… the least of these

I’m beginning to see I have a different standard to follow, a different way to walk. 

Coming home from another exhausting day caring for my widowed mom, I was pondering a popular idea right now of “no contact.”1 See, my mom is a very broken and wounded person, and wounded people wound. She has always been what some call a narcissist. A narcissist is a supremely wounded soul. So, this idea of abandoning her, cancelling her, in order to protect myself, is sometimes, on bad days, fleetingly attractive. But then God, out of the blue, put this verse in my mind: 

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 25:40 

Wow, I was stunned because I don’t think I have ever thought of my own family in this way. It’s always “people out there” who are the least of these. But actually, I realized that I have begun seeing a “least of these” in my mom. There is a broken, hurting little girl in there who is being uncovered as dementia ravages her brain. A hurting little “least of these.” She is telling me terrible and brutal things that happened to her that she has always kept hidden from us.  

But my mom has been and continues to be, with even less restraint now because of the disease, hurtful and cutting at times. The idea of turning away is sometimes very inviting. Ah, but then another word comes:  

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28 

OK, I’m beginning to see I have a different standard to follow, a different way to walk. 

If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. 1 Timothy 5:16 (ESV) 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 

Jesus replied, “‘… honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 19:18-19 

Honoring and caring for your father and mother appears to be very important to God. In Ephesians 6:2 Paul writes, “Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—”so that it may go well with you … One of the last things that Jesus did, hanging on the cross dying, was to ensure the care of his mother: 

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27 

Jesus was obeying the commandment, he was pleasing God, he was loving and being Love. There are times, I know, where “no contact” is warranted, physical or sexual abuse in particular. And everyone must hear from God for themselves. But, for me anyway, God is saying to keep loving her, to let Him love her through me. And as he gives me the grace to do it, I am able to see her as God sees her, a sweet, wounded little girl. I am finding that in the face of this God-love, Christ-in-me love, just unconditional-because-it-pleases-God love, she softens, and her real self is exposed. And I see “the least of these” emerge more and more. 

I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need . . . to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 

1A definition of “No Contact” in this context can be found here: https://psychcentral.com/health/does-going-no-contact-with-a-parent-heal-you-the-answer-isnt-what-you-think 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201105/narcissistic-parents-contact-or-not

Image in the Public Domain 

Is the Lord Among Us Or Not?

When bad things happen to us. When we find ourselves in the life-sucking desert with no water – is the Lord among us or not?

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. Exodus 16:4 

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7 

Reading the two verses above together was mind-blowing to me. The Hebrew word translated “test” in each of these verses is the same word. It is nasah (נָסָה) which means to test, assay, prove, tempt, try.  

It seems like there is a lot of testing going on in Exodus, God testing his people and his people testing God. I remembered Jesus, who being tested in the desert by the devil, quoted another verse which uses the word nasah, Deuteronomy 6:16.  

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Matthew 4:5-7  

And, I suddenly had the thought: if God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow his instructions, when we test God are we seeing if he will follow our instructions? Am I trying to hold God hostage to my agenda? 

Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah. Deuteronomy 6:16 

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7 

One of the definitions of nasah is to “assay.” According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online, to assay something is “to determine its purity,” and “to judge the worth of.” Think about those meanings when applied to the Holy God. 

When bad things happen to us. When we find ourselves in the life-sucking desert with no water – is the Lord among us or not? Is he the Holy God who cannot lie? Is his promise good? Is he worthy of my trust? 

When the devil “tested” Jesus in the desert he challenged Him to believe God’s promise.  

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”  

The devil must have thought he had Jesus now. If Jesus jumped, he would be playing the devil’s game, giving him power and indirectly, worship. And most likely Jesus would go splat, since jumping off the temple was not the will of God for Jesus. If Jesus didn’t jump, he would be admitting a lack of trust in God’s promise, right? See, the devil was trying to get Jesus, and the Father God, to follow his instructions. But instead of playing the game, Jesus held firm to the instructions he had been given by the Father. 

Jesus replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7 

Jesus didn’t have to prove or assay his Father. Jesus had complete confidence in God’s promises and in his will. Jesus didn’t have an agenda. He didn’t have to prove his Lordship or his value or power. He didn’t come to be a big success or to be prosperous. He actually came to be nothing, a humble servant, following and completely fulfilling the instructions given to him by a God whom he knew to be good and loving and faithful all the time, even in the desert times of testing. And even so he wants me to follow after him. His instruction for me is to trust that He is with me here in the dry, deadly places, the impossible, bleak, and heart-gutting places. The places where I see no hope or way out. The times when everything I hoped for is gone, my agenda is shredded and I am reduced to nothing.  

Do you ever wonder what would have happened at Massah and Meribah if the Israelites had trusted God and waited for his salvation instead of despairing and turning against him? What would God have done? What amazing things could he have done? But instead, God let what happened happen for us! Speaking of the Israelites in the desert Paul wrote: 

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  1 Corinthians 10:11 

Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. Psalm 95:8-9 

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 (ESV) 

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will (His instructions) for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 

Photo free download from Pexels, Great sand dunes in desert at sundown, by Chris Clark 

Our Father – Where We Grow Up

Our Father, I know from long experience that I do not do well in the candy aisle.

OK, here I am at the campfire still. I’m getting stinging smoke in my eyes now, and some mosquito bites. But let’s keep looking at the Lord’s Prayer from the point of view of a child.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). I read a commentary on this verse that I thought was definitely a child’s point of view of the Lord’s Prayer. It compared God not leading us into temptation to a mother avoiding the candy aisle when shopping with her children. “Praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is like praying, ‘God, don’t take me down the candy aisle today.’ It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for unprofitable things and that God’s wisdom can avert the unpleasantness of our bellyaching.” 

You know, there are myriad examples of ways we keep children from temptation. There is a whole industry devoted to it – baby gates, toilet seat locks, cupboard and drawer latches. Even with all of that, we sometimes have to chase them down as they run, giggling, toward a busy street. For a toddler, that is temptation – doing something forbidden (actually, for grownups too!). And so, we have to put blocks in their way to keep them safe.  Maybe sometimes when we find blocks in our way it is God answering our prayer to lead us not into temptation. 

God always has a purpose. Remember the commentary from the first blog on this subject: “Through ongoing sanctification, the believer more and more resembles their heavenly Father – i.e. each time they receive faith from Him and obey it, which results in their unique glorification.”2 Through ongoing sanctification, through obedience and yielding we become like Him.  

The word above translated “temptation” also means testing. Ellicott’s Commentary3 notes that “[t]he Greek word includes the two thoughts which are represented in English by ‘trials,’ i.e., sufferings which test or try, and ‘temptations,’ allurements on the side of pleasure which tend to lead us into evil.”  

This is where the child learns that some things are “nos.” This is where she learns to yield to the will of the Father. Learning to choose obedience. To not play in the toilet water. To begin to grow up. 

Receiving a place in the family of God, receiving daily spiritual and physical sustenance, receiving forgiveness: this is like being the little baby child, drinking the spiritual milk. But forgiving others, sharing what we have been given, yielding daily to God’s will for our lives, obeying His commands to love even our enemies, passing the test – the enduring, the waiting, the sanctification part, the becoming like Jesus part – that is where we grow up. 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to me in this part of the prayer: You are a little child of God. He is your loving, strong Father. Pray like a child who knows her weakness and vulnerability. 

“But those who are conscious of their weakness cannot shake off the thought that they might fail in the conflict, and the cry of that conscious weakness is therefore, ‘Lead us not into such trials,’ even as our Lord prayed, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me’ (Matthew 26:39). And the answer to the prayer may come either directly in actual exemption from the trial, or in ‘the way to escape’ (1Corinthians 10:13), or in strength to bear it.”3 

Our Father, I know from long experience that in myself I am weak. I do not do well in the candy aisle. I do not endure trials patiently. And after very bad days I even sometimes find myself playing in the toilet water again. Oh Father, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me! 

“We beg for forgiveness, protection, and deliverance just as a young child asks for help and safety as she prepares to fall asleep at night.” — Jeremy Linneman, The Lord’s Prayer is Meant to Be Lived4 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3 

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)  

Our Father … 

1Lead Us Not into Temptation, but Deliver Us from Evil | The Lord’s Prayer Petition 5 By Stephanie Soderstrom and Terry DeYoung https://www.faithward.org/how-to-pray-like-jesus-the-lords-prayer-petition-5/  

2HELPS Word Studies by Discovery Bible 

3Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

4Blogged by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/the-lords-prayer-is-meant-to-be-lived/  

Photo of candy aisle by Tiia Monto https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Candy_in_store_2.jpg  

Our Father – Total Dependence

The Father wants me to acknowledge my total dependence on Him. Even more, He wants me to realize the implications of this.

Last week I started looking at the “Lord’s Prayer” from the point of view of a child. I’m still camping out there and I’m seeing things I have never understood before. It’s so easy to just repeat it with everybody else at church without paying attention. But that’s the good thing about camping. It gets you out of your usual environment and helps you to “be still and know.” 

Your Kingdom come, your will be done (Matthew 6:10). What does the Kingdom of God coming to earth have to do with children? It turns out – everything! Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  This kingdom is the Kingdom of a Father, and a Kingdom of His little children who believe and obey His word, children who do His will and resemble their Father. You know how little children watch every move and mimic everything they see their parents doing? Of such as these consist the Kingdom. Father, let your Kingdom of little children come! 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV) 

Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Jeremy Linneman has written about this part of the prayer. 

“There’s no way to honestly live the Lord’s Prayer without seeing that we’re hungry, needy children at the feet of a good and loving Father. Yet the Lord’s Prayer only makes sense within the context of childlike faith and dependence. We acknowledge it’s God’s kingdom we live in, not ours. We ask humbly for daily provision, knowing we can’t ensure our own survival and flourishing apart from him.” 1  

The Father wants me to acknowledge my total dependence on Him. Even more, He wants me to realize the implications of this, consciously, from the beginning of the day and all the day through. This would really change my days if I did this. It would take away all my trust in my own abilities and successes (and any performance burden). It might also pry my clutching, possessive hands off what has been freely given. All that I have comes from the hand of the loving Father. He wants me to mimic His overflowing generosity. He wants me to have confidence in Him, to know that He is worthy of my trust in His love. No matter what happens. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 

Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8 

I will still be sitting by the campfire next Thursday if you want to join me. 

1Blogged by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/the-lords-prayer-is-meant-to-be-lived/   

Image, mmm, num, num by Naomi https://flic.kr/p/4cdp1q 

Must

“We must find each other again.”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:5-6 

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15-16 

I was a little startled lately when I noticed deep inside me a bristling response to the word “must” in the above verses. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. It is the natural response of the natural man, right? We want to do what we want to do. Being told we “have to do” anything in our current culture has become anathema. Having to suffer in particular. 

The Greek word, dei (δεῖ), means “it is necessary,” and in this context means a “necessity in reference to what is required to attain some end … necessity established by the counsel and decree of God, especially by that purpose of his which relates to the salvation of men by the intervention of Christ and which is disclosed in the O. T. prophecies.” 

Whoa. This is not just an authority figure telling us we have to do something we don’t want to do. This is what is necessary to attain God’s ultimate plan and purpose – the salvation of the world. If we call ourselves Christians there are things that we “must” do. The Lord didn’t waste time telling Saul/Paul what he must do, the works planned for him from the beginning of the world. 

Right after I read and meditated on these verses, J.D. Walt sent out an article with some “musts” for the Church today. I think the urgency with which he writes is justified: 

“We stand in the ruins of the still collapsing facade of Christendom. And all our churches are like so many blind people standing around a massive elephant each with our hand on a different part of the animal and each proffering and preferring a different diagnosis, prognosis and plan.  

So what’s the point today? The point is to say the Day of Pentecost never ended. We need not return to the first century church but to restore the 21st century church. This will come by Word and Spirit and the recovery of plain Scriptural Christianity. We must cease fiddling with forms and fads. We must find each other again, not as so many churches but as “Church.” We must cease chasing after phenomenology and begin to run after Jesus on the path of the race marked out for us.  

We must meet one another again at the level ground of the foot of the Cross and awaken to the fact the Heavens have been rended once and for all. Jesus is ascended as Lord and King.” — J.D. Walt 1 

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49 

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. Mark 8:31 

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. Luke 22:7 (KJV) 

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mark 13:10 

But when they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you should make your defense or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you must say. Luke 12:11-12 (NET) 

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. John 9:4 

1Don’t Pray for the Wind. Set the Sails https://seedbed.com/dont-pray-for-wind-set-the-sails/

Image from FreeBibleimages.org  

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

The Play’s the Thing

“As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.” 2 Chronicles 18:12-13 

Micaiah had been summoned to give the word of the Lord to two kings – Ahab, who was very wicked, and Jehoshaphat, who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” They were trying to decide if they should go into battle. 400 of Ahab’s prophets were declaring he would be victorious. But Jehoshaphat was not so sure.  

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied. 2 Chronicles 18:6-7 

This peevish complaint would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. It reminds me of 2 Timothy 4: 3 

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

So, Micaiah was called and was pressed by the messenger to stick with the script and agree with the other prophets that the kings would be victorious. As Micaiah steps on the stage of this bizarre play scripted to please the wicked King Ahab, the kings are in costume, “dressed in royal attire,” and one of the prophets is acting out the goring of the enemy with a costume of iron horns on his head. And all 400 prophets are repeating their lines correctly: “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.” This whole drama always makes me think of Hamlet’s famous line, “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (Act 2, Scene 2) 

God is not averse to using some street theater to get his message across. I have always been intrigued by how much theater there is in the Bible. God directed Ezekiel to act out packing up his belongings for exile and digging a hole in the city wall (Ezekiel 12:4-6). God also told Ezekiel to act out a siege of Jerusalem, laying down on the ground and bearing their sin for 390 days (Ezekiel 4)! God directed Jeremiah to smash a jar before the people to act out the shattering of the nation (Jeremiah 19:10). God also had Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for three years (yikes!) as “a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:2-4). 

But in all these cases it was God who wrote the script and gave the direction. When I was taking acting class in high school our teacher used the quote, “the play’s the thing” (i.e., Shakespeare’s written words were the thing) to emphasize that we could NOT improvise with Shakespeare. We had to know and say the words exactly accurately. Everybody knows Shakespeare wrote it and many know it by heart and would catch any deviation from the original words. “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”  

“The Word of God is our Script. That’s why we call it Script-ure. We are not just memorizing lines. We are learning a character (Jesus). We are immersing ourselves in a plot and narrative. We are becoming players in the story. When we get our eye off of that ball, we so easily slip into a comedy of errors.” — J.D. Walt i 

And it turns out that Jehoshaphat did not stick with Ahab’s script after all and it saved his life. As they went into battle Ahab changed out of his kingly costume, hedging his bets that maybe Micaiah was right, but still directing his own play, still writing his own script. He told Jehoshaphat to keep his kingly costume on though. Jehoshaphat may have been feeling uneasy about this time, and with good reason. 

Now the king of Aram had ordered his chariot commanders, “Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.” When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, “This is the king of Israel.” So they turned to attack him, but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him. God drew them away from him, for when the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel, they stopped pursuing him. 2 Chronicles 18:31-32  

I always think that maybe the attackers realized that this guy in the king costume wasn’t the king that they were after, because the king that they were after would never have cried out to the Lord – at least not the capital “L” Lord, not to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Crying out to the Lord God Yahweh was not in Ahab’s script. And if you read the whole story, you know that, even though Ahab changed his costume and had 400 actors shouting his script, he was still killed in the battle, just as Micaiah prophesied.  

Jehoshaphat made a mistake that day aligning himself with a wicked king, but he learned something. Because this is the same Jehoshaphat who later when a great army came against him, cried out to his God, “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” And God answered him, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” ii And, there was a great rout of the enemy. 

The battle is not ours. The script is not ours. It belongs to God. Let us cry out to the true Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Him. He is the one with the power to overcome impossible odds. He sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1: 3). He is our glorious God, the Author of the Script, the Word. The Word made flesh, Jesus, who came to show us God’s character that we might learn it. 

Obeying God is hard. The narrow way is narrow. God’s word cuts to the heart of our self-deception, self-preservation and promotion, our efforts to be in control. Let’s decide right now not try to write our own script. Let’s let God be the director of our life story. Let’s stick with God’s script. Let’s memorize it. Let’s learn our character, immersing ourselves in Jesus, clothing ourselves in His kingly garments. 

… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ … Romans 13:14 

… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) 

i J.D. Walt, The Word of God and the Comedy of Errors  https://www.seedbed.com/the-word-of-god-and-the-comedy-of-errors/ 

ii2 Chronicles 20:13-15 

Image, Hamlet by Kevin Houle https://flic.kr/p/8U8hv  

Even If

You cannot say 

“but” or “except” 

to God’s Word 

for you will be sitting down 

at the dusty, choking side  

or veering off  

on the rocky, deadly way 

You can only say 

“yet” and keep going 

but not alone 

You can only say 

“even though” 

but hand in hand 

You can only say 

“even if” 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) 

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 

… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:23 

Image by Sheila Bair

Provided

We might not be happy with all the things that God “provides” for us, but we have to keep in mind that God always has his heart and mind focused on something greater.

But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah … (Jonah 1:17 NIV) 

I was reading the book of Jonah again recently and that word “provided” in this translation caught my attention. Besides the whale, God also “provided” a vine for shade, a worm to kill the vine, and a scorching east wind and hot sun (Jonah 4:6-8).

It is kind of an amusing translation to me because the meaning of “provide” that I always think of is “to supply or make available (something wanted or needed).”i Kind of like the amenities offered at a hotel. But, the only thing here that Jonah I think wanted or thought he needed was the shade of the vine, which made him “very happy” (Jonah 4:6). Certainly not the whale or the discomfort of the blazing desert heat.  

But there is another, what Merriam Webster calls, archaic definition of this word which is closer to the actual Hebrew meaning. And that is “to prepare in advance.” The Hebrew word is manah (מָנָא), which means to count, reckon, number, assign, tell, appoint, ordain, or prepare. In this case, God assigned to Jonah, or appointed/prepared for him the whale, vine, worm and weather. Jonah is not too happy about most of what has been assigned to him – including his assignment, in the first place, to go to Nineveh and urge repentance. We also have assignments prepared in advance. 

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 

Many times, it seems, the things that God provides for us are, as in Jonah’s case, the means to gently (or maybe it feels not so gently) change our attitudes and nudge us into these good works.  

The Hebrew word manah also can mean count or number, as in “counted among” or “numbered with,” as in this verse: 

Therefore I will give him [Messiah] a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12 

Messiah himself had an assignment; things prepared in advance for him to accomplish. We might not be happy with all the things that God “provides” or assigns to us, but we have to keep in mind that God always has his heart and mind – his very being – passionately focused on something greater. Something greater than our comfort or temporal happiness or personal preferences at the moment. And that is always the salvation of people (including us!). 

“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Jonah 4:11 (NASB) 

Unlike Jonah, who ran in the opposite direction, Jesus, the Messiah, gave us the perfect example of accepting that which God has provided for us. He “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2), and resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaited (Luke 9:51).  

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11 

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 

Lord, I pray that you would work in me “to will and to act according to your good purpose,” that I might do the good works prepared in advance, and that you won’t have to “provide” for me very many whales – or worms. 

So [Jonah] complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Jonah 4:2 (NLT) 

i Merriam Webster 

Image attribution: Pieris rapae caterpillar, by James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster 

Crucified with Christ

Here is a compilation of what the Spirit has been saying to me this week through the blogs and daily devotionals I receive. May it encourage you too.  

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.”  Luke 18:31  

In our Lord’s life, Jerusalem was the place where He reached the culmination of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go there with Jesus we will have no friendship or fellowship with Him. Nothing ever diverted our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned our Lord even the slightest degree away from His purpose to go “up to Jerusalem.” — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, updated edition 

In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross. If he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar, but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility. ― A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ 

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 in heaven. Matthew 7:21 

The glory of God is the love of God, which we see in its fullest expression on divine display at the cross of Jesus—unfathomably full of grace and truth. While his entire life is the cross, Jesus’ finest hour comes on Good Friday. In the hour of his greatest glory, he wears human sovereignty as a crown of thorns. On the darkest day of human history, the Light of the World shines brightest. On the day when the Son of God is emptied of his life, grace and truth are poured out in their fullest measure. In the hour when all of the vitriolic hatred of the human race is unleashed on this sinless suffering servant, the love of God reveals itself as the very essence of divine sovereignty. — J.D. Walt, Why the Glory of God is Not What We Think http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.seedbed.com%2Fwhy-the-glory-of-god-is-not-what-we-think%2F          

Like Jesus and David, Christians, the ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9) also have to go through a Mount of Olive experience. An experience where we are stripped of all we know, face conspiracy and unspeakable anguish. This is our make or break moment. A moment where we are hanging in the balance- between life and death, faith and fear, and victory and defeat. What makes a difference is what we do when we are up that mountain. When darkness reigns and we can’t see God, we ought to relinquish our wills to Him regardless. Once we surrender to God while at the mountain, He strengthens us for the battle ahead. — Mulyale Mutisya, Something about the Mountain https://carolynemutisya7.wordpress.com/2020/09/25/something-about-the-mountain/#like-1465  

One thing taught throughout the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, is that the Christian life is a progression, a journey of the redeemed soul toward God. Another is that Satan stands to resist every step and to hinder the journey in every way possible. To advance against his shrewd and powerful opposition requires faith and steadfast courage. The epistles call it “confidence.” 

In his Philippian epistle Paul declares his own determination to advance against all obstacles. He says in effect that while he is not yet perfect and has not yet attained unto the goal set before him, he is putting the past behind him psychologically as well as chronologically that he may go on to find in Christ his all in all. “I press on toward the goal,” he says, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Then with a fine disregard for apparent self-contradictions he urges, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (3:15). — A. W. Tozer, Sermon: Keep Growing 

Graham Cooke said, We’re saved once, but we get redeemed from our old ways every single day! We’re learning how to be a new creation.” This is critically important to understand if we’re going to walk in what God intends for us. While Paul said “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Eph.2:8), he also said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil.2:12). — Mel Wild, https://melwild.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/walking-out-our-redemption/#like-39182  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25  

[M]aturation in a spiritual sense is a growing willingness to stretch out my arms, to have a belt put round me, and to be led where I would rather not go (John 21:18). — Henri Nouwen, A New Vision of Maturity, Daily Meditation, September 20, 2020 

This is a true saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11 (NLT) 

Photo by Jack Bair

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