitating the Father, with the wonderful potential of resembling Him. And then, in the second post, I acknowledged that I am completely dependent on His care. Today, as I sit around the campfire, I think I’m getting into some harder parts, and I think Our Father is taking away the milk bottle and putting some solid food on the grill (Hebrews 5:13-14).  

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12). I am going to look at the child in this part of the prayer from a grandmother’s point of view for a moment. If you’ve ever cared for active toddlers – especially if the toddlers are your beloved grandchildren – you know what I mean when I say that they arrive at your house already forgiven for any naughty things, or just kid things, they will do that day. Your heart has already handed over to them clean floors to be dirtied, clean clothes to be spit up on, furniture to sticky hands and muddy feet, trinkets to be knocked over and broken.

God Our Father is like that. Revelation 13:8 proclaims Jesus “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world,” or “the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made (NLT).” Before we were ever received into His house He had forgiven us.  

But this part of the prayer doesn’t only teach us that we will be/have been forgiven. This part of the prayer introduces an outward responsibility, an “other” focus – as we also have forgiven our debtors. And it is here as I look at the Lord’s Prayer, that I become aware of a gentle transition happening in the lives of the little children. Jesus is leading them/us into “growing up.” Give us this day our daily bread may hint at being thankful, as we are teaching our grandchildren to say “thank you” when we hand them food and drink that they ask for. It may even hint a little bit about sharing. But this part of the prayer clearly leads us back to the very first word of the prayer. It leads us back to the “Our.”    

The Name, the Kingdom, the will, which is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, belong to God. The Father, the daily bread, the debts – and the debtors – are ours. That He is Our Father means we are part of a family which brings acceptance, identity, security, purpose. That He gives daily bread means we are completely dependent, yet have all that we need and something to share. That we have debts and debtors means that we have been forgiven and accepted into the family, and that we have the opportunity, and the command, to mimic Our Father in forgiving and loving and bringing others in.   

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32  

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ … Ephesians 4:15 

the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

Still at the campfire …

Image, free download from Pixnio by Bicanski 

Stop with Me

A man’s wisdom (discretion, knowledge, prudence, sense, understanding, wisdom) 

gives him patience (makes him slow to anger); 

it is to his glory (splendor, beauty, bravery, glory, honor, majesty) 

to overlook (pass over, let pass by, cause to take away)  

an offence (rebellion, sin, transgression, trespass). Proverbs 19:11 

Sounds like God, doesn’t it? Slow to anger, passing over our trespass because of the blood. Proverbs 17:9 also says: 

He who covers over an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends

The word translated “covers over” is the Hebrew kacah. It means to plump or fill up the hollows, to cover, clothe, conceal. It is also used here: 

He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter. Proverbs 11:13 (NASB) 

This word is used for covering the nakedness of the priests with pure, white linen. 

You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh; they shall reach from the hips to the thighs; They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. Exodus 28:42-43 (NKJV) 

The word was also used when Noah’s sons covered both his nakedness and his transgression when he got drunk. 

But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backwards and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. Genesis 9:23  

This reminds me in the New Testament of clothing ourselves with Christ and the “new self.” 

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Romans 13:14 

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on (clothed yourselves with) the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:8-10 

I think we really need these verses right now when people are trying to kill each other for forgetting to turn on their turn signal, when people are forever cut out of our lives over words, when rage and violence erupts for the least misstep or mistake. We need to let some things pass. We need to be slow to anger. We need to clothe ourselves and each other. As my pastor, Dan Wolfe, used to say, we need to be a sponge sometimes and just let it sink in, be absorbed, and stop with me. 

Photo by Jack Bair

Skewed Intentions

It would seem that, not only where my focus remains, but also the motives of my heart are vital to my thinking, behavior and actions.

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. Luke 6:6-7 

The Pharisees were watching him closely, insidiously, treacherously, awaiting a chance to pounce. Their total focus was to catch Jesus breaking the law and entrap Him.  

But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 

He looked around at them all (Mark 3:5 says that he looked at them in anger and grieved at their hardness of heart) and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. Luke 6:8-10 

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious (filled with fury) and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:6-11 

They were furious! A man was healed. A man who most likely had either been a burden on his family or reduced to begging. But the Pharisees, hoping to entrap Jesus, insisted that healing constituted work and the man should not have been helped.  

“It is important to note that Jesus was not violating the law of God when He healed on the Sabbath. He was surely acting against the Pharisaical interpretation of the law and against their particular rules. But the Holy One of God, who came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), did not violate the law. The basic reason that Jesus healed on the Sabbath was that people needed His help. Need knows no calendar.” — Got Questions 

In any case, Jesus skipped over all the arguments about interpretation and just loved the man.  

And they were filled with rage. They were so intent on their interpretation of the law that they missed it! You shall love …

You know what the interesting thing is? The word that is translated “furious” (in the Hebrew, filled with fury) means folly, madness, “madness expressing itself in rage.” At its root it means, “no-mind” referring to irrational behavior or mindless actions. It means lack of sense “folly, foolishness” which easily degenerates into “a state of extreme anger that suggests an incapacity to use one’s mind – extreme fury, great rage.”i 

Wow. It would seem that, not only where my focus remains, but also the motives of my heart are vital to my thinking, behavior and actions. The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely, a good thing. We should all fix our eyes on Jesus. But their intent was skewed and so they were blinded to God’s will and heart, mercy, love, compassion. As Jesus warned: 

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 (ESV) 

I need to be careful that my eye is healthy. What is my focus and intent? Is it on being right and in control? Or is it on God’s word and will? What is my motivation and heart’s desire? Is it self-righteousness, self-glory? Or God’s glory, God’s delight. 

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart … Mark 3:5 

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) 

iDefinitions from HELPS Word-studies, NAS Exhaustive Concordance, and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. 

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

Every Heart

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Genesis 3:8 (ESV) 

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day about cancel culture. The first person says, “I hate cancel culture.” The second one answers, “The very first Bible story is God cancelling two people over an apple.” I wanted to put in a good word for God here.

What this meme defines as “cancelling” was God closing the doors of the Garden and not allowing Adam and Eve back in. They had just sinned, separating themselves from God, causing a rift in the relationship. And they showed a distressing tendency to continue on that path, refusing to admit their responsibility in the matter, pointing fingers at each other.  

God did not want them to eat of the tree that would give them eternal life in that state. They would have been eternally separated from God and his love for them. Isn’t that the definition of hell? It was an act of mercy and compassion banning them from the Garden and locking them out. He was giving them a chance; he was giving them time to turn, time to realize what they had lost. Until God would come back into another garden and open the door again by offering Himself up as the atonement. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. John 18:1-3 (ESV) 

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. John 19:41 (ESV) 

You are invited to turn around and come back into the garden and walk again with the One who loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.  

“God now fills the recovered garden, and we may without fear walk and commune with Him in the cool of the day.” — A.W. Tozer 

Come back  Salvation

Image, hand-colored lino print by Sheila Bair. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved. 

He Gives Us Bread

It was the freshly baked bread that got me.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 1 Kings 19:5-7

It was the freshly baked bread that got me. Elijah was on the run from Jezebel, fearing for his life. He was at the end of his rope. He was done. “I have had enough, Lord, “he said. “Take my life.” I have felt that way too, especially lately.

Yet, even so, God gave him food and drink. I imagine how tantalizing the warm bread must have smelled and tasted to Elijah. God could have given Elijah anything to eat (bugs for instance), but he gave him something wonderful. He cared about Elijah even in this time of weakness. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” God cared about Elijah in the journey he was on, even when this particular part of the journey was fear and disobedience. Even when Elijah was running away from his mission.

And Elijah kept on running. To a cave in the mountain called Horeb, where the Presence of the Lord passed by him and he heard the gentle voice of God asking him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Sounds like a parent talking to a toddler, doesn’t it?

Did you know that this mountain, Horeb, that Elijah fled to was the same mountain where Moses (also on the run) saw the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2), where God gave Moses the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2), and where Moses struck the rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6)? But, even more amazing, it is the same place where God also passed by Moses.

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 34:6-7a

God came with a gentle whisper to Elijah. To Moses, he proclaimed himself a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger.” And he had to be compassionate and gracious to put up with the whining and complaining and outright rebellion of the people of God. They complained about their calling; they ran from their mission. But he took care of them and watched over them and provided for them. And this is very comforting to me because I am just like them. Daily.

God gave Elijah a helper, Elisha, just as he had given Aaron to Moses. But he ignored Elijah’s complaints and excuses, just as he had Moses’. To both of them he said, get up and go. You have work to do.

And you know what is the most amazing thing of all? It was these two flawed men of God who stood with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). A place of honor. A place of unbelievable grace.

Our Father does not reject us or abandon us or give up on us, even when we are on the run. He whispers gently. He gives us bread.

I am the bread of life. John 6:48

Photograph, Detail from Warming Bread by Jason Jones https://flic.kr/p/bKZkHM

In the Middle

Maybe we can be meta too, naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

There [at Golgotha] they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:18

Jesus in the middle. This verse struck me a different way as I read it today. Jesus was suffering there in the middle of fallen humanity at its worst. In Matthew the two men on either side of Jesus are called thieves. The word is lestes and means robbers, plunderers. According to NetBible Study Notes, Josephus used the term lestes for the Zealots who revolted against Roman rule. Barabbas was a lestes (John 18:40).

In Luke the two men crucified on either side of Jesus are called criminals, evildoers malefactors. Here, in John, they are just “others.” I think John is saying it doesn’t matter what they did. What matters is how they responded to Jesus as they hung there dying with Jesus in the middle.

The word translated middle is mesos = in the middle, in the midst, among. Jesus came and lived and died in the middle. He lived with them, ate with them, walked with them. Loved them. He had compassion on them. He wept with them. “This man welcomes sinners.”

Mesos comes from meta, which means “with, accompanying, amid.” Meta-data is the data or information that accompanies something – the name and ingredient list of a product. The “about the author” blurb on a book jacket. The track list accompanying an audio file.

Jesus is mesos, in our midst. Always there. Suffering with us. Jesus is meta. He is with us. He accompanies us all the way. He names us – Child of God. He tells us what we are made of, what is in us. When we respond as the man on the cross beside Jesus did, in repentance and faith, we are a new creation. We have the mind of Christ. We have a spirit given us not of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. We become part of his body. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Kingdom of God is within us. His word is in our mouths. His love in our hearts

He lived and died with us, and he wants us to die – be crucified – with him, and with all the thieves and criminals and the others. All the messed up, hopeless, dying ones. And he wants us to be resurrected as a new person and live loving them just as he did – to be mesos alongside Jesus as he is alongside them. Maybe we can be meta too. Naming Him as our testimony – Emmanuel, God With Us, Savior, Redeemer. And naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You know what is very cool? The word translated “crucified” in this verse is a different word from the word translated “crucified” in John 19:18. Jesus was crucified=stauroo. We are crucified=sustauroo. Stauroo means to impale on a cross, to stake, drive down stakes. Sustauroo means to impale in company with, crucify with. In company with Jesus. With Him alongside. Jesus in the middle.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with [meta] me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

The Hands of the Loving Potter

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works (deeds, actions). Psalms 33:14-15 (NASB)

These verses are a comfort and hope to me. God’s gaze is on me. He sees me. He understands why I do the dumb things I do. And he is fashioning, forming my heart. Strong’s Concordance defines this forming as squeezing into shape as a potter does with clay. It feels like squeezing too.

And the psalmist says that God sees all the sons of men; he is forming the hearts of all, everyone. This forming is being done where we cannot perceive, deep inside the hidden place. Those people we look askance upon, doing things that, to us, are incomprehensible – their hearts are also being fashioned by the hands of a compassionate, merciful God. I like how the Pulpit Commentary puts it:

“The hearts of all men are in God’s keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to ‘mould’ them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are.”

Yes, that’s for sure. We all stubbornly resist at times, but he does not give up on us. And neither should we give up on each other. This is a gracious hope for me. That God is working in the hearts of those for whom I am praying. That the hands of the loving potter are at work though I may not be able to see it.

If there are ones for whom you have been praying, maybe for a long time, do not give up. Let us wait in hope. Let us keep loving. Let us keep praying. Let us trust that the hands of the loving Potter are upon us all.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. Psalms 33:20-22

 

 

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