Strange House Guest

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

This one of those verses that most of us would rather skip over. But recently I was drawn to look at the meaning of the Greek words closer. Very interesting, and strangely comforting too. 

The words translated “surprised” and “something strange” in the above verse are the Greek words xenizo (ξενίζω) and its root xenos (ξένος). Xenos means a foreigner or a stranger (it’s where we get the “xeno” part of the word xenophobia); it also means a guest. Xenizo means to be shocked, “to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing.” But it also means to receive as a guest, to entertain, to be host, to lodge. 

It is like Peter is saying, “do not be shocked by the painful trial you are suffering as though a complete stranger had walked into your house looking for lodging.” I guess he is saying that suffering should not, or will not, be a stranger to us. Suffering was not a stranger to our Lord. 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with (acquainted with, knew) suffering. Isaiah 53:3a 

Jesus was intimately acquainted with suffering and, if we are following Him, we share in that acquaintance. 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Philippians 3:10 

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.  

The word translated “fellowship” above is koinonia. It also means association, community, communion, joint participation. It comes from the noun koinonos which means partner, associate, comrade, companion (how wonderful to be Jesus’ companion!).  

But what I love is that the very core root of both of these words is the Greek word for “with,” sun (σύν). It means with or together, companionship, beside. He is with us, beside us, our companion in our suffering. And that makes all the difference. That makes the impossible, possible. 

“It is precisely the presence and help of Christ in times of suffering that makes it possible for us to stand up under pressure … The only way to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this dark road is through union with Christ and with the promise of resurrection to light the way.” ― R.C. Sprouli 

Jesus has suffered for us, and he will suffer with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. 

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  1 Corinthians 1:8-9 

But rejoice that you participate (come into communion or fellowship with, become a sharer, are made a partner) in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 

One foot in front of the other, holding on tight to his hand. 

… that I may know Him 

i R.C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering  https://www.ligonier.org/blog/suffering-well-union-christ/  

Image by Andrés Þór https://flic.kr/p/79jJCz

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 

Wineskin in the Smoke

Like David, I must choose hope.

Kaph 

 My soul faints with longing for your salvation, 

    but I have put my hope in your word. 

My eyes fail, looking for your promise; 

    I say, “When will you comfort me?” 

Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, 

    I do not forget your decrees. 

How long must your servant wait? 

    Psalm 119:81-84a 

For years I have been reading that phrase “though I am like a wineskin in the smoke” and wondering what it means. It has been an enigma to me. But now I am starting to get an idea. Maybe, sometimes you have to be there in the dark smoke to finally understand.  

Each of the sections of Psalm 119 start with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This section starts with kaph. 

“Jewish writers state that kaph means ‘bent.’ It has a dual symbolism, standing for the palm of the hand serving as a container and, at the same time, as a measure for what it holds. Ibn Ezra states that kaph means ‘result through mental and physical effort.’ While yod stands for the hand indicating power and possession, kaph denotes productivity and accomplishment.” — Mick Mills, David Michael, Messiah and his Hebrew Alphabet. [emphasis mine] 

David used kaph as a word in Psalm 139:5: You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand (kaph) upon me. “You have laid your kaph on me” – You are doing, producing, accomplishing something in me! 

The first word of this section of Psalm 119, kalah, starts with the letter kaph. Kalah means to be spent, be used up, to waste away, be exhausted, fail. My soul faints. My eyes fail. But it also means to come or bring to an end, to complete, finish, to accomplish, fulfill, bring to pass. On our side we are exhausted, spent, we have failed and are failing. On God’s side, he is bringing us to the end of our own strength, he is finishing, accomplishing, fulfilling his purpose and promise in us, bringing his Word to pass. 

What does that have to do with wineskins in the smoke? 

There are two things that I have found. Nomadic peoples would hang their skin-bottles in their tents which were full of smoke and they would become, over time, black and dried out, shriveled, and useless. Many commentators conclude that David is lamenting that he feels like such a skin in the hot, blinding smoke – suffering, helpless, waiting. (See, for instance, Spurgeon in The Treasury of David https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=spur&b=19&c=119&v=45

But there is another beautiful meaning here. Hanging skin-bottles over a fire, or in a smoky place, was an ancient method of refining the wine inside of them.i 

  “A bottle in the smoke. One object amongst the ancients of such exposure was to mellow the wine by the gradual ascent of the heat and smoke from the fire over which the skin was suspended; and thus the words teach us the uses of affliction in ripening and improving the soul.” — Ernst Friedrich Karl Rosenmüller, quoted in John Mason Neale, Richard Frederick Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms 

“And in that custom the psalmist finds an illustration of the meaning, and of the mercy, of the afflictions to which he has been exposed. They have been sent to act on him like the warm smoke on the wine – to refine, mellow, and ripen his character; and because, under them all, he has refused to part with his faith in God and duty; because he has been true to God and God’s statutes, they have had their intended and proper effect upon him.” — Rev. Robert Tuckii  

How long must your servant wait?  

Yes, it’s the waiting that makes it so hard. I’m not good at waiting even for good things, let alone waiting in the suffocating smoke of misery, not knowing what is going to happen, how long it will last, helpless, not able to change or affect anything. Like David, I must choose hope. 

“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, Radical Waiting 

“What seems to be in mind is a long waiting-time, which was also a time of suffering and strain. The watching for God was prolonged; no response seemed to come; much had to be borne while he was waiting; he seemed to get dry, shriveled, and blackened, like the wine-skin in the chimney that had waited so long (and seemed to get tired of waiting, even as he did) for the moisture and refreshing of being used, and filled again with wine. But the question of supreme importance was this – What was he doing during this hard waiting-time?” – Rev. Robert Tuckiii  

What was David doing in the waiting? I have put my hope in your word … looking for your promise … I do not forget your decrees. He believed, because he knew God, he knew that all the time he was hanging there in the dark, hot, choking smoke – God was working, God was accomplishing his purpose, God was fulfilling his promise.

Lord help me do that too. When I’m hanging there, when despair and hopelessness swirl around me like the strangling, blinding smoke – give me that grace. 

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working 
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working 
You never stop, You never stop working 
You never stop, You never stop working 

— from Way Maker by Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu 

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” John 5:17 

Photo, free download from Pixabay 

Joy Beyond

In this dark world the shepherd needs to be our LORD.

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. Hebrews 13:23 

This verse is a little oh-by-the-way postscript to the letter to the Hebrews. It is like “and, oh yeah, Timothy has been released from prison.” The way it is tacked on at the end like that really struck me. It communicated to me that this was a common occurrence. This idea of persecution for our faith is foreign to most of us in the United States. But there are thousands and thousands across the world for whom this, and worse, is still common. I was thinking about this when I read this from A.W. Tozer speaking to the Church here in the U.S.: 

“The gradual disappearance of the idea and feeling of majesty from the Church is a sign and a portent. The revolt of the modern mind has had a heavy price, how heavy is becoming more apparent as the years go by. Our God has now become our servant to wait on our will. ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ we say, instead of ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ and the difference is as wide as the world.” — A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man 

The first emphasis keeps our gaze on ourselves. What we crave, what we need, what we think we deserve. Affliction is no longer unexceptional, it is unacceptable. The idea that “the lord is my servant, I shall not want,” keeps us in the little-lamb baby state always looking for the next blessing. When my heart’s attention is only on what God can do for me, it is easy to slide into errors like prosperity-gospel-type thinking. Trials and afflictions shake my cozy, planned-out little world and my faith wavers. 

But, the second emphasis puts our Lord on the throne (or realizes that he is on the throne). It opens our eyes and minds and hearts to Amazing Grace. The amazing, almost incomprehensible, uncontainable grace of the unfailing love of the Mighty God. Creator, King – God of gods and Lord of lords – who has bent down to pull us up out of the pit and lead us into His very Presence. Unworthy, self-centered, rebellious as we are. When the emphasis is on the LORD, gratitude and thanksgiving and praise naturally flow. We are enabled to bear the Shepherd’s rod and staff of testing and discipline willingly and joyfully. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds James 1:2 

This is a hard saying whenever, but it is especially hard when our assumption is that the job of the lord (small “L”) who is our servant-shepherd is to lead us to good pasture and quiet waters and make us feel good. 

“The prosperity gospel believes that God wants to reward you if you have the right kind of faith. If you’re good and faithful, God will give you health and wealth and boundless happiness. Life is like a boomerang. If you’re good, good things will always come back to you. Think positively. Speak positively. Nothing is impossible, if you believe …. 

“In his sermon on the mount, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will never have to deal with infertility. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive a Porsche 911. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will never have medical complications or financial hardship.’” — Rachel Chimits, Do Bad Things Happen to Godly People? i 

But if our eyes are on our majestic LORD and his Amazing Grace we can expect afflictions – In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) – but we can consider it all joy because we see beyond – But take heart! I have overcome the world. 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 

The joy was beyond for Jesus (and that joy was us, by the way, us with him). The joy was beyond the scorning and mocking and shame. It was beyond imprisonment, testing and afflictions and suffering and death and the cross. And if we are going to persevere to that joy we need to be following our Lord (capital “L”), who is also our Good Shepherd. We can trust that shepherd through anything. We can trust knowing we will hear his voice leading and guiding. We can trust the One who has gone this way before, knowing that our hard way produces good – for us and for others – and he will be with us all the way. And if we do that, the joy beyond will be here and now too. 

In this dark time, let us follow the Shepherd who is our LORD.  

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  

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 

[P.S.] I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. Hebrews 13:20-21, 23 

i Rachel Chimits’ complete blog post here https://worldchallenge.org/blog/do-bad-things-happen-godly-people?ref=em1020 

Photo copyright 2009 by Derek Bair

The Treasures of Darkness

God’s love is always facing out.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

I blogged about this verse back in July1, but I see now that it was just a beginning. God has been leading me deeper into Isaiah 45:3. He is showing me, and hopefully, all of us, something amazing for this dark time. 

I will give you the treasures (storehouse, treasury, magazine of weapons in the armory of God)  

of darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, obscurity, night)  

and hidden wealth (hidden treasure)  

of secret places (the hiding place),  

So that you may know (perceive, recognize, comprehend, understand)  

that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel,  

who calls (summons, invites, calls for, calls and commissions, calls and endows, appoints) you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

There is a treasure to be found in our darkness. A treasure that can only be discovered there in the dark night. Encouragement and comfort and beauty, a light on the path through. Comfort and encouragement for us in our struggle and fear and pain, but also for others. Maybe mostly for others for God’s love is always facing out. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4  

There are weapons to be forged in the darkness. It’s interesting that God’s treasure house or storehouse is also a magazine of his weapons. Weapons of the faith that shields, the love that overcomes, the joy that imparts strength, the song that crumbles walls and disperses enemies. Yes, we have these weapons from the first, but we don’t really fight well with them until they are tested – mostly in adversity. Like David, who tested his sling and stones against the lion and the bear.  

There is a commission to receive in the dark times. For in the dark times he calls, he invites, he appoints and commissions us to go out and share our testimony. A testimony birthed in the darkness. It is an awesome thing to be summoned, appointed, and commissioned by God. Isaiah 43:1 says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”  

It’s like that letter you get when you are drafted into the service, and you are no longer your own for a few years, but this summons is infinitely more. Unlike the draft letter, God gives you a choice in the darkness – you can give up in despair and anger at God, or you can pick up your weapons and step forward and sign on the line with that new name He has called you: Mine. 

“Be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Paul instructs, “Arm yourself with faith build up your belief now, before the day comes. Learn your song, and you’ll be able to sing it in your fire. 

This is the hope of our most holy faith: our Lord causes a song to come out of the darkest of times. Start now to build up your holy faith in him and learn to praise his majesty quietly in your heart. When you sing your song, it will strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters. And it will testify to the world: ‘Our Lord reigns over the flood!’” — David Wilkerson 

Photo by Jack Bair, 2020

1 see When You Are in Darkness https://wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/11/when-you-are-in-darkness

Faith Looks

A theme again emerged this week from the blogs and devotionals I follow. May these encourage you!

On accepting adversity in our lives: Always it is initiated by an act of will on our part; we set ourselves to believe in the overruling goodness, providence, and sovereignty of God and refuse to turn aside no matter what may come, no matter how we may feel. I mistakenly thought I could not trust God unless I felt like trusting Him. Now I am learning that trusting God is first of all a matter of the will. I choose to trust in God, and my feelings eventually follow. ― Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter 

(Blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2020/11/04/wisdom-wednesday-the-sovereign-god-110420/

Faith looks not at what happens to him but at Him Whom he believes. — Watchman Nee 

(Blogged by Cookiecrumbstoliveby https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2020/11/03/calm-cool-and-collected/

You are good, you are kind 

 You are more than these 

 I’m lost for words trying to describe You 

 Elohim, Elyon, Alese lewi [He who does what He has said] 

 Your greatness is all I see 

 There is nothing You cannot do 

 There’s no mountain You cannot move 

If You have said it, then You will do it 

 ’cause You have a track record of keeping Your word 

 And You’re not about to stop doing it now 

— Olorun Agbaye – You Are Mighty, Nathaniel Bassey, lyrics 

(Blogged by Precious John-Adeyemi https://goodandloved.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/my-top-5-songs-of-the-week-2/

“In this world you will have trouble.” — Jesus 

Friends in the Lord. We need to get over it. In this world we will have trouble. We will get cancer. Tragedy will strike our families. Untimely deaths will occur. Our children will endure trauma. At the other end of the spectrum, people will be beheaded simply for their faith in Jesus. Trouble is the unfortunate feature and bitter fruit of the insanely complex, compounded brokenness of the whole fallen creation. It is neither an indictment on the goodness of God nor the faith of his followers. 

The big difference on this point is not between people who follow Jesus and people who don’t. Trouble is our common lot. The big difference is the people who follow Jesus get to add this tiny little hand grenade of a footnote to our bumper sticker: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — J.D. Walt 

The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in. – RC Sproul 

Photo copyright Derek Bair 2006

The Good Fight

Yes, the fight is agonizing, a struggle, a grueling conflict. But good? What does that mean “good fight?”

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12 

“Fight the good fight.” That phrase stopped me in my tracks as I read it this time. I think we all feel like we are in a fight, actually lots of fights. It seems like everywhere you go, everything you hear and see there is a fight going on. More like a war. The Greek word translated “fight” in the above verse is agon. It means anxiety, conflict, contention, fight, race. Sounds all too familiar. BibleHub.com commentary adds this to the definition of agon: 

agṓn (a masculine noun, and the root of the English words, “agony,” “agonize”) – properly, a contest (struggle), a grueling conflict (fight); (figuratively) positive struggle that goes with “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12) – which literally states, “Struggle (agōnízomai) the good struggle (agṓn) of the (life of) faith.” — BibleHub.com 

Yes, agonizing, a struggle, a grueling conflict. But a good fight? What does that mean “good fight?” Spurgeon said this about it: 

“‘Lay hold on eternal life.’ Observe that this precept is preceded by another—’Fight the good fight of faith.’ Those who lay hold on eternal life will have to fight for it. The way of the spiritual life is no easy one—we shall have to contest every step of the way along which it leads us. ‘Contest the good contest of the faith’ would be an accurate rendering of the passage and a contest it is against the world, the flesh and the devil! If we live unto God, we shall need to war a daily warfare and tread down the powers of death and Hell.” — C.H. Spurgeoni  

“A daily warfare.” Wow, that makes me tired and is hard to see as good. So, it was a shock when I saw what the Greek word translated “good” in English means.  

The word is kalos and it means beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable. We are in a beautiful fight (!!) A precious struggle. I may have a hard time seeing it this way when I am in the midst of the battle, but to God my fight is precious. Think about that for a minute – your fight is precious to God. To me, my battle for faith and hope feels like failure. (Shouldn’t the battle be easier by now?) I’m sure the battle will never end until the Lord takes me home, and it probably won’t get easier. But, knowing it is precious to God helps me keep going. 

So, I will hold this in my heart. When I stand in the darkness with naked faith, when I proclaim the truth of the cross of Jesus, when I cling to the promises though right now there is no evidence, when I fall over and over, but keep getting back up, when I cry out in despair, when I wrestle with him, when I lift up my eyes once again to fix them on Jesus. That is beautiful and precious in his eyes. And he is right there with me. And he gives grace for this good fight. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7 

Everyone who asks

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon. But if you back up a little and look at the context you will notice that these verses are nestled between four hard sayings of Jesus. First there is this part about not judging our brother and getting the planks out of our eyes.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Afterwards, there is the “Golden Rule” and the part about the narrow road.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:12-14

There are two different Greek words translated “narrow” in these verses, stenos and thlibo. Stenos describes the gate which is narrow or strait. Thlibo describes the way. Thlibo means narrow or straitened but is also means to press as the pressing of grapes, to press hard upon, afflict, to suffer tribulation and trouble. It is interesting that the noun forms of both these words are used by Paul in Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble (thlipsis) or hardship (stenochoria) or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

There is affliction and suffering and pressing down hard in the narrow way. We are asked to let God work in us repentance of old ways and transformational change. To press out of us the hypocritical judging and unloving tendencies – through trouble and tribulation and distress if need be – until he can press out good new wine. Few want to choose that way. Most would rather just stick with the Amazon gift card.

In this context, for what am I to be asking, seeking, knocking? Well, for one thing, I am asking for “HELP!” Help to be able to see the planks in my own eye. Help to choose and go through the narrow way of affliction, suffering, tribulation, that he may produce good fruit in me that may be pressed into good wine.

What am I knocking on? What door? Jesus said he was the door. He is saying here that if I knock there it will be opened. He is the door or gate into the sheepfold where I am safe while I learn to follow and imitate the Shepherd. Jesus also said that he is the Word and the Truth. If I knock on the Word it will be opened to me. I will find the hidden treasure. I will begin to understand the mind of Christ.

What am I seeking? God. Just God. I want to have “a naked intent toward God.”[i] For only there in his Presence, in his strength, with his help, will I be able to do the narrow Way, the thlibo.

Do not judge your brother.

Take the plank of wood out of your own eye.

Ask, seek, knock!

Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Follow the narrow way.

****

For more about the pressing of grapes and the narrow way see The Pressing of Grapes

Photo by Sheila Bair


[i] Quoted from The Cloud of Unknowing, by an anonymous Christian mystic.

My Impossibles List

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

Impossible = Greek adunatos: without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible

Possible = Greek dunatos: able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible

I’ve started keeping an impossibles list. All the impossible things I’ve been praying for. The unable to be done, not possible things. So much of what I am praying for seems impossible. Sometimes the impossible thing is to just get through the day; sometimes it is the healing of a brokenhearted nation. We all have that same struggle right now, to keep from sinking into hopelessness and despair at the impossibilities.

But recently, God has been showing me – no that is too wimpy of a word – he has been blazing this light of truth into my darkness, that he, and he alone, is the one who can do the impossible things. All the stuff with what is going on in the world and our own problems – our kids and financial problems and job problems and health concerns. All our impossible things. The things that wake us up weeping and gasping in the middle of the night. If fixing these things are just up to me and you they are without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible. Not possible.

But all things are possible with God. That’s what Jesus impossibly proclaimed. So, I have been making a list of all my impossibles. And then, like Hezekiah I take it and spread it out before the Lord.

Hezekiah was the king of Israel when King Sennacherib of Assyria came to lay siege to Jerusalem. His armies had already roared through Judah, capturing the fortified cities. And now they were surrounding Jerusalem and mocking Hezekiah’s God (Isaiah 36), sending letters full of sneering impossibilities.

Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Isaiah 37:11

But Hezekiah took those impossibilities to the Temple and spread them out before God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.  And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” Isaiah 37:14-16

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer. And this impossible army surrounds me and mocks my God, either in anguish or arrogance. Even in writing this it besieges my mind and heart with black-hole doubt and ancient fear. But I am spreading my list out before the One who is able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible. The One enthroned between the cherubim, the One who alone is God. And I’m saying, “OK, God here are some more impossible things for you. I am giving them over to you. For, nothing is impossible for you.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard (too difficult, too high, beyond one’s power, extraordinary, wondrous, marvelous) for me? Jeremiah 32:27

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23-24

Photograph copyright 2018 by Derek Bair