The Highway to Your City

“And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel.” Psalm 84:5

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV[i])

A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Luke 3:4)

I have read these verses many times, but for some reason I didn’t realize that in Isaiah this verse says: A voice of one calling, “IN THE DESERT prepare the way for the Lord.” However, in Luke it says: A voice of one calling IN THE DESERT, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Both speak life to us, don’t they? John the Baptist was a voice calling in the desert to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, but also, it is in the desert or wilderness places of our lives where the “way” is prepared. The Israelites were tested there:

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2)

Even Jesus, The Way, was tested in the desert.

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12)

For us, the desert is also the place where we learn to lean on the Beloved:

“Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?” (Song of Songs 8:5)

But note, in Isaiah 40:3 there are two things happening: a way is being prepared or cleared, but also a highway is being built. The word “way” is the Hebrew word derek (דְּרָכַ֫יִם) which means a way, road, or path that is trodden – a journey, manner, habit, or course of life. It’s like a deer-path in the woods that is made because they get in the habit of walking that way. The “way” is prepared or cleared away like a path through the underbrush of our lives. And how is the way prepared?

“He who sacrifices thank-offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)

Thanking God is hard in the desert places, when everything looks so hopeless and we want to despair! But that is where the way is prepared for salvation. That is where we chop through the thorny vines and bitter roots of grumbling, fear, unforgiveness, faithlessness, and hopelessness that trip us up, and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is a sacrifice. It involves a death of self.

As we learn to praise Him no matter what – to make thanksgiving a habit, a way of life – those places of hopelessness and despair are changed into places of blessing.

“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage (or, in whose hearts are the highways – NASB). As they pass through the Valley of Baca (weeping, affliction), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (Psalm 84:4-6)

Or as The Message says “And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel.” The word translated “pilgrimage, “roads,” or “highway” here and in Isaiah 40:3 is the Hebrew word m@cillah (מְסִלָּה), which means highway, raised way, public road. It’s a public road; it’s not just for us, but for others as well. Our lives can become a place of blessing, a highway where God shows up.

Thank you Lord that there is a highway that runs through my heart, and that you travel on it with me, no matter what. I will prepare the way for you and your salvation. I will offer up thank offerings in the desert place. I will set my heart on pilgrimage and build up your highway. Teach me how to lean on you as we walk, that this place of weeping and affliction can become a place of Salvation and Life.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

“The highway to Your city runs through my heart” – Ted Sandquist

[i] All Bible verses from the New International Version unless noted

Prisoners of Hope

For a while now I have been having a hard time with the biblical concept of hope. I confess that at times hope seemed like a cruel joke. Paul said, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” Faith is important I could see and love, of course. But what’s so great about hope?

For a while now I have been having a hard time with the biblical concept of hope. I confess that at times hope seemed like a cruel joke. Paul said, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” Faith is important I could see and love, of course. But what’s so great about hope?

What if you hope and hope, and pray and pray, and nothing seems to change? Zechariah (9:12 NASB) says, “Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope” and that is how I have felt – like a prisoner, hoping almost against my will only because I knew Him and knew that He is good. But now I see that I didn’t really know what hope was. It is not wishful thinking, like “I wish things would get better” or “I hope I can find a job.” That kind of “hope” only leads to depression because all you are looking at is what’s happening now, the situation at the moment.

David said, “Why are you in despair (sunk in depression, brought low), O my soul? And why have you become disturbed (disquieted, moaning and groaning) within me? Hope (be patient, be pained, stay, tarry, trust, wait) in God, for I shall again (yet!) praise Him For the help (Yeshua! salvation, deliverance) of His presence” (Psalm 42:5 NASB). Notice the “be pained” part. Yes, hope can be painful. But what is David saying here? “What’s wrong with you soul? Yes, things are terrible, but I will again – or yet – praise Him.”

That word translated “praise” is yadah in the Hebrew. Yadah means to shoot arrows, cast or throw down, give thanks, laud, praise, confess the name of God. What I saw was that David’s hope was not wishful, but his hope was in God – “the help of his Presence,” His word and His promise. So, yet!, he knew – he had hope – that someday he would shoot the arrows of praise for the salvation and deliverance that God was, even then, accomplishing. He looked not at the situation he was in, but forward to that day – that is hope.

Zechariah said, “return to your fortress.” Psalm 91:2 (NIV) identifies our fortress as God: “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” So I am repenting, returning to my refuge, my fortress, to the Presence. I will hope, be patient (as possible), be pained (probably), wait and trust, while abiding, remaining present – meno (see The Art of Remaining Present).

Just a little end note. Right after this sweet revelation I found the sign shown above, a metal word Hope with an arrow shooting through it. It was made by an artisan in Haiti from an oil drum in the hope that its sale would help provide for a better future. It wasn’t until I got it home and hanging on the wall that it hit me – it is a reminder of hope for me too, that the arrows of praise will fly again. God is so good!

This blog is has also been published as a Bible study for free use in Hidden Treasure Bible Studies here Prisoners of Hope Bible Study

Yet God

“Yet” is my favorite word in the Bible. That may seem weird, but what comes after “yet” in many verses so often is a startling declaration of the faithfulness of God, of faith, hope, or of steely resolve to persevere.

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23 NIV)

“Yet” is my favorite word in the Bible. That may seem weird, but what comes after “yet” in many verses so often is a startling declaration of the faithfulness of God, of faith, hope, or of steely resolve to persevere. Many times, these are some of the most beautiful and inspiring verses in the Bible.

What comes before David’s declaration above in Psalm 73 is his expression of frustration and anger at the seeming injustice of God, saying at one point, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14). His doubt and bitterness increase to the point of acting “senseless and ignorant” like a “brute beast” before God.

Yet! Even through all that, God is still there with David, even after he has doubted and spouted off a lot of stupid things. I can deeply relate, yet God is always with me too. He is holding my hand through all the turmoil and pain.

Sometimes what comes after the word “yet” is a declaration of belief that no matter how bad things are, how impossible they seem, God will come through in the end, as in Job’s great proclamation of the resurrection.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV)

Sometimes it is a decision/affirmation that if things never turn out the way I would like, even if God never appears to “come through,” I will still praise Him.

“Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV)

And Job again, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15 NIV)

And Jeremiah’s beautiful statement of faith and hope in the midst of a long recounting of the horrors he and the people of Israel have endured:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23 NIV)

And the most beautiful and heartrending “yet” of all from Jesus:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV)

Yet. I will hang on to that word with all my heart, hanging on to the God who is hanging on to me.

Yet He is with me
Yet I will see Him
Yet I will praise Him
Yet I will rejoice
Yet I will hope
Yet I will follow
Yet God!

Rags of lordship

We still wear in our hearts the “rags of lordship” as Tolkien called them, we have the sense of exile, yearn for what we have lost – the relationship with and Presence of God.

“Certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 

 “I do not believe God has given up His world. I believe the human race was created in the image of God and though we fell into shameful disgrace and moral tragedy, God Almighty sent Someone to restore us again to that holy place from which we fell. I believe in the ultimate restoration of the world.” –A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21 NIV)

Reconciliation: I. To bring (a person) again into friendly relations to or with (oneself or another) after an estrangement. II. To adjust, settle, bring to agreement (a controversy, quarrel, etc.)–Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

The Greek word translated “reconciliation” is katalegé (καταλλαγή). It means adjustment, restoration to divine favor and comes from katallasso: to change, exchange, reconcile. The verse above says that God has reconciled us to himself through the cross of Jesus Christ. If the human race can be reconciled, if we can be restored, to friendly relations as after an estrangement, there must have been a time when God and man were friends. Tolkien said that we feel that estrangement as a “sense of exile.” Genesis says that God walked daily with the man and woman in the Garden. But, that was lost and ever since we have had this quarrel with God, we are hostile to him. As hostile combatants, we need to adjust ourselves, make the carpenter’s level straight, come to our senses as the Prodigal, be brought back from exile, restored to our rightful places as sons of God. Part of it is adjusting ourselves through repentance; part is being made different, a new creation by the power of God, by the blood of the Lamb.

We still wear in our hearts the “rags of lordship” as Tolkien called them, we have the sense of exile, yearn for what we have lost – the relationship with and Presence of God. Deep down we yearn to walk again with Him, we know that we are supposed to be sitting with him in heavenly places, that we are supposed to someday rule and judge with Him. All who reject and rebel against God have that God hole in them that cannot be filled with anything else. And God’s yearning for that reconciliation is even greater. “Come back,” he whispers. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come” (Revelation 222:17 NIV).

“My wayward children,” says the LORD, “come back to me, and I will heal your wayward hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:22 NLT)

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach …” (Colossians 1:19-22 NASB)

“The heart of man is not compound of lies
But draws some wisdom from the only Wise
And still recalls him. Though now long estranged
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned
And keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.”
—Tolkien, Mythopoeia

 

Look up and see

In Genesis 22:7-8 when Abraham is on his way to obey God in faith and sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering, Isaac asks his father, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide (ra’ah) the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” God does provide a ram, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw (ra’ah) a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide (ra’ah), or Jehovah Jireh. And to this day it is said, “’On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided (ra’ah).’” (Genesis 22:13-14).

The word translated both “saw” and “provide” in this verse is the same Hebrew word, ra’ah (רָאָה) which means:

to see, perceive, observe, consider, look at, give attention to, discern, gaze at, appear, present oneself, cause to see, show, cause to look intently at, behold, cause to gaze at, to be caused to see, be shown, be exhibited, to look at each other, face

God sees what’s going on, he is giving attention to it. Some people think it is like he is going to “see to it.” He is gazing at and sees the answer to the problem right now. He is going to cause us to see, behold, the answer too, as he caused Abraham to see the ram caught in the thicket. And he has been seeing the answer to all our problems from the beginning of time. The mountain, Moriah, where this all took place, and where “on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided” is the same mount where Solomon built the first temple (2 Chronicles 3:1) and where the second temple was rebuilt (Ezra 5:13). God saw it all, from beginning to end, and provided the answer there on mount Moriah when Jesus came to offer himself up as the Passover Lamb. He let himself be caught like the ram in the thicket; he let himself be sacrificed.

At the temple Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus and he was prophesied over (Luke 2:22-32); “my eyes have seen your Salvation” (2:30). At the temple Jesus taught daily, demonstrating his power and authority and allowing the children to call him the Son of David or Messiah (Matthew 21:14). In the temple the veil dividing God from the people was torn in two from top to bottom as Jesus died, providing the way for reconciliation to God (Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45, Matt. 27:51). The sacrifice for our sins, providing reconciliation with God, was provided. And if we look up we will see it, and we will be able to look at God face to face.

For some reason this knowing that God sees, that he’s got it all under control, he’s planned and known the answer from the beginning of time – this has boosted my faith way more than just knowing that he is my provider, though that is a wonderful and awesome fact. I know I can trust in him, I can lean back on him, he’s got my back, he’s got it all figured out.

But you, O God, do see (ra’ah) trouble (misery, pain) and grief (vexation, frustration, anger); you consider it to take it in hand. The victim (or unfortunate one, poor) commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14 NIV)

 

Image, Silk Willoughby church, East Window detail, by Jules & Jenny on flickr.com https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpguffogg/

The Art of Remaining Present

God is always present with us – vehemently, passionately (for nothing that He is or does is wimpy or lukewarm). Yet, we struggle to remain present with Him. We fight against ourselves and the distractions of the world. 

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering (hupomone) produce a crop.  Luke 8:15 (NIV)

The Greek word hupomone (cheerful or hopeful endurance, constancy, enduring, patience, patient continuance or waiting, perseverance) comes from the verb hupomeno (remain, abide, endure, persevere). Hupomeno is from two Greek words – hupo (by, from, in, of, under, with) and meno. Meno (μένω) is a wonderful word and is the root, heart, and strength of persevering and producing a good crop.  Meno means to abide, continue, dwell, endure, remain, and – my favorite – continue to be present (I love this! You can be somewhere without being truly present).  Jesus used the word meno several times when he said, “Remain (meno) in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5), and also, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain (meno) in my love.  John 15:9.

Hupomeno means, then, to remain by, in, with, under – I like to think of it as the art of remaining present (continuing to be present), remaining with Him, by Him, under His wings, in the vine – remaining in the Presence. Because it is not from ourselves that the strength comes to persevere in trouble and suffering or even just in daily life, but from Him. It is only by remaining plugged into the vine that we can persevere – “apart from me you can do nothing.”

We know from scripture that God is always present with us. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) and Psalm 46:1 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present (or very present, exceedingly, with muchness, vehemently present) help in trouble.” The Merriam Webster dictionary defines vehemently as forceful energy, intensely emotional, deeply felt, impassioned. That is how God is present with us – vehemently, passionately (for nothing that He is or does is wimpy or lukewarm). Yet, we struggle to remain present with Him. We fight against ourselves and the distractions of the world.

Brother Lawrence wrote about this struggle as “practicing the presence of God”, and that we would meet with resistance from our flesh, but that we should persevere for the burden is light.

“He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favours He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company: the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of.”[i]

Alexander MacLaren called it “the consciousness of being in touch with the Father, feeling that He is all round us”[ii] — passionately, continually.

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

My thirsty soul longs veh’mently,
Yea even faints, thy courts to see:
My very heart and flesh cry out,
O living God, for thee. (Psalm 84: 2, The Scottish Psalter)

 

[i] The Practice of the Presence of God. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1958.

[ii] Expositions of Holy Scripture. Hodder & Stoughton, 1900.

 

Hostile combatants two

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort.

You must be ready (adjusted, prepared) all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Luke 12:40 NLT)

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort. David said, “I have set (shavah) the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 NASB). Shavah (ָׁש ָׁוה) means to level, to agree with, resemble¹ (I always think of a carpenter’s level, with the bubble in it, between me and the Word). This implies changing myself – by attitudes, thinking, words and deeds – to line up with the Word, and the Psalm says this is a continual, constant, daily effort.

The Parable of the Sower is told in Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:14-20, and Luke 8:11-15. In each, Jesus essentially tells the same story – until the last sentence, which describes the fruitful hearer of the Word. In Matthew 13:23 this hearer understands or wrestles with the word he has heard, in Mark 4:20 he accepts (admits, delights in, receives) the word, and in Luke 8:15 he retains (holds fast, keeps from getting away, keeps in memory) the word and by perseverance (hupomone) produces a good crop. The word translated “retains” is the Greek word katechó (κατέχω). It also means to “check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship”², to keep it on course. Hebrews says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV). This retaining the Word, keeping the course, holding the ship from drifting away implies constant effort. It is only possible by “keeping the Lord continually before me” or “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The key to this perseverance, or hupomone, is hidden in the Greek word itself. But, more on that next time.

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 4:1 NIV)

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” Tolkien, The Hobbit (chapter 5)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

¹ Brown-Driver-Briggs http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7737.htm
² Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary

Hostile combatants

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times.

      

“When anyone hears (akouo) the message about the kingdom and does not understand (suniemi) it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears (akouo) the word and understands (suniemi) it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt. 13:19-23 NIV)

In the parable of the sower everyone heard (akouo) the word, but only the last one understood (suniemi). This one was also the only one who bore fruit. Akouo means to hear, consider, and even to understand[i]. But the Greek word suniemi (συνίημι) takes it further – it means to bring together, or join together in the mind. It also has a meaning of bringing together opposing or hostile combatants.

In the Greek world it was used for the bringing together of two hostile combatants and letting them duke it out (Homer, Illiad 1,8; 7,210)[1]. The scripture says that we are naturally hostile to God. “… the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), but “while we were enemies (hostile ones, opposing) we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). I think this implies that three of the hearers in the sower parable did not make the effort to adjust themselves to God’s word, to wrestle with the word, until it changed them and became part of them. But, they let the worries and temptations and ultimately the enemy of our souls wipe it out, and they went on unchanged and unfruitful. They looked into the mirror of the Word and then walked away (James 1:23-25).

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times. I know that I can read the Word or hear the Word and understand perfectly well what it means, but until I wrestle with it, until I can agree with God about it, line up my thinking with His, I will not bear fruit. Even worse, I run the risk of losing the truth altogether.

Praise God! He is not offended when we wrestle with Him, but rather He is pleased. Lord help me not to merely hear but to suniemi.

Continued Hostile combatants two

[1] Thayer’s Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/4920.html

[i] All definitions are taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible unless otherwise noted.