Mercy

This week, through the blogs and devotionals that I follow, came a clear message from God of mercy and hope.i Keep praying! 

“… Jesus declared: “The fields are ripe for harvest. And there is still time for laborers to go forth.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit has fled the scene, leaving behind a withered harvest. God’s Spirit is still at work, convicting, wooing and drawing the lost to Christ, including those in apostasy.” — David Wilkerson (1931-2011) 

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. Daniel 9:9 

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … Isaiah 61:1 

“Every ransomed man owes his salvation to the fact that during the days of his sinning God kept the door of mercy open by refusing to accept any of his evil acts as final.” — A.W. Tozer 

i (Special thanks to Beholding Him Ministries! https://beholdinghimministries.org/

Photo by Jack Bair

At a Distance

We are not betting on ourselves.

“Our heavenly Father isn’t looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. He’s looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because we’ve settled once and for all, ‘My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.’” — David Wilkerson 

For some reason, this quote is really hitting something at my core. I recognize that this is what I have been doing – dredging up the faith for one horrible incoming missile at a time. But a “lifelong commitment to believe for the impossible”- why is that so hard for me? I think because I am following at a distance.  

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14:54 

The truth was, that even though Peter had walked on the water; even though he had seen the transfiguration and declared Jesus the Christ – Peter still wasn’t irrevocably committed. He was waiting to see what would happen. Like me waiting to see where this next bomb will fall and the outcome before committing to faith for the next one. 

“I think most of us do everything we can, unconsciously, mostly, to detach ourselves from The Story and stand by, observing from a safe distance. But the point of The Story is this: the Christ event was not a bittersweet event long ago that we reenact liturgically and aesthetically to settle some faint longing within. The Story is a template of our own innermost truth. To live we must die.” — Suzanne Guthrie 

Ah yes, observing from a safe distance. But “lifelong commitment” demands being willing to die. Or, as A.W. Tozer put it, “Christians ought to be those who are so totally committed that it is final.”i  Our God, who is forever fully, intensely, passionately, one-track committed to us, desires this kind of final lifetime faith from us. A faith that does not watch from a distance, but is willing to go, with him, all the way to the cross. 

Does the Scripture mean nothing to you that says, “The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us”? James 4:5 (TPT) 

Because Your loving-commitment is better than life, my lips do praise You. Psalm 63: 3 (The Scriptures 2009) 

The Hebrew word translated “loving-commitment” above is chesed, or hesed. It’s meaning is as big as God himself, including love, mercy and faithfulness. But Koehler Baumgartner’s Lexicon of the Old Testament describes hesed as also including the idea of the “mutual liability of those … belonging together.” I love that – those belonging together – “My lover is mine and I am his “(Song of Songs 2:16). But it is so much more than just a legal liability.  

According to gotquestions.org, “The core idea of this term communicates loyalty or faithfulness within a relationship. Thus, hesed is closely related to God’s covenant with His people, Israel. As it relates to the concept of love, hesed expresses God’s faithfulness to His people … Hesed finds its home in committed, familial love, and it comes to life in actions. 

The message of the gospel—God’s act of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus—is rooted in hesed. Hesed describes the disposition of God’s heart not only toward His people but to all humanity. The love of God extends far beyond duty or expectation. His forgiveness of sin fulfills a need that is basic to all other needs in the relationship between human beings and God—the restoration and continuation of fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. God’s hesed manifested in forgiveness makes a relationship with Him possible. That forgiveness comes to us freely as a gift from God based on the sacrificial act of Christ.” —  https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-hesed.html  

And, as to those incoming missiles, I think J.D. Walt says it best. 

“We do not fret as to whether the odds are in our favor precisely because we are not betting on ourselves. The odds do not matter one whit to those who are already ‘all in.’ It is God with whom we deal, not our detractors or enemies.” — J.D. Walt 

Am I “all in?” Are you? It is the essential question of our times. 

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:8 

Living Stones

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him … “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Luke 3:7-8 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Luke 19:39-40 

This morning I smiled as I read these verses, because I realized that the words of John by the river, and the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, were prophetic. Jesus did raise up children from the stones – not for Abraham, but for the Father. The hard stone of our hearts he replaced with flesh (Ezekiel 11:19) and made them living. He did this by giving us the grace of repentance and the gift of justification by faith in his atoning death on the cross.  

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26  

By his blood shed on the cross he enabled us to become children of God and living stones that are being built into his house and into his priesthood.  

But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. Hebrews 3:6 

… and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:6 

Cry out his praise all you stones!  

Photo of stones by Sheila Bair

Out of the Heart

God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out.

“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 

The word translated “with” here – “with all your heart” – is ek or ex. It is “a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause literal or figurative).”i So, you could also translate this command as “Love the Lord your God out of, or, from the whole of your heart.”  

I guess what struck me about this verse is that the love that Jesus is talking about comes from the inside out. It is not just part either, like a tithe or what is convenient. It is all, whole, completely. This is like the poor widow that impressed Jesus so much. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of (ek) her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 

She gave “out of.” She gave all.  

And, this kind of love is not pasted on the outside. There is a related Greek word, exothen, which means “from without.” It is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside [exothen] of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 

 They did their good, religious works, not out from their hearts, but from the outside. They were “from without” like the costume and makeup and script of an actor. That is what hypocrite means in the Greek: “an actor under an assumed character.”  

But God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out. 

Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” … [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of (ek) a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” Mark 7:15, 20-23 

Maybe that is what circumcising your heart is all about. Getting rid of the outside, the “from without” attempts to be right with God – the attempts that so often end up in play-acting and self-righteousness – and get down to what is really in there. 

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that (for the purpose, to the intent that, to the end that) you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV) 

In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus is quoting the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. When I went back to see the corresponding Hebrew word for the Greek ek, “out of,” I was surprised to find that the word translated “with” is not in the Hebrew at all. It is as if the commandment is:  

Love the Lord your God heart! Love him soul! Love him strength! All and completely – the whole of, altogether, the totality! 

The Shema talks straight to the heart, and God’s passionate desire is that the heart respond straight back. Like the poor widow, there might not be much of worth in there. I know there is not much good in mine, except what He has given. But, out of the poverty of my spirit, out of my yearning heart, I want to respond completely and totally.  

As you are one, Lord, may our hearts and mind and strength respond to your command in love as one. Unified and pure. 

The goal of this command is love, which comes from (ek = out of) a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5 

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11 

Love the Lord your God heart! 

Image, Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins, by Royce Bair https://flic.kr/p/7kuEAk  

Rest

“‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.’ Yes, for Him. Seek not only the help, the gift, seek Himself; wait for Him. Give God His glory by resting in Him, by trusting Him fully, by waiting patiently for Him. This patience honors Him greatly; it leaves Him, as God on the throne, to do His work; it yields self wholly into Him hands. It lets God be God.” — Andrew Murray, Waiting on God

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

This Long Dark Night

We must keep the light burning.

Command the Israelites to bring you clear (pure, clean, righteous) oil of pressed (beaten, pounded) olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. Exodus 27:20-21 

These verses always strike me. The lamps were to be kept burning all night long. There should always be a light in the Temple of God. And we now know that we are that Temple.  

There were, actually, three things that were to be kept burning: 1.) the lamps (here and also Lev. 24:2), 2.) the incense, which was to be kept burning perpetually or continually (Exodus 30:8), and 3.) the fire on the altar (Leviticus 6:12).   

The importance of keeping our lamps burning is exemplified in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins: 

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming … Matthew 25:1-5 

What is the oil for our lamps that we must keep with us at all times? I believe it is the Holy Spirit in us. It is staying in the Presence, listening for his voice, always poised to obey.  

“The light in the sanctuary was to burn continually before the Lord, in the Holy Place, [Leviticus 24] verses 1-4. The “pure oil olive beaten” is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of grace.” The candlestick of “pure beaten gold” is the symbol of Christ “bruised” as an offering for sin, Isa. 53:10. The Spirit was given by reason of His being bruised. Cf. John 14:16-18, 16:7, 7:39. The lamps burned “from the evening till the morning,” perpetually before the Lord. Grace and truth are given unto us and kept by the priesthood of Christ. John 1:17.” — R. Nelson Colyar, Leviticus, The Book of Holiness, p. 47. 

So, the burning lamps symbolize the Light of Christ, the glory of God shining out from our lives.  

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 

The continually burning incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints according to Revelation 8:4. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17, Eph. 6:18).  

The continual fire on the altar was the burnt offering that was entirely consumed symbolizing the complete and perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We are also to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is [our] spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).   

The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out. Lev. 6:12-13 

The fat symbolizes God’s portion, the best part, the “cream of the crop.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). That best love, that first love, must be kept burning. It all goes together this continual praying, self-sacrifice, and light.  

The passion of self-sacrifice – offering ourselves on the altar, daily taking up our cross for love of the One who took up the cross for us, the light of God’s Spirit shining out – because if He is in us and we are surrendering to crucifixion of self, the light can’t help but shine, and the incense of unceasing prayer – a continual looking up, offering thanks and praise, the worship of hope and faith and expectation of His goodness, but also just that “naked intent toward God,” the “practice of the presence of God.” 

We who are the Temple must keep the light burning through this long dark night. 

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14 

When night settles down on a church the Lord has his watchers and holy ones still guarding his truth, and these must not be discouraged, but must bless the Lord even when the darkest hours draw on. — Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David 

The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8 (NASB) 

The bridegroom was a long time in coming …  

Photo, detail of free download from Pixabay 

All there is

When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. 

Suzanne Guthrie 
Grace’s Window 

By His Stripes

The God-Man, Jesus, standing there taking it for us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

God showed me something about Isaiah 53:5 that has been helping me a lot lately. The verse says by his stripes we are healed.   

by his stripes (bruises, stripes, wounds, blows, blueness, weals, black-and-blue marks, hurts) 

we are/were/have been healed (healed, made healthful, cured, repaired, made whole)   

He stood there and he took it. He allowed them to whip and beat on him. He did not have to do that. When they came to arrest him and one of the disciples drew his sword to fight back, Jesus said, Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). 

I guess this part never really sunk in for me like it has lately. He was beaten black and blue and bloody for us. I don’t usually like to write like this, but I think that we are so far removed from the reality of what went on that night that it has become just words.  

Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”  Matthew 26:67-68 

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. John 19:1 

“Three forms of corporal punishment were employed by the Romans, in increasing degree of severity: (1) fustigatio (beating), (2) flagellatio (flogging), and (3) verberatio (severe flogging, scourging). The first could be on occasion a punishment in itself, but the more severe forms were part of the capital sentence as a prelude to crucifixion. The most severe, verberatio, is what is indicated here by the Greek verb translated flogged severely (μαστιγόω, mastigow). People died on occasion while being flogged this way; frequently it was severe enough to rip a person’s body open or cut muscle and sinew to the bone. It was carried out with a whip that had fragments of bone or pieces of metal bound into the tips.” — NetBible Study Notes on John 19:1 

This sort of punishment was very real to the early disciples. It happened right where they lived. They had seen it, and some of them would go on to experience it first-hand. But I am sure that they were bewildered when it happened to their leader, their Lord, the Messiah! Why didn’t he call the angels down? And later, why didn’t he come down from the cross? 

But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:54 

Going back to Isaiah 53:5, “by his stripes we are healed,” the Hebrew word translated “healed” is rapha. It means to mend, to cure, to make whole. This healing includes literal physical healing of persons, but also, figuratively, the healing of personal distress, like anxiety and depression. And, it can also refer to “national hurts” according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon

In this time of schism and hurt, of pandemic and anxiety, depression and fear – how we need this word! We need to meditate on it. We need to remember and proclaim it. We need to ask God to make it real to us over these thousands of years. The God-Man, Jesus, standing there taking it for us. 

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds (bruises, wales, wounds that trickle with blood, blow-marks) you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 

“I gave my back to those who struck (smote, beat, scourged) me.” Isaiah 50:6 

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you stood there and took the punishment that we deserved. Thank you that by your stripes we are healed.

Image, Passiflora, or passion fruit flower, by Heidi & Matt https://flic.kr/p/fZ2nn  

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

Immeasurable Peace

Wow, I love it when God does this! These came almost one right after another in my inbox today. A message for all of us.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus had moments where He would withdraw from the crowds because He needed to fix His entire being on God. Our souls find clarity and peace when we step away from the world so we, too, can be with our Heavenly Father. We will undoubtedly encounter the healing our souls and even bodies need when we sit still in His presence. — blogged by Estera Marian, Eyes of My Heart  https://theyesofmyheart.com/2021/02/26/rest-for-your-soul/  

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire”? But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burnout. — Henri Nouwen 

May I ask you, what is that thing that is pressing against you? That thing that causes pain, brings tears, and appears as though it can never change. Just want to share that God is able, nothing is too hard or impossible for the Almighty and Sovereign God. Please allow me to encourage you to look up and know that God loves you and is with you in this season. — blogged by Beholding Him Ministries   https://beholdinghimministries.org/2021/02/26/trust-god-in-the-hard-place/  

Jesus knew the disciples needed the kind of peace that would see them through any and all situations. He told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you” … Jesus added, “not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This wasn’t going to be the so-called peace of a numb, zoned-out society. Nor would it be the temporary peace of the rich and famous, who try to purchase peace of mind with material things. No, this was the very peace of Christ himself, a peace that surpasses all human understanding. 

When Christ promised the disciples his peace, it was as if he was saying to them and to us today: “I know you don’t understand the times you face. You don’t comprehend the Cross and the suffering I am about to face. But I want to bring your heart into a place of peace. You won’t be able to face what is coming without having my enduring peace in you. You must have my peace.” — David Wilkerson, “Immeasurable Peace,” World Challenge Daily Devotional