The Decision-less Middle

The message the Lord is giving me this week from the blogs and devotionals I follow is a sobering, but extremely relevant, one. Thank you to all the bloggers I follow. Be set free.

For the time is coming when they will no longer listen and respond to the healing words of truth because they will become selfish and proud. They will seek out teachers with soothing words that line up with their desires, saying just what they want to hear. (2 Tim. 4:2-3 The Passion Translation) 

“The Living Word exposes these self-inflicted boundaries to us—piercing our hearts, interpreting our innermost motives, and even challenging our cherished assumptions. This is why I contend that we should learn to let the Bible study us. 

For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword. It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts. (Heb. 4:12 The Passion Translation) 

Here’s the danger. Without this continual ‘piercing,’ without the Spirit’s constant recalibration of our perspective, without letting Holy Spirit speak through other people we’re in community with, who may even irritate us at times, our unexamined life will be just be following our own confirmation bias. 

They will seek out teachers with soothing words that line up with their desires, saying just what they want to hear.  

Like birds of a feather flocking together, we’ll only be open to teachers we already agree with. We will have stopped ‘the eyes of our hearts from being enlightened’ (Eph.1:18), resting in a truth that makes us comfortable instead the Truth that makes us truly free.” — blogged by Mel Wild https://melwild.wordpress.com/2021/02/23/will-we-follow-holy-spirit-or-our-confirmation-bias/  

Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (NASB). 

“These words bothered me. They still do. They set up a stark contrast I have never managed to get past. On the one hand: the whole world. On the other hand: my soul. I so want to dwell somewhere in the decision-less middle. I want a life overflowing with monetary wealth and I want a soul filled with God. The text tells me I must decide on one or the other. As a kid, I somehow knew the splinter of this saying would pulsate with nagging pain until I aimed my life in one of these two directions. It was clear to me. These roads led to two completely different destinations, and one of those would look like great gain and yet be complete loss. Little did I know at the time how these words would stick in my soul like a tiny shard of wood even to the present day. As an adult, I now know this is not a one-time transaction. It’s an everyday decision. “– J.D. Walt, How I Got a Splinter in My Soul and How I Got It Out  https://www.seedbed.com/how-i-got-a-splinter-in-my-soul-and-how-i-got-it-out/  

“… Janet Malcolm from her book In the Freud Archives: ‘There are few among us who do not resist self-knowledge. We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and ourselves constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally — and not by dint of our own efforts but the under the pressure of external events — we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm.’ 

When naked in the storm of his own sin, King David stared at the unvarnished reality of his bad moves. He confessed his sins and asked for mercy, ‘According to your steadfast love….’ (Psalm 51) We like David can embrace our true selves and confess our sins. Because we know God is forgiving and our time is finite: life will end. And we can lose or win by our actions or simply lose on time … With God’s help, I’ll sweep away self-deception to reveal my true self. And make good use of the time I’ve been given.” — blogged by Carole Duff  https://caroleduff.com/2021/02/22/losing-on-time/  

“Not only will Jesus have to take up his cross – you and I will. There’s no nicer, refined, more reasonable way, even if we carefully surround ourselves solely with nice, refined, reasonable churchy people. 

For true life requires complete surrender to it. And what will be the point of gaining the whole world by thinking as the world thinks, if it means falling short of true life?”  -Suzanne Guthrie, At the Edge of the Enclosure 

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32 (NKJV) 

Photo copyright by Derek Bair

The Stability of Our Now, Our Always

Amen and amen! I can be sure of this.

And He will be the stability (firmness, truth, steadfastness, steadiness, security, the verily, the truly) of your times (your when, your now, your always, continually), A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the LORD is his treasure. Isaiah 33:6 (NASB) 

Oh, how we need stability in these days! Stability in the above verse, also translated “sure foundation,” is the Hebrew word emuwnah (אֱמֻנָה). It means, literally, firmness. Figuratively, it means security, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness, faithfulness, stability, steady, truly, truth, verily. The root of this word is aman (אָמַן), from which we get amen in the New Testament. (I know I have written about this before, but God keeps bringing me back. My need – our need – for His stability is great. See Amen)

When Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you” (I stopped counting at 70), he is actually saying Amen, amen! So be it! Truth! This is true, this is sure, this is a faithful word you can stand upon! 

R.C. Sproul writes this about Jesus’ use of amen: 

“There is, perhaps, no more remarkable use of the term amen in the New Testament than on the lips of Jesus. Older translations render statements of our Lord with the preparatory words, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you.’ Later translations update that to ‘Truly, truly, I say unto you.’ In such passages, the Greek word that is translated as ‘verily’ or ‘truly’ is the word amen. Jesus does not wait for the disciples to nod their agreement or submission to His teaching at the end of His saying; rather, He begins by saying, ‘Amen, amen, I say unto you.’ What is the significance of this? Namely, that Jesus never uttered a desultory word; every word that came from His lips was true and important. Each word was, as ‘amen’ suggests, valid, sure, and binding  … 

We also notice that Jesus uses the Hebrew technique of repetition by saying not merely, ‘Amen, I say unto you,’ but ‘Amen, amen.’ This form of repetition underlines the importance of the words that are to follow. Whenever we read in the text of Scripture our Lord giving a statement that is prefaced by the double ‘amen,’ it is a time to pay close attention and be ready to give our response with a double amen to it. He says ‘amen’ to indicate truth; we say it to receive that truth and to submit to it.” — R.C. Sproul, Amen. (emphasis mine) 

Amen and amen! I can be sure of this: 

Jesus is my stability, firmness, truth, steadfastness, steadiness, security, my verily, my truly. Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is The Amen! The Truth. He is the sure foundation, the firm Rock I stand on. He is faithful and true. He is my certainty, my assurance – right now, when everything is shaking around me, and tomorrow no matter what happens, and forever.  

He can be your stability too. Put your faith in him. Salvation

Truly (Amen!), truly (amen!), I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:24 (NASB) 

So Jesus said to them again, “Truly (Amen!), truly (amen!), I am the door of the sheep. John 10:7 (NASB) 

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28 

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 

He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 62:6 

Read more about aman (אָמַן) here Faith, Part One

Image, Strong by Eduardo Martinez https://flic.kr/p/2ihGeUk  

What Are You Storing Up?

Fear made David act like a madman. Fear can make us do some pretty crazy things.

And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath. And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. 1 Samuel 21:12-13 (KJV)

When David was fleeing from Saul to Achish, the king of Gath, he heard the king’s servants talking about him – “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” It says that David “laid up” these words in his heart, or took them to heart, and he was afraid that if Achish thought he was the king of Israel, he would kill him. The word translated “laid up” in the King James means, among other things, to “heap up” and “to preserve.” Later, when David wrote about his experience, he proclaimed:

I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4 (NASB)

The word translated “fears” here means, in addition to fear, a granary or storehouse. It comes from two words: a word for “terror” and a word that means “dwelling place.” The dwelling place of terror. These two verses together invoke an image of David preserving these words of terror in a storehouse of fear in order to keep feeding on them. In David’s case, feeding on fear caused him to act like a madman. Fear can make us do some pretty crazy things.

There are a lot of verses in the Bible about fear, what we are listening to, and what we store up in our hearts.

So they spread discouraging reports about the land among the Israelites … All the people we saw were huge. Numbers 13:32-33

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad. Proverbs 12:25 (NASB)

Your word I have treasured (stored up, hidden) in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Psalm 119:11 (NASB)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful (pain, sorrow, idol) way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to.” Mark 4:24a

What are you storing up? Is your heart a dwelling place of terror, a granary of fear? Or is your heart a treasury of the Word. What are you listening to? What are you believing?

I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4 (NASB)

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56:3

 

Image by Irving Rusinow, Photographer (NARA record: 5307166) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17210867

Center of the Storm

I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and ask him more directly to give you joy, peace, and a pure heart. Purity of heart means a heart where God is the center of your attention. Take a simple sentence like “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want,” and repeat that quietly during the day until the truth of it enters the center of your being. You will always continue to have feelings of depression, anger, and restlessness, but when God dwells in the center of the storm, the storm is less frightening and you can live with trust that in the midst of all of the darkness you will be led to a place of joy and peace.—Henri Nouwen

This quote brought me back to my childhood. Our new house was the last built on the block, and beside and before us to the west were empty fields. That was the direction the storms came from and we could watch them awesomely and terrifyingly racing towards us. Dark sky and writhing, black clouds, and spectacular lightening.

Most of the time my mother would herd us down into the basement to ride out the storm. I know that was the safe place, but there was a lot of fear in that because we couldn’t see what was happening, only hear the roar of the wind and the crash of the thunder, and the ominous warnings coming over the radio.

But sometimes I snuck up to the open garage where my Dad stood watching it come and overtake us. And I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated. We shared the awesomeness and the glory and the majesty of the storm together. I was in the center of the storm. But I was with my Dad. I was never afraid of a storm again.

Nouwen’s suggestion of meditating on the word in these times is a good one. You may feel overwhelmed with what is roaring about you right now. But your Father is always there with you in every storm. Sneak away now to stand with him. Fix your eyes on Him. Be still and know.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56: 3

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

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this violent storm is past. Psalm 57:1 (NLT)

 

More encouraging verses can be found here: Fear Bible Verses

 

Image, Storm by texaus1 https://flic.kr/p/R41Zbp

 

The Arm of the Lord

Isn’t this just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?

The Arm of the Lord

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Exodus 6:6

A footnote in a book I am reading recommended a word study of the arm of the Lord. So, I decided to do it, and found some amazing hidden treasure.

The Hebrew word translated arm, as in “outstretched arm” and “arm of the Lord,” is zerowa or zeroa (זרוֹע). It is defined as the arm as stretched out, and figuratively, as force, help, mighty, power, strength.

Zeroa comes from zara which means to sow or scatter seed. Sowing seed was done by taking a handful of seed and scattering it with an outstretched arm. It is the same word as used in Psalms 126.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. Psalm 126:5 (NASB)[1]

God’s outstretched arm bringing deliverance, but also sowing the seed of life. This is wonderful in itself, but what really stunned me was the other meaning of zeroa. It also means the shoulder or foreleg of an animal sacrifice. This meaning is still used today for the sacrificed lamb in the Passover celebration. From Wikipedia:

“(Hebrew: זרוֹע) is a lamb shank bone or roast chicken wing or neck used on Passover and placed on the Seder plate. It symbolizes the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted (70 CE) during the destruction of the Temple, the z’roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; in Ashkenazi and many Sephardi families, it is not eaten or handled during the Seder.”[2]

The Arm of the Lord, his might and saving power, is also the sacrifice lamb. Isn’t that just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:1-2 (written between 701 BC and 681 BC)

This verse begins the famous chapter in Isaiah prophesying the Messiah. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows … he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:3, 4, 7).

Who is this “message” referred to in Isaiah 53:1, and who is the “arm of the Lord”? Jesus, Messiah, is both the message (the Word become flesh) and the revealed Arm of the Lord (the sacrifice Lamb).

God’s arm, his strength, might, power, help, was revealed in a sacrificed lamb, submissive and obedient to death.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” Luke 22:7-8

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7b

 

[1] All quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeroa

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

I Testify

The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. 1 John 1:1 (NLT)

This is what eyewitnesses do. They testify about what they have seen and heard and experienced, with their own eyes and ears and hands

I have been called to be a witness, and I, too, testify that

I have heard His voice calling my name. I have heard Him say to me, “You are mine!”

I have looked, while in the spirit, into His eyes like unending pools of molten love, like perfectly pure liquid gold, purer than anything here on this earth

I have felt His Presence, very near, right beside me, instant in need, comforting, cheering me on, relentlessly offering me this Hope, pointing out the Way

I have experienced His unstoppable power and authority, taking my breath away, healing, redeeming, restoring, bursting bonds, kicking down doors, bringing me out into that spacious place

I have experienced this power in me, in my heart, in my mouth and in my hands, working through me sharing this love, this healing, this redemption, this new-creature, new-way-of being, new Life

I have known the power of His Truth repairing the twisted, mangled parts, the mind-blowing revelation of His Word, changing my thinking, switching the track, crumbling unscalable walls, blowing away the chaff

I testify, with my own ears, with my own eyes, in my own life, with my own hands

He is Jesus Christ, the Word of Life

 

Image in the Public Domain, by Brad Shorr

Put in and Drop the Anchor

For this reason we must pay much closer (earnest, exceeding, more abundant, more frequent) attention to what we have heard (hold it in our minds, bring our ship to land, put in at safe harbor), so that we do not drift away from it (glide by, carelessly pass, let it slip our minds). Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)

Only hold on (seize and hold fast, don’t let go, keep carefully and faithfully) to what you have until I come.  Revelation 2:25 (NIV)

 

 

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Kathleen Gorby [Public domain]

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)

Amen!

When Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.”

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Revelation 3:14 (NIV) 

In Revelation 3:14 the Lord Jesus calls Himself “the Amen.”  That really struck me, so I looked up the definition of the word. It means firm and faithful. Jesus, the firm foundation. Jesus, faithful and true. At the beginning of a discourse it means “surely, truly, or verily,” so that when Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.” At the end of a discourse or sermon it means “so it is, so be it, or may it be fulfilled.”

According to the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, saying amen “was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.” Yes, I believe it. Yes, I am putting my trust in this.

But I also found out something about the origins of the word. According to NetBible, “The word ‘amen’ is a most remarkable word. It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech. The word is directly related — in fact, almost identical — to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean “sure” or “truly,” an expression of absolute trust and confidence.”

So it is very comforting to me that the Bible ends with the word “Amen.” This is something that can be trusted. This is true. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

Amen! So be it! I’m standing on this Rock!

 

Image in the Public Domain: Woman standing on a rock near Villa de Leyva, Colombia by Joshua Earle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_standing_on_a_rock_near_Villa_de_Leyva,_Colombia_(Unsplash).jpg

 

Middle of the Story

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Faith thanks God in the middle of the story.”[i] The middle of the story is the hard place, where behind me, and at my feet, is the stumbled-over rubble of past mistakes, rebellions, regrets. And before, is the obscured darkness of unknown hazards and hopes. Faith thanks God amid the wreckage. Faith asks me every day to turn from fear and trust the One who has promised. How do I do that? Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The amazing Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis.  It partly means “steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution, confidence, firm trust, assurance,” and it is mostly translated that way as “confidence.” It literally means “a setting under”[ii] as in setting under a support, a substructure, a foundation, that which is firm. Faith is the setting under me of the foundation that makes or causes me to stand and be confident. Jesus is that foundation[iii] under me. He is the Rock on which I stand.

Thinking of it this way helps me, because it makes me realize that faith is not so much something that I “have,” something I am required to manufacture or come up with. But faith is something I do. I simply step onto the Rock. I place my faith and hope, not in my ability to produce faith, not in something that may or may not happen, but in Jesus – his faithfulness, his truth, his Word, his love and care.

But, the hidden treasure in this word is another facet of meaning. Hupostasis also means “actual existence, substance, real being, essence.” It is used in this sense in Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (hupostasis) sustaining (bearing up, upholding, keeping from falling) all things by his powerful word.

Faith is the essence of hope as Christ is the essence of God – His exact representation. When I step onto the Rock, I am sustained, upheld, kept from falling by the very essence of God, which is love. God is love; his real being is love. I will thank God here in the middle of my story, confidently standing on Jesus, the Rock of my salvation, supported and sustained by his Love that was proven at the cross.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

There is so much in Hebrews 11:1! I will look at the second half of the verse next time. Read more about faith in the blog Faith, Part Two

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

[ii] All translations from NetBible.org and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:11