With

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (beside, by, among, accompanying) your God. Micah 6:8

“… to walk humbly with your God.” That little word translated into English as “with” is the Hebrew word ‘im (עִם). Within this lowly word lies an amazing hidden treasure. It is related to the Hebrew word ‘am, which means people, nation, clan, tribe, family. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ‘am is “predominantly used to express two basic characteristics of [people] considered as a grouping: 1) relationships sustained within or to the group and 2) the unity of the group.”

Already, ‘im carries this meaning of relationship. The Wordbook goes on to say:

“‘im, the preposition, as ‘am the noun, expresses the concept of inclusiveness, togetherness, company … the basic conception conveyed is that of fellowship, companionship, common experiences of suffering, prosperity etc. … the term, as all other prepositions, may have definite theological implications. All prepositions indicate relationships, and ‘im in particular stresses a close relationship. This type of relationship should be maintained between God and man, man and man since it is essential for any person’s salvation, eternal life and the worship and service of God.”[i]

This little word translated “with” is the first part of the word Immanuel which is the “symbolic and prophetic name of the Messiah, the Christ, prophesying that He would be born of a virgin and would be ‘God with us.’”[ii]

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God. His heart that we should walk with him in relationship, fellowship and companionship. That we would share in his sufferings here on earth. That we would be part of a people and a family as his children. That we should accomplish, bring about justice. That we should do, and love doing, good deeds of mercy and kindness. That we should grow more and more like him, walking humbly beside and among our brothers and sisters and our Lord, who accompanies us always.  

By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:5-6 (NASB)

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)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14-15

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Lord, give us grace to walk humbly with You.

Photo copyright by Jack Bair 2019


[i] Archer, Gleason L., Jr., Harris, Robert, Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody, 1980.

[ii] Gesenius, H. F. W., Brown, Francis, Robinson, Edward, Driver, S. R., Briggs, Charles A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

What She Had She Did

Jesus words here, that sound almost like “Oh, well, she did what she could,” make it seem like no big deal, like anybody could do that. Like I could do it.

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8 (NIV)

She did what she could. That phrase stopped me in my tracks. Here is a deed that has been viewed over the centuries as this wonderful, saintly, sacrifice. And it was. An action that Jesus said would never be forgotten. And yet Jesus words here, that sound almost like “Oh, well, she did what she could,” make it seem like no big deal, like anybody could do that.

Like I could do it.

She did (poiemo) what she could (echo). The first word is poiemo and means to create, make, work, do. It is the word used of God when He created the universe. Our English word, poem, comes from poiemo. The second word is echo, which means to have, i.e. to hold, to have or hold in the hand, to own or possess.

She hath done what she could (ὅ ἔσχεν ἐποίησεν). Literally, what she had she did.[i]

Jesus in Mark 14:6 called what she did, or created, “a beautiful (kalos) thing” – beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable. That sounds like a creation, doesn’t it? Like a beautiful poem.

What she had she did.

What this woman had was a very expensive jar of perfume. Most of us do not have that kind of thing. We all have something though. Some may have houses and land, gifts and talents, educational degrees and possessions. And that is good. But we all have a hug, a smile, an encouraging word. We all are empty jars that God can fill with his love, healing touch, prayers.

Whatever you have, do it.

Then the LORD asked him [Moses], “What do you have there in your hand?” “A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied. Exodus. 4:2 (NLT)

 

(For more about this beautiful deed see The Best Gift)

 

[i] Vincent’s Word Studies. Marvin R. Vincent.

Image in the Public Domain

Nothing Wasted

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian?

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12 (NIV)

I have been studying the accounts recently about the miracle of the loaves and fishes (see I Am the Good News ). In the above verse in John, after everyone had eaten, Jesus admonished the disciples to “Let nothing be wasted.” This made me pause. I wondered why Jesus would care about food getting wasted when he could just make some more. He just took a couple of loaves and few fish and fed thousands, didn’t he? But then I saw that he wasn’t talking about the physical bread and fish fragments being wasted.

Let nothing be wasted.

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian? Wasting your musical talent on worshiping God, wasting your money or yourself on missions, wasting your time serving and befriending certain people?

The word translated “wasted” in John 12 is apollumi and means to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. Jesus had a lot to say using this word:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose (apollumi) none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:39 (NIV)

All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish (apollumi). Luke 21:17-18 (NIV)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (apollumi); no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28 (NIV)

Let nothing be wasted.

It is also the same word as Mark 8:35:

If you insist on saving your life, you will lose (apollumi) it. Only those who throw away (apollumi) their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live. (Living Bible)

Throwing your life away sure sounds like wasting it. At least that is the way the world sees it. Even Jesus’ own family thought he was wasting his life. They thought he should be pursuing fame, reputation, power. Instead, he was wandering around with a bunch of losers, touching lepers and sticking up for prostitutes (John 7:4, Mark 3:21).

But Jesus saw it all in the eternal light of the Father’s perfect plan. Whether small or big, everything that was done for him was noted and appreciated – from the widow giving her pitiful coins (Luke 12:41-44), to the nameless children praising him in the temple courts (Matthew 21:15). God even saves our tears in his bottle; records them in his scroll (Psalm 56:8).

From his prison cell Paul described this “throwing away” of his life as being like a drink offering.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. Philippians 2:17 (NASB)

A drink offering was poured out at the altar or on the ground (1 Chronicles 11:18), completely “wasted.” You couldn’t even pick up the scraps. To the world Paul’s descent to the prison cell was a waste – from a highly respected Pharisee and disciple of the great rabbi Gamaliel, to a criminal waiting for execution in a Roman jail cell. Even Paul seemed tempted to fear it had been a waste as he exhorted the Philippians to hold fast “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

He needn’t have worried. Here we are two thousand years later still being encouraged and fed by his words and sacrifice. The seed that dies produces much fruit. God multiplies every effort. As my smart sister says, “His kingdom is about multiplication and addition, not division and subtraction.” God sees, he knows, he doesn’t forget. Nothing is insignificant. Let nothing be wasted.

As the hands and the body of Christ on the earth let us not be afraid to pour out our lives and substance. Let us not be afraid to “waste” ourselves as broken bread and fish. For nothing we do or give or spend for Him will be wasted.

She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste?” … “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14: 3-4, 9 (NIV)

“We are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. Once we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured-out wine with which to feed and nourish others.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“Life is not fame. It’s love. Life is not power. It’s generosity. Life is not selfish. It’s giving myself away … Life is having a gift inside of you that you give to the world and use it well for the glory of God.” Gary Wilkerson

I Am the Good News

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish?

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)

This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.

As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.

I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).

So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)

Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).  Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)

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 (NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)

 

Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/

“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”

 

[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.

 

Happy to Be Odd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Being Centrifugal

God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

Black holes have been in the news a lot lately with the new images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). I have thought a lot about black holes the past few years, and how they are a picture of what we can end up like if we are not careful. Black holes are a kind of centripetal force. Sucking everything within, completely focused inward. According to NASA, “Centripetal means ‘center seeking.’”

Center seeking. Isn’t that what we are encouraged to be in our culture?

People can be black holes, completely focused on themselves; completely center seeking. Self-pity, pride, ungratefulness, crabbiness, resentment, self-righteousness, jealousy, selfishness, greed, lust, even fear is centripetal. NASA defines a black hole as “an area of such immense gravity that nothing—not even light—can escape from it.” [i]

The new images from the EHT are spectacular (see https://www.space.com/black-hole-event-horizon-images-einstein.html). These new images confirm Einstein’s theory about an “event horizon,” a point of no return before being sucked in. “The event horizon is the ultimate prison wall — one can get in but never get out.” [ii]

The images shown recently of black holes do show a very dark place surrounded by a ring of dying light –  the event horizon, the place of the death of light.

“The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap.” [iii]

Too much me, me, me and I lose my way on a darker and darker path. Not only am I no longer a light, but I suck others into my darkness. I can’t find my way to turn around. I am stuck in the eternal trap, behind the ultimate prison wall. I think we have all known people who seem to have gone past that point of no return. You can sense they don’t want to be the way they are, that they hate the words they say even as they come out of their mouths. But they are trapped. I think we are all, by nature, centripetal.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 (NIV)

Love, however, is centrifugal – the opposite of centripetal – flinging outward, scattering seed, sowing life. Shining light. Encouragement, love, faith, hope, mercy, grace, praise, worship, forgiveness, thanksgiving, repentance, humility, service – these are all outward-looking, life-giving, centrifugal. God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

The gospel is centrifugal, or it was meant to be – a light on a lamp stand, bread and fish multiplied and given away. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). Centrifugal has always been God’s intent for his people, his Temple, his Church.

“Interestingly, the Temple should have been a place where the poor and the oppressed found refuge. Instead, [in Jesus’ time and now too?] they found themselves pushed to the very margins of the society … God intended the Temple to be a place of centrifugal blessing—spinning outward the grace and mercy of God. The religious establishment had turned it into a place of centripetal privilege—pulling inward worldly status, wealth, and privilege. The exact opposite of what God intended had happened. Jesus, the one greater than the Temple, turns it inside-out and upside-down in his mission to turn everything around.” J.D. Walt, Invite Jesus to Church and Prepare Yourself

Jesus, the ultimate centrifugal force, turns everything around. He is the only one who can set us free from the eternal trap, the prison of self. Even if you feel you have gone past the point of no return, Jesus can give you the grace and strength to break free. Fling yourself out at his feet.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 (NIV)

“To the extent that egocentrism is proclaimed as both the route and the destination of life’s journey, the biblical message of service is extraordinarily countercultural. Christ relinquished divinity to become a slave. The last will be first; get down on your knees and wash someone’s feet.”  -Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary

 

[i] NASA. Space Place in a Snap: What Is a Black Hole?  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/video/space-place-in-a-snap-what-is-a-black-hole/

[ii] Avi Loeb, chair of astronomy at Harvard University. Quoted in What Exactly Is a Black Hole Event Horizon (and What Happens There)? by Charles Q. Choi https://www.space.com/black-holes-event-horizon-explained.html

[iii] Dennis Overbye. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html?module=inline

 

Image By Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1907a/; JPG saved from full size TIFF and converted with maximum quality level 12 in Photoshop 2019., CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77916527