Niagara Falls in a Teacup

“His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity.”

Cheap grace and costly grace. The gift and the “shift.” Transformation deep as the roots of human life. Uncontainable love.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship  

“The gift element in the gospel is held to be its exclusive content, and the shift element is accordingly ignored. Theological assent is all that is required to make Christians. This assent is called faith and is thought to be the only difference between the saved and the lost. Faith is thus conceived as a kind of religious magic, bringing to the Lord great delight and possessing mysterious power to open the Kingdom of heaven. I want to be fair to everyone and to find all the good I can in every man’s religious beliefs, but the harmful effects of this faith-as-magic creed are greater than could be imagined by anyone who has not come face-to-face with them … 

I think the truth of the matter is not too deep nor too difficult to discover. Self-righteousness is an effective bar to God’s favor because it throws the sinner back upon his own merits and shuts him out from the imputed righteousness of Christ. And to be a sinner confessed and consciously lost is necessary to the act of receiving salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This we joyously admit and constantly assert, but here is the truth that has been overlooked in our day: A sinner cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The Bible passages that declare this are too many and too familiar to need repeating here, but the skeptical might look at Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 2:18.  

How then can any man be saved? The penitent sinner meets Christ, and after that saving encounter he is a sinner no more. The power of the gospel changes him, shifts the basis of his life from self to Christ, faces him about in a new direction, and makes him a new creation. The moral state of the penitent when he comes to Christ does not affect the result, for the work of Christ sweeps away both his good and his evil, and turns him into another man. The returning sinner is not saved by some judicial transaction apart from a corresponding moral change. Salvation must include a judicial change of status, but what is overlooked by most teachers is that it also includes an actual change in the life of the individual. And by this we mean more than a surface change; we mean a transformation as deep as the roots of his human life. If it does not go that deep, it does not go deep enough.” — A.W. Tozer, In Word, Or In Power: The Divine Conquest 

“But this much is clear: when we try to estimate the depth and the persistence of God’s loving-kindness and mercy, we must first remember his passion for righteousness. His passion for righteousness is so strong that he could not be more insistent in his demand for it, but God’s persistent love for his people is more insistent still. The story of God’s people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else. It is important to realize that though the Hebrew chesed can be translated by loving-kindness and mercy without doing violence to the context, yet we must always beware lest we think that God is content with less than righteousness. There is no reference to any sentimental kindness, and no suggestion of mercy apart from repentance, in any case where the Hebrew original is chesed. His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The loving-kindness of God means that his mercy is greater even than that. The word stands for the wonder of his unfailing love for the people of his choice, and the solving of the problem of the relation between his righteousness and his loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension.” — Norman H. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, London (1944) 

“In faith there is movement and development. Each day something is new. To be Christian, faith has to be new – that is, alive and growing. It cannot be static, finished, settled. When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead. When I conclude that I can cope with the awful love of God, I have headed for the shallows to avoid the deeps. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.” — Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel 

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

Image, Niagara Falls, by Boris Kasimov  https://flic.kr/p/2g3fgeL  

Mount Ebal

It struck me as kind of weird that God commanded Joshua to build the altar there.

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. — Joshua 8:30 

After the Israelites had come into the promised land and won a couple of battles, Joshua built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices – the burnt offering and the fellowship offering. It struck me as kind of weird that God commanded Joshua to build the altar there on Mount Ebal because it was the mountain of cursing. 

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. Deuteronomy 11:29 

Half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and call out the curses that would incur to those who failed to obey the commandments (Deuteronomy 27:14-26). And half were to stand on Mount Gerizim and call out the blessings. Wouldn’t God want the altar to be built on the place of blessings? 

But then I saw that this is the whole point.  

God didn’t turn his back on those who committed sin. He didn’t say that he would only receive sacrifices from the ones who perfectly kept the commandments. He knew that the blessing was unattainable without the altar of repentance. But mostly, it was unattainable without the One to whom the sacrifices pointed. God left room for mercy, looking forward to the final sacrifice for sin, to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would set us free from the curse forever. 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Galatians 3:13 

Don’t cover over your sins and try with all your might to obtain the blessing through self-righteousness. Go to the mountain of cursing. Admit your failures before God. That is where the altar is. 

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32 

Image, Mount Ebal (Eival) in Samaria, by Bukvoed in Wikimedia Commons 

The Lamp

Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin! (Proverbs 21:4)   

This is one of those verses that it’s easy to just skip over thinking, “Well that’s not me.” But then, I would be just fulfilling the verse wouldn’t I? So I decided to take a closer look. And it’s not what I thought.

The Hebrew word for “lamp” in this verse actually means untilled or fallow ground. I think this verse means that the proud have not plowed up, examined, their ways or thinking, therefore they are in the sin of pride. That is one of the things that our lamp is supposed to do – illumine our wrong thinking and doing. Jesus said:   

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good (single, clear, sound, whole, folded together), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad (diseased, derelict, blind, evil, wicked), your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23   

What does that mean: single, clear, sound, whole, folded together? That Greek word is haplous and comes from a root word that means “to plait, braid, weave together.” Woven together with what?   

There are two words in Hebrew for hoping or waiting. Qavah, which means “to bind together (perhaps by twisting),” and tiqvah, which means “literally, a cord (as an attachment).” Could Jesus have meant that if we are hoping and waiting on God (woven together into a single cord, attached to God heart to heart) our lamp or eye is good?   

Another thing, in Numbers 8:2 the Lord gives instructions for setting up the Temple (remember we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit now). He says to set up the Lampstand so that it continually shines “in front” or across the room and illumines the table of the Bread of the Presence. Our lamp, our eyes always upon Jesus, the Bread of Life, God With Us, the Word.   

When Jesus talks about the eye as the lamp of the body here in Matthew, and in Luke 11:33-36, it is in the middle of pointing out a lot of wrong thinking – being a hypocrite, caring about what people think, setting your heart on treasure, serving/loving money, worrying, lack of faith in God, being legalistic but not obeying God’s commands.    

Wrong thinking is when you are not woven together with (or abiding in) the Lord, therefore you don’t have the mind of Christ. You have not allowed the Lord to plough up your hard, stony ground. The light within you is darkness. It is no longer shining on the Bread of the Presence, on the Word of Life, but on yourself. That is why haughty eyes and a proud heart is a lamp of the wicked, a dark lamp. A person with haughty and proud thinking would never shine the light of the Word on any wrong ways but would imagine they are right in whatever they think or do. It is revealing that it says five times in Proverbs that the way of a person can seem right to them but be wrong.   

The way of a fool is right in his own opinion, but the one who listens to advice is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)   

There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)   

All a person’s ways seem right in his own opinion, but the Lord evaluates the motives. (Proverbs 16:2)   

There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)   

All of a person’s ways seem right in his own opinion, but the Lord evaluates the motives. (Proverbs 21:2)   

I know I am mixing a lot of metaphors here, but we need to humbly surrender to being woven together with Him, heart and soul and mind and strength. We need to let the Light of God shine on our wrong thinking and plough up our hard hearts. That we might know him. That we might be like him – a light in a dark world. 

The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being. Proverbs 20:27

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. Psalm 18:28  

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. Psalm 25:9  

God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. 

Examine me through and through; 

find out everything that may be hidden within me. 

Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. 

 See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, 

and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways— 

the path that brings me back to you.  

Psalm 139:23-24 (The Passion Translation) 

Sin

It’s never too late to confess our sins to God and seek refuge in His salvation.

This week a definite theme emerged in the blogs and devotionals I receive daily. Sin is not something we like to think or hear about, but it became obvious what the Spirit is saying. 

Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned   Romans 5:12 

The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the nature of sin, namely, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race through one man. But it also says that another Man took upon Himself the sin of the human race and put it away— an infinitely more profound revelation (see Hebrews 9:26). The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing, but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, “I am my own god.” — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Degeneration, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18 

A broken heart, a contrite spirit, and a subdued will are rare things, especially in this age in which men everywhere are taught to demand their rights; and the church has become a place where man is exalted and enshrined as though he were God. Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-promotion are the cry of the day. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. — Steve Rebus, Broken People!, https://steverebus.com/2020/10/05/broken-people/  

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  2 Corinthians 5:21 

Sin is a fundamental relationship— it is not wrong doing, but wrong being— it is deliberate and determined independence from God. The Christian faith bases everything on the extreme, self-confident nature of sin. Other faiths deal with sins— the Bible alone deals with sin. The first thing Jesus Christ confronted in people was the heredity of sin … — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Reconciliation, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

Just as the nature of sin entered into the human race through one man, the Holy Spirit entered into the human race through another Man (see Romans 5:12-19). And redemption means that I can be delivered from the heredity of sin, and that through Jesus Christ I can receive a pure and spotless heredity, namely, the Holy Spirit. — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Regeneration, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

When a Bible verse comes to me from two different sources in the same week, I pay attention:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:9, 11 

The psalmist answers his own question: By living according to God’s Word … Then he goes on to say, “I have hidden God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against God.” That’s the secret of purity. It’s hiding God’s Word in your heart, because one or other of two things is going to happen: Either God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. 

So don’t just flow with the current like a dead fish. Be willing to be a live fish and swim against the stream. God’s Word will give you the strength if you hide it in your heart. It is possible to lead a pure life even in today’s world. — Derek Prince, Devotional: Hiding God’s Word 

With my whole heart I have sought You … Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You … I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. Psalm 119:10-11, 15 – Blogged by Gary Wilkerson, Attentive to His Presence, World Challenge online devotional https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/attentive-his-presence?ref=devos   

Blogging about the raising of Lazarus, J.D. Walt writes (The Problem behind All Our Problems): 

Death was not part of God’s plan for his creation. It was a consequence of human sin—not a consequence as in punishment, but as in irrevocable laws of the universe, like gravity. If sin, then death. It turns out the law of sin and death was not so irrevocable after all. In fact, it’s not really accurate to call it a law. It’s an aberration. The only true and real law is the law of the spirit of life. The law of sin and death merely describes the outcome of rebellion against the law of the spirit of life … Love overcomes sin and life overwhelms death. 

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40 

The gospel is the good news that God saves his sinful people from his wrath through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, promising to share his glory with them in a renewed creation forever—all to the praise of the glory of his grace. — Adam McClendon, via Dr. Peter Cockrell, The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2020/10/06/the-gospel-is-big-enough-for-your-church/  

It’s never too late to confess our sins to God and seek refuge in His salvation. He will deliver us from our sins if we only acknowledge and repent them. — Derek Prince 

Photograph copyright 2018 Derek Bair

Statistically not interesting

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7

“But God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically that is not very interesting. But for God, numbers never seem to matter … From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy.” – Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Image, The Prodigal Son (The Parables of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ), after Sir John Everett Millais, 1864 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Double-edged Sword

Unless we are experiencing the hurt of facing every deception about ourselves, we have hindered the work of the Word of God in our lives. –Oswald Chambers, The Piercing Question

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

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

Captured

During a bible study at the jail I mentioned to a woman that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realised exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; … till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.” Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, 1927

The above quote reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at the jail recently. During a bible study I mentioned that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

Funny, but true. Jesus made it clear who the criminals are.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 (NIV)

In our natural selves we are all caught. Caught in the act. We are all criminals. But Jesus came to capture us in our captivity to sin. He told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). That word translated “catching” is zogreo (ζωγρέω) and literally means to capture or take alive. At its very root is the Greek word ago (ἄγω ) which means “to lead by accompanying to (or into) a place.” “To take alive” sounds fearful, but his heart is always mercy and love. He captures us to lead us to that place of salvation and peace.

When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives (he led captivity captive), and he gave gifts to his people. Ephesians 4:8 (NLT)

He led captivity captive. He captured the captives – we who are captured by our sin, slaves to the enemy of our souls. Yes, it’s true we are all criminals that need to be captured, but Father Brown was wrong about one thing. We can’t do it ourselves. There is only One who can. There is only One who can keep us “safe and sane under our own hats.” Jesus – who was considered a criminal, though he never sinned outwardly or inwardly. He loved us and allowed himself to be captured and executed that we might be captured and set free as new creatures. We must surrender, wave the white flag, and let the Lover of our souls lead us away.

Lord, let me be in that crowd of captives. Captured by your grace.

A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew (repair, make new) our days as of old.  Lamentations 5:21 (KJV)

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:24-25 (NIV)

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible)

For more on being caught in his wonderful love read Imprisoned

Photo by Jack Bair copyright 2019

Accepting God Accepting Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Dig and Dig Deep

It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances.

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:48 (NIV) 

 Two Greek words are used in the verse to describe how this person dug. The first word is skapto (σκάπτω), which simply means to dig. The second word is bathuno (βαθύνω), which means to dig deep, or deepen. Therefore, the Greek actually reads that he dug and dug deep, or deepened [the hole] until he got down to the rock. I think Jesus is saying that in order to put the Word into practice we have go farther than a few inches below the surface, the easy, softer stuff, and down into the hard, undisturbed, unplowed, full-of-gravel part. Anyone who has ever tried to hand-dig a new garden bed knows what I mean. Sod and rocks and tree roots need to be removed. You would have to dig through all of that and then dig very deep to get down to the bedrock. 

As an aside, the verb bathuno comes from bathus, an adjective that means “profound,” “deep,” and, interestingly, “very early.” Bathus is the word used in Luke 24:1, “On the first day of the week, very early (bathus) in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” As in the digging deep picture, two words are used here to emphasize how early it was. It reads that they came at early dawn – very early. John says it was still dark (John 20:1). Mark 16:2 uses a word that means it was greatly or exceedingly, exceedingly beyond measure, sore early (maybe Mark was not a morning person?). The women didn’t just come at dawn, they came very early, they went deep, and, consequently, they received the message from the angel, and saw Jesus (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:9). 

Back to digging. The root word of both bathuno and bathus is baino, the Greek word that means “to walk.” What does digging have to do with walking? In Luke 6:48 Jesus says the man “laid (tithemi) the foundation (themelios) on rock.” Tithemi and themelios are the same words that are used in 1 John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:11. 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid (tithemi) down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 (NIV) 

 For no-one can lay (tithemi) any foundation (themelios) other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) 

Jesus Christ, and his life laid down in love for the salvation of the world, is the foundation, and no other can be laid. He is also the Rock upon which this foundation is laid. We have to dig deep to lay this foundation in our lives, but if we do, the promise is that we will not be shaken. We will not fall when the storms come. It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances. Doubt creeps in, and rightly so, when we are standing on our own shifting, sinking strength. 

 What does it mean to “dig deep?” For me, it means not just to surface-read the Bible and check off a box that I did it. Rather, it means to study it and then ask the Author what it means for my life, how he wants me to put it into practice and walk it. 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:23-25 (NIV) 

 Digging deep is hard. Hard ground, rocks and (bitter) roots make it even harder. Hardness of heart, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, wrong-thinking, self-centeredness, pride, idolatries, unthankfulness, anger at God must be dug and pulled out. Maybe some structures will need to be demolished (see Sawdust). But the more you do that, the more you walk out what you are learning, the softer the ground gets, the easier to dig, and, along the way, the more the good seed from the Word can put down roots and produce fruit. Persevere, keep digging deep, get down to the Rock. He is the firm foundation. You will not be disappointed.  

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV) 

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16 (NIV

 

Image is in the Public Domain

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