“Patience is a virtue” they say. I’m not quite sure who they are, but as I join the applause and celebrate this God-quality, I am also very aware however, the closest we often get is “Hurry up and WAIT!” while possibly running a few folks over in the process.
In the New Testament there are two main kinds of patience mentioned, with a third quality attached. Paul states he had been praying that those in Colossae live a life worthy of God and please Him in every way “…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father” Col. 1:10-12 (NIV, emphasis mine).
Endurance, (hupomone in the Greek) is patience in circumstances. The quality of steadfastness. Some would say – staying power. This staying power is motivated by HOPE. It is the characteristic of a man (or woman) who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose, sustaining through to the end – regardless. Keep, keeping on.
Among the Fruit of the Spirit, there is love, joy, peace… patience. The word Paul uses here, is not hupomone (though defiantly a quality of the Spirit). BUT Paul uses makrothumia which is unlike hupomone, patience in circumstances, inspired by hope. Makrothumia is patience with PEOPLE, inspired by MERCY. Relational.
Jesus teaches this through the parable in Matthew 18, (I paraphrase). The King has a servant who owed a large sum of money, when the debt was called, the servant fell on his knees before the King. “Be patient (Makrothumia) with me!” he begged. The King offered mercy, holding back punishment, releasing him. As soon as the servant went free, he found a friend that owed HIM money. He too called the debt. The friend begged the same, “Be patient with me…” But the servant refused mercy and put the friend in prison. The King heard of this, summoning the servant, stating, “I gave you mercy, shouldn’t you have given mercy as well.” What an amazing picture! The unmerciful servant. Patience is motivated by mercy. May we too “remember when…” When God has patience with us!
Paul continues this thread, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Makrothumia). Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:12-13, again I emphasize, see also Eph 4:1-3) The “bearing” with one another, literally means “to put up with” – but not just that, it is holding back – to hold in. STOP! Good Godly interaction with others is not only about what we DO just as much as what we don’t – RESTRAINT. (May I just offer – “OUCH!”)
God’s mercy is withholding what we do deserve, where His grace is giving us what we do not. One hand pushes forward in giving, the other holds back in restraint. What divine coordination. God patiently bearing with us.
I am challenged to pray for patience, sounds a bit risky (in all honesty). Do I really want to point out, wave in the direction of patience? Yes (as I duck). Loving others can be messy, but perhaps kind patience could be the missing piece needed. While I am reminded of the patience and mercy and the most amazing grace God has for me.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, ESV)
What is the biblical yoke?
The yoke figuratively represents the burdensome nature of slavery. It is a symbol of servitude (either by choice or forced). It suggests restrictiveness, yet this is but one aspect of the yoke. A yoke for the most part is an idiom (something known to a specific culture or era). Of the sixty-one times “yoke” is used in the Bible, all are metaphorical (apart from seven uses).
Stick with me, this gets good.
In the first century the yoke had taken on a unique meaning, a cultural meaning. The Jewish culture was a discipleship culture, a “we” culture (vs our “me” culture). Our western mindset focuses on “What does the scriptures teach me about me? Who am I? What do I do? The eastern mindset, “What does the scriptures teach me about the nature and character of God?” Disciples would attach themselves to a Rabbi, following close, listening and learning. The Rabbi would teach the disciple their interpretation and application of the scriptures. The phrase “sitting at the feet of a Rabbi” was cultural. Remember Paul said he was educated “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). When Jesus taught in Matt 5-7, what does the narrative say, “after He sat down… He opened His mouth and began to teach them.” (5:1) And in Luke 10, Mary is found at the feet of Jesus “listening to His word” (v39). Jesus allowing and championing for it (seen in the “Martha, Martha” conversation) was a radical move on His part – accepting a woman disciple so boldly.
Most Rabbis were “Torah Teachers.” These Rabbis spent most of their time in the synagogues, reading and teaching the written Law of God and taught only accepted interpretations (passed to them by their Rabbi). These teachings were called the “yoke of Torah” or the Rabbi’s Yoke.
In Jesus’ day, Jesus’ world, every Rabbi (and Pharisee) had one. It was their collection of teachings. It was their theology and perspective on the scriptures: Who God is and what it means to walk with Him. Their disciples would accept it and emulate it, taking on the “yoke” (teaching) of their Rabbi.
Over the many years, many of the Rabbi’s (primarily Pharisees) inflated and added commands, making following them rather rough. To fulfill every command (interpretation) was difficult. Each Rabbi having their own emphasis.
Consider now, Jesus’ words in Matt 11 “”Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (vv28-30). In essence, consider my summary “Let ME be the one to show you who the Living God is – what He is like – what it means to follow Him!” Think now, how many times Jesus continued to point to the Father (i.e.) “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19) And Jesus speaks only how and what “to say” from the Father (Jn 12:49). He speaks with authority from the Father.
Now THAT is a YOKE!
There was a smaller group of Rabbi’s – known to have s’mikhah – (pronounced Smee-KAWK … Hebrew throat slur). “Walking in the authority of God.” These Rabbis with s’mikhah (authority) could make NEW interpretation, application AND pass legal judgments. Many scholars believe Jesus had taken on the authoritative Rabbinical role.
Matthew makes note, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (The Torah Teachers in the synagogue). (Matt 7:28-29). Many times, the narrative speaks of people’s amazement at His authority.
Remember multiple times Jesus said, “You have heard it said – But I say to you…” Especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gave clear instruction, often quoting the Law, yet reaching beyond the interpretative mandates. Some teachers of the Law would step as close to the “line” of law, assuming to not break it – “You can look and lust, but don’t touch.” Jesus said, “It all begins in the heart” (summary).
Those hearing His words had never heard the scriptures explained like He did, with NEW insights, application – with authority. Jesus spoke of covenant – the NEW covenant – passing legal judgments. Authority indeed.
Jesus commissioned His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20, NASB, emphasis mine).
Swinging back to the beginning, regarding Paul’s words in Galatians 5:1 – Paul originally taught those in the region of Galatia the gospel is of grace through faith and not of works – Christ had set them free from Jewish ceremonial laws and regulations, those regulations heaped on its followers. Metaphorically, he had reached over and took the heavy burdened yoke off – yet they again had reached for the “yoke of slavery.” (See also Acts 15:10 “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” ESV)
Fascinating note: When researching the actual yoke and the training of an ox for more understanding, I found that fitting the ox with the yoke: It is BEST that the ox raises its head up into the yoke for the most comfortable and profitable fit. This comes with time and trust, that the animal is willing to voluntarily lift their head to the master. If forced down, the fit could cause irritation, causing the ox to lean, favoring one side, and possibly altering the direction of their steps. A “harnessed heart” is a true lifting of the head to the Master.
May we too be mindful of the yoke we raise up into – be it the yoke of Jesus. Being His disciple; following close, listening, learning, and taking on and emulating His teaching.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
Resources: “Rabbi and Talmidim” (except from “In the Dust of the Rabbi”) by Ray Vander Laan. “The Yoke” By Archdeacon Allan Paulsen. “The Yoke” The Messianic Prophecy Bible Project (Free.messianicbible.com). Prof Kristi McMelland, Professor of Biblical Culture, “Jesus & Women: In the First Century & Now“. The ESV Commentary. Barnes Notes on the NT: Galatians. Bible Background Commentary (Acts 15:10). And any other geeky place I forgot to jot down.
Happy New Year! As the calendar rolls to a new year, we flip through the photos, whether it be of puppies, sunset images or as I just hung mine, a simple calendar with a pretty marble border. The empty squares indicating days yet to be lived. Those twelve pages can either propel us or paralyze us.
The change of the New Year has traditionally become a re-setting if you will of our life compass. We evaluate the past and plan for the future. For some of us, this means sitting down and writing out our Resolutions. Money to be made, exercise routines, diet plans, buy that new house, get that promotion, clean out those closets, get organized – the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, these are all a good plan of attack. Yet there is more. A New Year’s Resolution can be defined as “a firm decision to do or not do something, a course of action designed with the intent to keep a vow.” Statistics claim, one in three Americans makes a New Year’s resolution of some sort, yet only about 75% of these folks stick to their goal for at least … a week.
Have we considered that instead of a resolution to do better, get more, and perhaps try to be something other than we are, that we seek … revelation? As we stand at the door of 2021 (with a hardy “Good-bye” wave to 2020), may we take pause and truly position ourselves to seek a fresh revelation of our God.
Revelation. The act of disclosing or discovering what was before unknown. I would offer; we may have read it, even know it (the story) but let’s reach beyond. Let’s be intentional (is the focus of our church for 2021). As we read through our Bibles, invite Holy Spirit to read with us, pointing out incredible and wondrous things. Showing us unwavering and astounding qualities of His character. Paul wrote, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2a, NLT). That is my plan, this is my goal. I seek to be transformed. Not only doing/being what is in my finite human power to do – but HIS transforming. Making a firm decision to take action to learn and accept and walk in more of His love, trust His hand and bow more in gratitude of His mercy and grace.
I pray over us as Paul did, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Amen) – Ephesians 3:14-20 (NIV)
From our home to yours, a hardy blessed (full of revelation) Happy New Year.
In Him, DeDe & Mark (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
This holiday season I have been pondering and rolling around in my head, the little seasonal rhyme, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It fits well as a lapel pin, even hangs proudly as an ornament on our trees. I like it! The message is clear and points to Jesus!
Yet… I began to think of this in theological terms, the accuracy of it. I know… I KNOW you are rolling your eyes at this point. But bear with me. I am a people watcher. I watch how they walk, how they talk, their mannerisms, their facial expressions. The other day as I was Christmas shopping, I watched their faces, looked into their eyes, wondering if THEY knew Jesus. Then it dawned on me – “THEY are the reason for the season!”
The season is Christmas. Christmas is JESUS, His birth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The best gift ever! Jesus came to earth, the divine embodied in human form. His life message pointing to Kingdom stuff. His death representing us. He resurrected in full power and authority and now sits, enthroned on the right hand of the Father – for US! He came to fix the man-made mess. WE are the “whosoever.” WE are the reason for the season! Bring it down – YOU are the reason for the season! (Ok, group cyber-HUG!) Yes, it’s all about Jesus – what He did for YOU! He came for YOU! THE best gift giving possible.
Even with all the self-interest, self-emersion, self, self, self and all the “I” focus today, this Christmas look into the eyes of those around you, up and over your mask and consider THEM! What a great opening line to the gospel, said with heartfelt humility as you tenderly lean forward “Did you know YOU are the reason for the season…” Then tell them about Jesus and why He came, use their name (read their name badge if they have one) “Bob, He came for YOU!” Most know about the baby in the manger, now tell them about the baby-grown KING.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Blessed Christmas to you and yours,
In Him, DeDe & Mark (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
Christmas, a time of sharing, loving and gift giving. We are in the season of hunting for those perfect gifts. Regardless of what makes it home with us from the mall, masked and ready to buy or what arrives from Amazon. All of us have gifts to offer. God-given gifts that He asks that we share with one another. Whether it is the gift of serving or the gift of encouragement, or the gift of a listening ear. Or perhaps hospitality, providing an extra place at the dinner table. No gift is too small, or seemingly insignificant.
We often read the Christmas story and highlight the most spectacular parts: Singing angels. “Fear Not” statements. The Star of Bethlehem, and yes, the dingy manger. YET, there are some quiet and less compelling items to be had in the excitement. Gifts. Consider if you will, (imagine with me) the Magi (Matt 2) as they prepare for their trek out to find the child to whom the shiny Star belongs. (Tradition, not scripture, says there were three wise men, only because the three gifts that were given). They are packing, dividing the supplies list. Then they come to the gift inventory; gold is given to the first, then frankincense handed to another. “Oh yeah” the myrrh is last. How would you like to be handed the myrrh and picture yourself bowing low, head to the floor while you offer to the King of Kings, M-Y-R-R-H (said with an Eeyore deep tone). You may think “Why do I have to carry the white elephant gift?” White elephant it is not. It is one among the triune gifts that are of great value.
Have we thought about these gifts? Gold, we have that one down. Frankincense is ground dried up tree sap used as incense, highly fragrant when burned. And myrrh, what is THAT?
The divine significance of myrrh: It also comes from the sap of a tree, yet it is not just some sticky goo creatively used. It was:
- In the divinely prescribed anointing oil of the Tabernacle and the priests (Exodus 30:22-23).
- In the perfumed oil poured over Jesus’ feet (John 12:3, Matthew 26:12: The ointment is “Myron” which is myrrh-oil).
- Also, as one of the spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39-40).
Picture now, the Christ child, perhaps two in age or younger. Jesus with curly dark hair, possibly pudgy cheeks. At His feet, the Magi place gold, frankincense, and MYRRH. The same anointing oil used to anoint temple priests, now set before Jesus – our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). The same perfumed myrrh now before small feet – would one day be oil poured over a grown mans feet, those feet that would one day hang on a cross and be pierced. Jesus was also offered wine mixed with myrrh, but He didn’t take it. (Mk 15:23; Matt 27:34) Scholars believe Jesus refused to drink the mixture, due to its numbing effect. He wanted to be fully aware, fully present in the suffering for mankind. Myrrh was the oil added to the spices wrapped around His body following His death.
Jesus, now a child, will one day, be the man fulfilling this gift. Myrrh, HOW PROPHETIC.
Christmas gift-giving, following the Magi’s example: Regardless of how insignificant it may seem at a quick glance among the noisier aspect of things – we never know the impact and how far-reaching our giving may be. Today it’s not so much the item, but the heart of giving. The giving of self is a gift. An encouraged heart, a feed soul, a person no longer lonely. Gifts given in Jesus’ name – the gift that keeps on giving.
Note: For those of you who work Crossword Puzzles: 5 letters down: “Anointing oil of the Tabernacle, the priests and Jesus?” The answer: “Myrrh” (YAY! You’re welcome).
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
This is a bit long, but I encourage you to keep reading to the end.
There is a story of four young Jewish Yeshiva students, (Jewish seminary). One afternoon in a study session, one student gave a book to one of the men asking him to take a look and “Tell us what you think.”
Later that night, curious of the book, in eagerness, he sat down and opened to Genesis 1:1. He started to read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Pause). “What?” he thought. He read it again “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Excited, he stood up, exclaiming, “NO!” And continues, “God’s not finished!” And closed the book!
You see, in the ancient writings, originally there were no chapters – no verses and no punctuation. According to Hebrew thought (and method) they never paused until the complete thought was finished, they read to the edge of the story. The book handed to this young man was the English version of the bible, The King James.
The very first verse is just part of a story. That story is part of a bigger story – the historical story of God. We often read, pause, or stop before the whole of a particular story is in sight. Or we come to a famous or familiar portion of scripture, so familiar that with a “Oh I know this part” we run our finger down and turn the page.
I want to offer; in our familiarity we may be missing some very key elements to the story.
One example is 1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath. We all know the story, we’ve heard it, we’ve seen it played out on the flannelgraph board. Younger brother comes into camp. He hears the noise out front. He is told the battle line has been drawn. The Philistines’ biggest warrior awaits one of the Israelites to come fight him. David volunteers. The king offers his armor. Young David tries it on. Too awkward. Taking it off, he goes with what he knows best. Gathering stones, carrying his staff and sling. He and Goliath have words – he runs at the giant of a man. Swirling and releasing his sling, the stone struck Goliath in the forehead and down he went. YAY! Great story! Turn the page. But.
The story isn’t over. Keep reading. It says David ran over, taking Goliath’s sword and cut off his head. It was here, the narrative says the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they turned and ran (v51). From their perspective they may have only seen the lil guy throw something at Goliath but taking his head off – he was dead – bad dead. He was not getting up from THAT!
Another example of reading beyond the familiar. We fast forward to the NT – Mark chapter 4. Jesus and the disciples are on the shore of Galilee. Jesus tells the guys, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” They load up and head out. At some point Jesus lays down and falls asleep. A huge storm hits the lake. The disciples wake Jesus up rather excitedly. Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the waves. “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. YAY! Great story! Turn the page. But. The story isn’t over. It reads that the guys were filled with great fear. The narrative says the disciples weren’t afraid of the storm – they were overwhelmed with great reverence and respect for – Jesus. Asking each other “WHO IS THIS?” The wind and waves obey Him (v41). They had underestimated Him. Jesus had their attention.
We read the story of Christmas. Found in both Matthew and Luke. We know this story as well – very well. Both Mary and Joseph are told great things, divine things through angelic visits. In short (but not belittled) – Mary, although never being with a man, would become pregnant, conceived of the Holy Spirit. This baby boy would “save the people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) At one point, Joseph, and Mary head to Bethlehem for the national census. There are some housing issues. Once settled, the baby, who is to be called Jesus, is born.
Luke chapter 2 tells of the shepherds living in the fields taking care of the sheep. They too get angelic declarations. An angel appears declaring good news, for “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (2:11) The shepherds are told what to look for, the wrapped baby laying in a manger. Then the backup singers appear, angels singing God’s praises, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” (v14) When the angels exit, so do the shepherds, excited, they go and find Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. As they do, they tell any and all who will listen what they were told. YAY! Great story! Turn the page.
We tend to stop here. We close the book and head to Christmas dinner or begin ripping the presents open. But the story isn’t over. Keep reading. All who heard what the Shepherds reported hearing were amazed. Then v19, this verse is challenging, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This young gal took all that has been said to her, Joseph and now the shepherds and treasured them. What do you do with a treasure? A truly valuable treasure? You guard it!
The Jewish people were (are) a storytelling culture. From a noticeably young age, they are told the story of God and of their people. From the very beginning when Adam and Eve were in the Garden – where mankind broke relationship with their God. Throughout many, many generations God used prophets, law and the lives of people to tell His story – the story of restoring relationship. May I point out, the excitement of the shepherds sharing with the people wasn’t what they saw, although spectacular – it was what they heard! When the angel declared to the shepherds “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:11) there were keywords used, these Jewish shepherds didn’t miss it! What they heard, slipped into the ongoing story line, and fit perfectly.
Savior is referenced as one who rescues, a Rescuer. Christ is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the One they had been waiting for – the answer! And Lord, (Kurios) was the word the Greek-speaking Hebrews used for God. In essence, the angel’s addition to the story was saying; You’ve been told all your life, the Jewish people were waiting to be rescued, the Messiah, the Answer – is God Himself. And it’s happened!
The angelic choir too adds to the story, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” Peace. Biblical peace isn’t just the lack of conflict; it is the presence of the rightness of God. It literally means (Eirene in Greek) “to set at one again.” Conveying that once something was upright, but has toppled over (chaos, strife is the result) but when righted and set at one again – peace. Mankind broke relationship with God through sin – God has just sent the answer – His Son Jesus (more historical story to come). Peace isn’t a concept or a feeling, peace is a person.
Mary took ALL this and she pondered it. Her pondering isn’t mere tucking it away and thinking on it now and then. The word Luke uses conveys “putting together.” She connected all the dots. She lined it all up. When all strung together – all the pieces (so far*) fit. Each piece has beauty in itself. But what a glorious bigger story. There is evidence we see later of her pondering. Jesus is a grown man. He, Mary and the disciples are at a wedding. Remember when Jesus turns the water into wine? Mary tells the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (Jn 2:5). These are the last recorded words of Mary.
Such confidence in the fitted pieces of God. Jesus.
This is an excerpt of the message I recently shared with the women of our church. I challenged us, first, when reading our bibles, don’t stop or skim over the famous or familiar parts, keep reading beyond to the edge of the story. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers, inspires we the readers – invite Him to read with us. And second, as we are in this Christmas season, may we truly treasure the bigger story, ponder, keep putting together the great God stuff – be in awe of Him – God’s gracious, loving restoring of relationship, “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” May our mindset and our last recorded words be the same as pondering Mary – “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
*I say “so far” because we know, Jesus had yet to die and resurrect from the dead – a HUGE element yet to be added to the bigger story.
Emmanuel. At Christmas time we sing with a resounding “O come, O come Emmanuel…” and it is written in beautiful font lettering across our Christmas cards. Emmanuel (Immanuel*) meaning “God with us.”
Many who attempt to say God is uninterested and doesn’t turn His divine head our way do not understand Emmanuel. The Creator God didn’t just create and wave Himself off, wishing us good luck. He is Emmanuel. He has been, He is – with us. He was with Adam and Eve while walking in the Garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). He was with Moses and the Israelites in the desert as the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22). He was the fourth man with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as the three were in the fire (Daniel 3:24-25). He was with mankind as Jesus’ sandaled feet walked in Galilee (Matthew 4:18). He is with us, gloriously residing within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). He is the God who dwells with us, among us and in us – God is Emmanuel.
Fast forward to the New Testament, tucked in the story of the birth of Jesus – Matthew chapter 1: Joseph is about to take Mary as his wife, (according to cultural tradition, the engagement was a done-deal). BUT she is pregnant (Hm…) he, a good man, plans to dissolve the marriage quietly as to not disgrace her. Queue angelic messenger: Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife. The baby she carries is of the Holy Spirit. She will have a Son and His name will be Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew’s narrative continues: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.” (vv 22-23)
God was and is with His people throughout history, but sending His Son, slipping Him into human flesh, all He was, all He did, could not be more unmistakably striking evidence of God’s presence. A sign indeed! God keeps His promises. The All-Powerful, All-Sufficient, Sovereign Creator of the universe does not NEED to be with us – He wants to!
Jesus reveals to John, “the dwelling place of God is with man…” (Revelation 21:3). Unhindered fellowship with God Himself, the thread of God’s reigning government is “God with us.”
So beautiful, so comforting – Emmanuel.
Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel… (sing with me).
*Why do we often see two spellings for Immanuel? The different spellings are due to different vowels used in Hebrew (O.T. “Immanuel”) and Greek (N.T. “Emmanuel”) yet they are indeed the same God presence, just two different languages.
After Jesus had taught from Simon Peters’ boat, (Lk 5) He told him to cast his fishing nets out where it is deeper. Peter responded they had already fished all night, “But if You say so…” They put their nets in. The catch was so large, the nets began to break. Peter had to get other fishermen and their boat to help. This miraculous catch caused all those observing to be in awe. Two of these awestruck men were the brothers, James, and John. Going ashore, they left everything and followed Jesus. *
WHAT IF? (For the sake of making a point). What if Peter had declined to do what Jesus said, “It’s ok, I’m a professional fisherman, I got this” and went about his business?
WHAT IF? What if Peter delayed his obedience? Delayed it an hour or two? “F-I-N-E, I’ll drop the nets.” Perhaps by then James and John (in the other boat) would have been out of ear shot or too far away to help and the nets would have broken – the fish, the great catch, slip away back in to the deep. Perhaps their delay missed the school of fish that now travels in another direction.
WHAT IF? What if Peter didn’t go all the way out to deeper water, stopping short, dropping the nets in shallow water. Yes, he again had let down the nets, but NOT in the deep water. Reluctant to fully obey – devaluing Jesus’ words.
There is a strong principle for us: OUR obedience to Jesus does not just load up our boats of blessing – it causes others to be in awe – awe of Him. Our listening and doing what Jesus says (now) can lead ourselves (and others) in redirection to follow Him and leave it all behind. Our obedience is not for us alone.
May we not decline, delay or devalue what Jesus says. (Our response affects others).
Point to Ponder.
*Scholars are divided whether this incident is identical with Jesus’ call of these fishermen as recorded in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20. Meaning, they all may be telling the same story, with more or less information or from a different angle. The story above happened about one year after Jesus and Peter’s initial introduction (John 1:35-42).
This world is a mess. BUT. You have to love the “but” in God’s economy. The apostle Paul gives list to the evidence of God – in us. We the redeemed. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23a, NLT – emphasis mine).
Other translations render gentleness as meekness. Meekness, many know it as “strength under control.” It is an active and deliberate positive response to an undesirable circumstance. Positive is the key. Although a negative may be merited – positive is the choice. What a good God concept. Yet it is more. It is responding from the inwrought grace of the soul. Not just the inward grace of the soul, that it dwells there – but INWROUGHT.
Inwrought is not a word we use much today or use at all. Oh but, it has the most beautiful imagery. It is intricately woven material with a particular pattern. (Of fabric or woodwork, stonework, and metal). It is the adding of another element, working it into the material. Meekness is the evidence of God’s grace worked into our soul. What a lovely delicate yet vibrant embroidery, God’s grace woven in and throughout the pattern of our life. The beauty is that it all becomes one piece of material. To take this additional element out would leave holes – gaping, ripping holes.
HOW do we get this woven into us – to come out? Come out when our merited moments present themselves – controlled gracious responses? Three words: Holy Spirit and – yoke.
In ancient days, a disciple would attach themselves to a Rabbi. The Rabbi’s hope was that their disciples would walk close, listen, and learn. Live as they did. Each Rabbi would present their teaching, this is known as the Rabbi’s “yoke of Torah.” (their teaching, interpretation, and application). Their disciples would accept it and emulate it. Over the course of the Rabbinic progression through the years, many Rabbi’s would inflate, even create additional commandments. To follow and align with them caused great burden on the disciple. This sheds light on Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30). Many times, we read Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” Aside from the current teaching, “I say walk close, listen and learn of …Me.” Jesus’ burden is light.
The yoke is a symbol of servitude. When researching the actual yoke and the training of an ox for more understanding, I found that fitting the ox with the yoke, it is BEST that the ox raise its head up into the yoke for the most comfortable and profitable fit. This comes with time and trust, that the animal is willing to voluntarily lift their head to the master. If forced down, the fit could cause irritation, causing the ox to lean, favoring one side and possible altering the direction of their steps.
Yes, this world is a mess. And we may have merited moments of opportunity from time to time. What a challenge. A challenge to give the world a good God quality. We are disciples of Jesus. We allow and invite the Spirit’s leading and growth in our lives. We lift our head up into the yoke – Jesus’ yoke.
Lifting. Making the world a little less messy, one (yielded) opportunity at a time.
I love autumn, the crisp morning air, and those vibrant yellow, orange and red leaves. I find it fascinating that so much beauty can come from a season of change.
With so much uncertainty in the world, there is however a guarantee there WILL be another spring that rolls to summer. Then fall and eventually winter. Once winter wears out its welcome, according to God’s design spring again bursts forth bringing new life.
The Lord has showed me that just as the environment and atmosphere change, we too experience a change of season. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (3:1) His following list consists of a time for birthing, dying, planting, and harvesting. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time to cry and a time to laugh. There is even a time for dancing. Oh Yah!
For some of us our season is lingering. The cold emotional winter drags on, and on and on. Or perhaps something triggers you and an unhealthy season reappears. A season of your life you were confident had passed. Have you ever hopped in the car and after getting underway, you reach for the radio, turning it on, a song comes on and within seconds you ARE THERE! The song brings back a familiarity either good or one that takes you back to THAT season. A time when sorrow was your companion. Pain an unwanted friend or a relationship gone wrong. Or you flip the calendar page and there it is – THE month. The one you dread. The month you experienced betrayal or the death of a loved one.
I experienced something similar in early September a year ago. It was a beautiful sunny fall day. I was driving to my granddaughter’s school to pick her up. Once in the parking lot, backing up, parking, stepping out – instantly I stopped …feeling complete dread and sorrow. Then again walking towards the school, I asked God, “WHAT is this?” He reminded me, that, the same scenario; sunny day, cool and crisp, orange, and red leaves, school buses, and it was HERE! Here, I received a phone call with very traumatic news. Sorrowful news – stop in your track’s news. It was all so familiar in a way that I was not aware of.
With this revelation, I knew this needed to be broken! “In Jesus name!” I took authority over the familiarity, over the dread, the sorrow. Breaking the emotional AND spiritual hold. From there I sensed Holy Spirit teaching me about the familiarity of seasons.
God does not want us living in the past. Each new day is a gift. If we keep our hands full of the old stuff, there is no room for the new. And folks we got us some stuff. And if we are not certain what it is that is overwhelming us – ask Him!
Times and seasons CAN be broken! Daniel praised God saying: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever. Wisdom and power are His. He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise. And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.” (2:20-22)
“Oh God, may You reveal to us the seasons we may not be aware of. Seasons we only feel the effects. Perhaps it is time to lay a few things down, empty our hands and wait in expectant joy as You “… change the seasons.” Break the familiarity in JESUS NAME! Free us. Let there be no more stop in our tracks unaware – but moving forward with each new day. With NEW stuff in our hands. Amen”
God has new, restoring, healed, healthy seasons.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
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“Well that just blew my mind!” Slang. Slang has so crept into our vocabulary that we really are not aware of it. Much of our culture’s speech is informal. Some of what we deem casual has robbed the formal vault of Biblical language.
Amen is such a word. Hebrew in origin. We throw it around too freely (in my opinion) and even haphazardly without understanding its true weighted meaning. In biblical times when someone responded with “Amen” they were in essence binding themselves to fulfill certain conditions or conditions were now bound to them. In Deuteronomy 27, on the verge of crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, the covenant is being reviewed and renewed. Moses offers a list of twelve curses. These statements provide the punishment for disobedience. As each statement is read, it is to be followed by the “Amen” of the people. Their response expresses their affirmation and acceptance of the justice and judgment of God. They were confirming and invoking fulfillment. “We know the terms and we will obey and continue to do so, knowing our violation brings consequences.”
Amen literally means, “so be it.” It is as if slamming the gavel down in a court of law, declaring “TRUTH!” Multiple times when Jesus was speaking, He would declare “For truly…” Or “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5, emphasis mine). This “truly” (or verily) is indeed “amen.” Truth is being declared.
Paul as well used the strong gavel declaring amen – “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NLT). This statement is boxed up and labeled – Truth!
Do we really want all that we free and easily declare “Amen” … to be and made binding? What are we committing to? What are we stating as truth? May our speech not be so casual that we inadvertently attach ourselves to something we really do not want to. “Father, ‘set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.’” (Psalm 141:3)
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrew 10:24)
Sitting down, my coffee mug in hand, opening my bible, “WAIT!” Jumping up, “I forgot to put the clothes in the dryer.” Coming back later, determined to finish this time. The phone rings. “Chit-chat, chit-chat.” Minutes later, “Bye.” Ok, now! Reaching for the bible again. Hearing the clock chime, “Oh my, I have to run.” Book closed.
Jesus is in the home of the sisters, Mary & Martha. Mary is found sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha, being the Martha Stewart of the day was in the kitchen working. Luke (chapter 10) describes Martha as being distracted by all the stuff, all the preparations.
It is interesting the way Luke narrates the scene, distracted. The word he chose (in the original language) is the only place this word appears in the N.T. It isn’t a soft quick glance the other way, it is a full on “over-occupied” in a different direction – distraction. It denotes the misplacement of cares and responsibility. Grammatically (geek alert) it is used in the passive voice, meaning: The action is emphasized rather than the subject of the sentence. Martha was DISTRACTED!
Mary, still sitting and listening “at the Lord’s feet” may get lost in our western mindset. “At the Lord’s feet” is an idiom* (see definition below). Paul used the same phrase when declaring he was found “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3) this phrase refers to a disciple studying at the feet of their Rabbi. So Mary was not sitting on the floor for lack of space at the table, indeed she (a woman, Rabbinical teaching was reserved primarily for men) was bold. She positioned herself as a disciple, focused and listening.
With Mary’s focus elsewhere Martha begins to complain, she urges Jesus to encourage Mary to help her. I love Jesus’ response, “Martha, Martha…” It doesn’t say it in print, but you can almost see the slight swaying of Jesus’ head as He repeats her name as to emphasize a deep sigh. He continues by stating she worries and gets upset about many things. However, her sister has chosen wisely, “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it…” (v 42, NLT)
How easily we too are distracted with life, our cares, and responsibilities. If you are like me, at times I squirrel all over the place. I need to focus! Like Martha, we have great intentions and motives, after all she was preparing a meal for them all. Yet there is a call to be at Jesus’ feet. Setting aside what occupies our time, thoughts and attention. Learn of Him.
We need a planned positioning. What does that look like for you?
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Heb. 10:24)
*An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a meaning that in most cases is specific to a culture or time period. Example: “It is all up in the air as to who won the race.” Folks from another culture may begin looking up due to lack of understanding.
“It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the *LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.” (Dt 11:13, NASB). Moses conveys the urgency of what God is saying about obedience with (in essence) repeating himself, “… if you hear and obey…” (listen obediently ‘shama shama’ in the original language). In the Hebrew culture, hearing and obeying are synonymous. If we do not ‘do’ what is heard, then there was no hearing. We’ve all experienced this as mothers when telling our kids to go in and clean their room. (Enough said). Moses’ narrative continues to explain the blessing and cursing of obedience or the lack of.
When God said to Solomon “Ask for whatever you want Me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon didn’t ask for high and lofty things, he simply asked for wisdom. This is what we are told in Sunday school. Yet. Solomon’s request can be lost in the cultural understanding. It was indeed high and lofty. In the Hebrew, Solomon said “Natan ebed shama leb” Meaning, “Give (your) servant hearing heart…” (v9) Solomon was asking that he would hear God. He would do God’s words. All this to govern the people. Wouldn’t it be great if we prayed our leading officials were granted God hearing hearts? Hearing and doing. Wouldn’t it be great if WE echoed Solomon’s request!
Multiple times Jesus says, he who “has ears to hear let him hear…” We better pay close attention, there is something Jesus wants of His hearers. A change of behavior, a surrendering of heart or a changed mindset. He also says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Lk 11:28)
I am taking an online class on Biblical Studies. The professor left us with one (strong) homework assignment in week one. It wasn’t to exegesis a verse or write out a diagram of the contextual cross references. He said, “This week, allow the Holy Spirit to point out: Is there something you’ve read or heard that you are NOT doing.” OH MY! We came back and we were to grade ourselves, did we hear? Did we do? All this to point out the IMPORTANCE of God’s word.
How well are we hearing? Are we doing what we’ve heard? Either sitting in the pew (or watching from online) or when reading in our quiet time. Are we positioning ourselves to hear the Holy Spirit? Are we asking Him for the plan to implement? Or are we just filing it all away for another time, a convenient time, an easier time. If we scour the words in red, there are no statements of convenience – it is NOW.
When DOING doesn’t happen, did we hear?
*LORD; Many of our Bible translations contain the word LORD in all caps, this is known as the tetragrammaton, which means ‘consisting of 4 letters’ (in Greek). It is the 4-letter name of God, YHWH. Originally there were no vowels when writing in Hebrew, they were added later – Yahweh. LORD is used some 6500+ times in scripture referring to the Eternal, Self-Existent One, Covenant God of Israel.
Recently, in a small group study, while devouring the book of Genesis (verse by verse) we came to the conclusion and I have pondered this for days: “Yes, unity is good. Great. And encouraged. But.” But we must make sure what we are attaching ourselves to, investing time and energy (AND our soul) – HAS to be focused properly. Genesis 11, “All the people…” (v1) the story of the Tower of Babel. Their unity took them further away from God, further from His commands.
They weren’t that far away from the Noah saga (just a page or two) – a few generations step from “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become … The LORD was grieved…So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…” And the LORD did. (Summary: Gen 6:5-7; 7:4,11-12 NIV). God offered mankind a fresh start. Not only that, the starter kit was wrapped in His ever-loving covenant! (See Genesis 9).
As the new settlers (post flood) proceeded, you’d think there would have been even a slight hesitation to run off and grab your tool belt and head to the build site. “Wait… What?” What are we doing? But didn’t God say…” Nope. Brick builders, tower builders – as a whole, they built. (Continue reading Genesis 11, see how well THAT turned out). There is much to be heeded: “Come, let us … build up.” Causing God, “Come, let us go down.” (Gen 9:4,7).
How often do we too, join the cause, and perhaps fail to read the fine print? We fail to truly find out the goal, the intent and by golly, “Did God say?”
King David wrote: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. COMMIT your way to the Lord; trust in Him…” (Psalm 37:4-5a, emphasis mine). “Commit” is a highly active word picture. In Hebrew, it means to roll upon or against into a heap. This rolling is an act of trust. WHERE are we attaching our trust? The world is FULL of “Join us. Trust yourself to us. Trust our cause – act now!”
Let us keep in mind, WHATever, WHOever we commit ourselves to, we become rolled up as one. I echo the King’s exhortation; I surrender to the plea – may we roll up to and in – God! Rolling our life, our will, our behavior and I will offer – our tool belt. Ask questions, read the fine print before running and committing. AND may we consider our “Like” as well.
It’s here. And it’s already in stores. Halloween. Stores have freshly stocked shelves with 30% off ticketed items by the rows. Tons of stuff! Black cats, witch hats, spiders, eerie tombstones, bright orange plastic pumpkins and yes, the ever-dreaded skulls.
I LOVE the fall don’t get me wrong, it is my favorite season. The crisp morning air and the vibrant rich colors! I decorate my home seasonally with the warm orange, burgundy and brown tones, (my mantle pictured above) but Halloween does not roll this gals socks.
I am often asked why I have chosen not to celebrate Halloween, why I don’t find it “all in fun.” What is fun about it? The basic theme is of fear and elements of death. Um… no, not for this gal. Before I get all kinds of comments, emails, texts, and smoke signals, please let me explain, why (for me) I choose not to.
My family used to do the Halloween thing when I was little. I wore the thin fabric climb in costume with the sweaty plastic mask. But, after I came to understand and was adopted as a daughter of the Most High God, and I learned of His Majesty and His glorious light – I no longer participate in the day of darkness. Yes, darkness and light struggle 365 days a year. True. Still, a day not for me. A day I can forgo.
For the life of me, I cannot understand WHY someone would voluntarily, even cheerfully submit themselves to haunted houses and ghost hunts. All in fun? No, not for me. I have seen with my own eyes – evil. I’ve seen and felt the demonic and choose not to play with it like a child’s toy or pretend in dress up. All the while (in the background) while kids run from house to house for the coveted BEST drop in their bucket – when no one seems to notice, there are cultic activities taking place. The number of self-identified witches in the U.S. is doubling every 2 years. Those deeply into the occult take this holiday very seriously and yes, the dark forces they are dealing with are very real! (* See the history of Halloween below).
Paul wrote, “Hate evil and cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9). Is it God-honoring if we are clinging to good, while we cheerfully allow evil to run rampant around our feet? That running around could soon become a snare to those who participate in seemingly innocent activities.
I know, I know, now I’m getting a lil bit too serious. But. We need to remember darkness always has an agenda. ALWAYS! It will come again and again for any crack. ANY opportunity to subtly peek in with ugly and seething wickedness. If not addressed, it will crawl in. Slither about quietly. It will sit unnoticed, silent in the corner (with a smirk). If we think it will stand up in the middle of the room and wave “Here I am!” then we are only fooling ourselves.
According to Wiccans, Halloween is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is considered to be the thinnest. They celebrate and take advantage of such status. And by the way, (standing a lil taller on my soapbox) there is no such thing as a “Good Witch” regardless of how Hallmark wants to title it. Adding one more (not in detail) note: For satanists, Halloween is one of the most important celebrations of the year, it is documented in their “book” that after one’s own birthday (and another icky day) Halloween is most important.
For me, a day I can forgo.
Gently climbing down off my soapbox (as not to hurt myself) and dragging it back to store for another time.
You are loved. You daughter and son of the Most-High God.
*History of Halloween: “Halloween’s customs are thought to have been influenced and dated back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities, this done in attempts to appease them. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.” [History.com] In addition, other articles speak of folklore that costumes were worn so as to disguise the living, so the dead returning could not identify them. The dead running amuck with the living. Also, the bonfires were built with the intent to keep the souls of the dead from falling to earth.
A few years ago, (many actually) while on our way to a mid-week church service, glancing over at my then 11-year-old son, he was wearing his favorite ‘Ducks’ cap. I asked him to make sure to take the cap off before going into church. Then explaining that it would show reverence to the Lord. His weird smirk gave evidence he didn’t quite understand. I thought for a moment and proceeded to tell him, “You taking your favorite cap off, the one you wear everywhere. I know it’s your favorite and kind of your trademark. Taking it off can tell God He is TOTALLY COOL. He is worth it; He is bigger and better. Taking it off could be your way of thanking Him in such a way as to bow to His coolness.” His response, “Oh I get it.”
Although that may be a silly mom thing, but it made for a great illustration. The cap was taken off and laid on the car seat.
How do we bow?
King David wrote, “But I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward Your holy temple.” (Psalm 5:7) Reverence, not something commonly displayed these days. If a head is bowed, onlookers raise an eyebrow or two. If effort is put forth in showing honor, others scoff. If preference is offered, others may challenge.
The Pastor of Hebrews strongly declares: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our “God is a consuming fire.” (12:28-29, NIV)
This godly reverence paints a most honoring picture. It isn’t a haphazard quick nod of the head as to casually acknowledge something or someone. Like we do when at the grocery store a few yards away from a friend, offering a brief wave of the hand. It is a true awareness of self. An accurate estimation of being humble in the presence of goodness. Biblical reverence is whole-hearted, full awareness – GOD IS GOOD! Yes, we are commissioned to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). But may we not do so with lack of awe and wonder, in that we might dishonor. Reverence is NOT about performance. It is an issue of the heart. An established mindset. Remembering, that He is BIGGER and BETTER. He is the One Who sits on the throne – King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
How do we bow?
By the way, the picture above is the lovely Ducks gap. A treasured token, a mom’s memory of honoring.
I have been asked as a Bible teacher, “What does the Word of God do for you, YOU personally?” Oh my, where do I start. Besides the Bible being a sturdy textbook in my hand. A book that is true. When I read God’s inspired Word, first it confirms. Confirms that I too am a fallible person just as the characters in the Bible are – real broken people peppered throughout the story of God. And when I read about Peter, I can so relate to his ambitious outbursts, his swinging the sword and getting the guys ear. Yup, that would be me. And with all good intention, ask Jesus if we can build forts for the visitors (See Mark 9). Yes, God’s word confirms.
God’s Word also gives me courage. I read King David’s story; I see the longing of his heart. His running at full speed toward his God. And I also see the stupid mistakes. I so appreciate God did not cover up the faults of His heroes. Repeatedly, in each person’s experience, we see too the character of God. His serious response. His care. THIS gives me courage. In the same breath, it encourages me. Taking those experiences, observing, and learning from them, folding them into my own and giving me courage to walk in the same direction.
Confronts. Oh, His Word confronts and thankfully so. If when reading His Word and we feel no discomfort at times, then we are reading it wrong. We are guarded and unyielding. Professor D.A. Carson* insightfully stated, “We read the Bible, not to be a master of it, but to be mastered by it.” THAT is my desire. Do I heed and yield every time? No. Regretfully, painfully, remorsefully, no. But I know the sweet moment of repentance followed by the glorious insertion of God’s forgiveness and grace.
And for me, God’s Word calls. Not like some creepy native drumming sound coming from the corner of the room (Ok, I’ve seen Jumanji too many times). But knowing what God’s word contains – it beckons. It beckons with the fullness of God – His promises, His guidance, His correction, His character wrapped in His love and yes, His comfort. Life can be stressful and assuredly messy and overwhelming, but His Word waits for us to reach for it and when we do, His Spirit uses it to calm us. “They (God’s commandments, words, and instruction) are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.” (Psalm 19:10, NLT, emphasis mine).
God’s word confirms, gives courage, confronts, calls and comforts, but most of all – it CAPTIVATES me. I am fascinated with the stories; the triumphs, war cries, the bush a flame, mud in the eyes, violent storms and the unrestrained and abandoned “My Lord and my God!” declaration. (John 20:28). And all those words in red: “It is written… Get up… Take courage it is I… Quiet, be still… Come forth…Who do you say I am… Then neither do I condemn you” and “It is finished.” (Just to highlight a few).
Now, I present the question to YOU. “What does God’s Word do for you?” If your response is a shrug of the shoulder, ask God to grow your passion. Ask Him to show you things unnoticed, to color the stories vibrantly, and challenge you beyond comfort – He will.
*Professor D.A. Carson is retired Professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Used by God.
Matthew (author of the Gospel of Matthew) was a detailed tax-collector, turned disciple of Jesus. He was a numbers and money man. He mentions gold and silver 28 times, but they’re only mentioned once in Mark and 4 times in Luke. Matthew uses an accounting term when quoting Jesus, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:12).
In both the books of Luke and Acts, Dr Luke (as described in Col 4:14) uses specific medical terminology. Luke gives a detailed description regarding the bent over woman, (Luke 13) the words he uses to describe her condition and Jesus’ healing are actual medical terms.
And there is Peter, the one who was passionately outspoken, enthusiastic, and at times quite brash, he actually told Jesus “Never, Lord!” And it was also him who aggressively swung his sword in the Garden. Yet it was Peter who wrote with divine instruction “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).
All biblical writers wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16) BUT they did not lose their individuality. God used each one to offer a different perspective, a unique expression only that person could bring.
We too, do not lose our individuality being used by God. Our artistic creativity, He will use it. Our love for words, He will use. Our love and gifting of hospitality, He will use that. Even that rebellious, (or stupid) season in our past, He can and will use it – for His glory! Interestingly, we do not read Peter apologizing later, “Dear beloved church, in my early days I was impulsive, hasty and at times a bit reckless, sorry about that.” Instead we read, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1). Yes, yes he was.
Let us be open and available (and ever transforming to the image of Christ) to be used for a unique GODLY expression. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whatever we are holding and saying – to the glory of God. Where the pages of our life (my life) also reads, “Dede, a servant and disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Used by God.
Photo Credit: Country Guide Magazine (My emphasis: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” – Luke 10:2a)
At our women’s bible study, we recently looked at the serpent in the Garden. Genesis chapters 2-3 are packed with descriptive information. We looked at him being made by God (3:1; See also Ezek. 28:15). satan, as he is later known, is NOT God’s equal. Not equal (by far) in power, character or authority. He is a created being – God’s creation, making GOD the Ruler over His creation. Knowing THAT, does it change your perspective of the one who prowls, looking to devour and whose ONLY goal is to steal, kill and destroy? (1 Peter 5:8; John 10:10).
He is also crafty – skilled in achieving his objective by tricky manipulation. We see this in his scheme of using a question, “Did God actually say…?” (3:1, ESV). He still uses this. How often do we too fall prey to the same question, “Did God actually…” and we throw in an “Or…” (with a shrug of shoulder) then we continue to rationalize our behavior or decisions.
But what jumped out to me most is found in the over-all conversation between the serpent and Eve. In chapter 2 it explains the creation of man and woman. Of those 21 verses, the narrative refers to God as “LORD God” (and v1 of chapter 3 and picks up again in v8). BUT. In the historic conversation (3:1b-5) we see Eve following the example of the serpent. There is a deliberate avoidance – the serpent does not, will not, cannot, call Him, (LORD) God.* LORD, is YHWH, (Yahweh) the Self-Existent One, known as the covenant name of God. Eve also refers to Him only as God, Elohim, (which in itself is GREAT) but in this context, He is minimized. There is a shift in narrative, it changes (and changes back).
What an example to us. Minimizing our God – in simple conversation. How often have we, at work, or other settings, shrug God off, perhaps laugh Him off? With lack of boldness, we conform (like Eve) and make Him less than He is – change the narrative of God’s character. (What a scheme, Eph 6:10). “Ouch!”
May we be ever so mindful. Being so profoundly aware of His sovereignty, His covenant with us, that we live our life under the authority of God – to the glory of God.
Please know, I do not capitalize the enemies name, although considered a proper noun, I will not give him the courtesy.
*“The serpent does not use the expression “Yahweh God” [LORD God] because there is no covenant relationship involved between God and the serpent. He only speaks of “God.” In the process the serpent draws the woman into his manner of speech so that she too only speaks of ‘God.’” [New English Bible Commentary]. “It is noteworthy that the serpent also deliberately avoids using God’s personal name “Yahweh” (“LORD”) when he addresses the woman. Here is another hint that his presence in the garden presents a threat. Although his initial words appear deceptively innocent, his subsequent contradiction of God leaves no doubt about the serpent’s motive and purpose.” [English Standard Version Commentary].
God is gracious.
I begin in Genesis chapter one. God created everything. Genesis two, the narrative slows down and zeros in on the detail of God forming Adam and putting him in the Garden. Giving him the garden tending instructions, He also tells him he can eat from any of the trees, but do not eat from “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (v17). God then makes Eve. Both man and woman living in relationship and divine favor with their Creator. Genesis three, the serpent meets up with Eve, there’s conversation. She ends up eating and sharing the fruit from the forbidden tree with Adam. Instantly everything changes. Everything. In their disobedience, sin rushes in. God and man(kind) are now in a broken relationship, the relationship that was intended to be eternal.
God comes and finds the man (and woman). He addresses his position and condition. He is hidden and ashamed. There is blame-shifting, Adam to Eve, Eve to the serpent. God curses the serpent and to the woman, He pronounces she will suffer pain. He curses the very ground that Adam was formed, there will now be struggle and toil for man.
God then slaps His hands together and with a heavy sigh, “Good riddance and good luck out there” as He waves them off, sending them away.
No. Not that last part. Not like that.
The key is in verse 22 (chapter 3). They, Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten from the Tree of Life (yet). They HAD to leave; He does send them away. They were in a fallen state, broken relationship with their God. If they had stayed, they would have eaten from the Tree of Life, they would then live FOREVER in broken relationship. His sending them away and blocking the entrance to the way of the Garden was needed and merciful. He was gracious, still bestowing favor, in sending them away. Looking at this story from our angle, our timeframe, (we the descendants of Adam) and knowing the rest of the story – you can almost hear the Holy whisper as He points, telling them to go, “It’s alright, I have a plan…” The rest of the written Word is the description and history of that loving, gracious – redemptive plan.
God is gracious.
Gracious. Being gracious depicts the heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need – someone who does not deserve or can repay what is given.* Man(kind) was in need! The Hebrew word conveys stooping, stooping in kindness.
Fast forward: Jesus.
Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy:
“For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus. And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:9-10, NLT – emphasis mine)
Grace is the absolutely free expression of the lovingkindness of God to men.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9, ESV)
Not only was it a gracious act of God to send man out of the Garden, but He also sent His Son. Sent in our place, making amends to restore relationship. Jesus, because of His life – death, blood atonement and powerful resurrection, was the appeasement needed for our sovereign pardon. We once were out – far off from God’s presence, now we are brought near (again). What an amazing divine gift, a very precious gift. Theologian, Arthur W Pink wrote, “Even though grace is unmerited favor, it must be exercised in a sovereign manner.” Planned by the Father, accomplished through His Son, accepted by mankind and applied by the Spirit. (BRILLIANT!)
God is gracious.
I strongly urge us to always consider the plan, the loving, gracious – redemptive plan. What God did to get us back. May we never-ever belittle it, dismantle it, devalue or abuse it.
God. Is. Gracious.
*Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
I can’t think of a better documented example of Jesus’ faithfulness to an individual, than Peter. Peter was a disciple. A disciple is a learner, follower, an apprentice. It is someone who seeks to know and gives full life attention to their Rabbi (Teacher/Mentor). Within the Jewish culture in Jesus’ day, (and some aspects continue today) there was a whole process of life discipleship. Discipleship (in general) was designed in such a way that the student (or disciple-wanna-be) would seek out the Teacher and make a formal request to be their disciple. If the Teacher agreed to the request, (finding them worthy: family, status and education) they would then allow them to become their disciple. They were now chosen. The words, “Follow me” were spoken. The disciple was then required (it was not optional) to totally submit to the Rabbi’s authority in all areas of his life. The Rabbi’s teaching was therefore binding. Everything the disciple did or how he viewed things were all filtered through the Rabbi.
THEN. Jesus comes on the scene, turning everything upside down. There was no time for discipleship applications. The traditional format: Disciple sought out the Rabbi – but Jesus sought out the disciple. THE Rabbi, calling not the well-educated or those of high status – but fishermen (and the like). He said, “Follow Me.” These two words were discipleship terminology, meaning they were CHOSEN. Perhaps, this can be folded into the context of why Jesus said: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” (John 15:16a) What a most wonderful reality. Chosen.
Jesus calls Peter against tradition, “Follow Me…” (Mk 1:17a). In the original language, literally, “Come in behind me.” Get in line, get in step and focus on me. Peter, a spunky guy, with a sliver of rebel in him. He was the first to speak up (or out). He was the only one out of the boat (to swim to Jesus or attempt walking to Him). He was the sword swinging – in Jesus’ face guy. And, who ultimately denied his Rabbi.
But. Jesus knew. Jesus was faithful to Peter. He was the faithful Rabbi. He taught not only with words but lifestyle. He taught Peter what it meant to be a disciple. He taught him faithfulness. He taught Peter; He was Lord. Peter later wrote: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet 3:15a, ESV). Peter was taught hope. Jesus also taught Peter how to die to self; describing himself, “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ…” (2 Pet 1:1). Peter was a servant (doulos), one with a permanent servitude – his life altogether consumed with Jesus.
The last chapter of John (21) after the death and resurrection of Jesus, He is with the disciples. Singling out Peter, Jesus has the “Do you love Me?” conversation. His personal closing words to Peter were “Follow Me” (v19). Jesus started with “Follow Me” and ended with “Follow Me.”
Peter was a disciple.
Jesus, always the faithful Teacher – ALWAYS the faithful Lord. We too as His disciples are called to life learning. Our Great Rabbi’s teaching is binding. Everything we do or how we view things are all filtered through Jesus. His choosing is not only (but astonishing) for forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but also our lives are to be fruitful and productive in fulfilling God’s purposes.
May we continue to get in line, get in step and focus on Jesus, our faithful Teacher and faithful Lord.
We are His disciples.
Recently my husband and I traveled across parts of Oregon heading to a family wedding. There was plenty of time to watch the scenery pass on by. Observing the geographical change from plush green, to gorge, to dry, to waves of fields of wheat. Quietly, I sensed the Lord whisper to me, “Speak to the Corners.” Hm. Speak to the corners? Having no idea what He was referring to at first, I asked Him to SHOW me the corners. Suddenly I was made aware of the circular irrigation systems of the fields just outside my window. Studying those, I saw the corners. Green stalks of young corn, grown in a circular pattern – then there were the dry, intentionally forgotten corners of the fields. Assuming the farmers “did the math” and determined it wasn’t cost-effective to plant there. I sensed God say, “THIS is not what I intended for your heart – no unhealthy corners.”
Over the course of these last few days, I have prayed about, mediated and asked the Lord to show me the corners of MY life. He is ever so faithful to gently point to things I have tucked back, WAAAAY back into the corners of my heart. The corners of waste land, of no profit in my life, where nothing healthy and good can grow there. Concepts, perspectives, views of myself and unhealthy views of God. And wrong doings, habits or hurts. As I pursued this, I was drawn to 1 Samuel 24.
King Saul is in hot pursuit of David. David and his men are hiding in a cave. Far back, in the corner (if you will) they sat quietly. Saul comes into the cave for some privacy, to relieve himself. David’s men encourage him, “THIS is your chance! Kill him!” (paraphrased). Can you imagine the split-second thoughts that may have run through David’s mind? “Yes, you are right, I am called to be King, I end this NOW! This man has lashed out at me! What have I done to deserve this? Now, I end this rivalry!” But NO! There in the dark corner of the cave, David instead, stealthily crept forward, cutting off a small corner of Saul’s cloak. In this, David was quickly convicted of what he had done, (*cutting at the lineage of Saul’s family) telling the men he was wrong to do so and they too were not to harm Saul. Taking it further, he stepped out into the light, he called out, and revealed his presence to the King. In short, Saul is humbled by the “I chose not to” opportunity by David. Saul genuinely shares, “May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know you will surely be king…” (vv19, 20)
May we too be rewarded well for the choices we make in the corners. Sure, there may be brief missteps here and there. Yet, may we consider our thoughts, motives and actions. Knowing God knows our corners – watches our responses, waits (and invites) healthy cultivation.
God knows ALL. Regardless of how well we become at compact packing and creatively stuffing. We try to deny the reality of our corners and tuck it back. Until one day and it will – it all spills out!
God boldly states, “Can anyone hide from Me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” says the LORD.” (Jer. 23:24, NLT). And the Pastor of Hebrews wrote: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.” (4:13).
May we speak to our corners, our intentionally forgotten corners. May we echo the tender words of King David, “O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.” (Ps. 139:1-2). He closes with don’t stop THERE – “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (vv 23,24).
God wants ALL our heart, healthy and profitable, for His good pleasure. Speak to the corners.
*The hem: It goes way back to ancient(er) days, God instructs the Israelites to wear garments with specifically designed borders, hems or fringes also known as tassels. (Nu. 15; Deut. 22; Ex 28). These fringes came to represent authority, personality, their place in society and even lineages were sewn into the hem. Noblemen of the day would sign their name, authenticating, by lifting their robe and pressing the hem into wet clay tablets – specific stitching indicating family and function. David was convicted because he CUT Saul’s lineage and symbolically cut the identity and authority of the Lord’s anointed. It was not God’s instruction. It was not God’s timing. Saul understood what had just taken place, and after his “may the Lord reward you for not killing me today” he continues saying: “And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” (1 Sam 24:20-21, ESV)
Have you noticed how the art of handwritten letter writing is increasingly fading, or pretty much obsolete? Our once, “Hi how are you”, or “thinking of you”, followed by a lengthier note of encouragement, has been replaced with a quick text or a cute smiley emoji.
Our words of encouragement to others hold TONS of weight. To see it in writing, or verbally said, that you are loved, appreciated, and supported is priceless. I strongly believe encouragement is universally lacking.
The book of Philippians is an amazing lil blueprint for encouragement. Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome. This, his most personal of all letters to a church, has a main directive to thank them for their love and support. So basically, the letter is a huge “thank you” note. Yet, he doesn’t stop there. He continues with instruction and wonderful encouragement: “I thank my God when I think of you … I have you in my heart …. stand fast… be of the same mind… rejoice in the Lord always… don’t be anxious … be thankful … let your request be made known… think on these things …” (Just to mention a few). And he wraps it up with “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit…” That is some loving encouragement!
We need to pause for a moment to remember that Paul wrote this while in PRISON. He could have, in his humanity, turned the letter into a huge “whine.” Many excuses could have surfaced. He could have withheld the encouragement until the conditions were better. He could have waited until he walked free in the streets, felt the warmth of rubbing shoulders with others, breathed in fresh air. But he didn’t. He spoke from his captivity. He had faith, he reached for his God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, he shared his faith and love of Jesus with others.
What an example to us all, that we not “WAIT.” Wait, until we have it all together and think the conditions are exactly right. Wait until our own pain, our own struggle has subsided. Sure, some of us are thinking, “But he was PAUL, the guy had a direct blinding link to Jesus!” Yes, yes he did. But so do we. We have the same Lord, the same Spirit dwelling in us.
Our words, whether they be verbal, written, texted, tweeted, or posted – should reach out. May we hug with our words. Don’t wait! Someone out there needs us, needs YOU. The hurting, the lonely, the confused. Embrace them. They need our words of encouragement. They can’t wait for us to get it all together. (Or wait until all this Covid-19 is lifted).
*I honestly do not remember where I got the image above, I’ve had it in my files for years. But is speaks volumes.
Ever been in a situation that seems just too big, too deep and basically moving way too fast that you feel it is impossible to cross or get through? You begin to look for alternatives to get to the other side. But frankly there aren’t any. You just have to – go through.
Joshua chapter 3. Brief building-up-to summary; Moses guides the Israelites out of Egypt and out of slavery. They are heading to the Promised Land. They wander for forty years. Following Moses’ death, Joshua, who now holds the reins of leadership, prepares the people to cross the Jordon. Their tents are pitched at the river’s edge.
They could see it, after all those years, THERE it was! Only the river stands between them and their inherited land. The river is at flood stage. It is bigger, wider, faster and deeper than expected. Joshua summons the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” (v.5). Yes, God’s going to have to do something amazing to get them through! Amazing.
As instructed by God, Joshua has the priests head out first, carrying the ark of the covenant, representing God’s very presence, on their shoulders. “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s water, go and stand in the river.” (v.8). Just stand. As they did, upriver, the water backed up, the flow stopped. They walked to the middle of the river. Standing firm on dry ground the Israelites passed by, the priests stayed right there until all passed to the other side. Twelve men were chosen to gather a stone from the river and take it with them to the other side, building an altar. God solidly and very clearly getting them through troubled waters! Indeed proving that what lies on the other side, they would (with His help) be able to conquer, whatever and whoever.
Interesting, we can connect this to the story where God tells Abe and Sarah that in their old age, they will have a son and remember Sarah laughs? (Genesis 18:14). God responds, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Too hard, it is the same Hebrew amazing word as in Joshua. Is anything too hard for God? No. THAT is our amazing God!
Like with Israel, the rivers edge is a meeting place with God. A place of dedication, devotion and purpose. Coming to the river is a place of decision. Our inheritance (joy, freedom, assurance, security, love…) awaits us on the other side. Our option? Cross or stay. Stay, just watch the water go on by. Or turn back … into the desert, wander some more, go back into captivity.
We do as the twelve rock toting men did, we take something from the river as a reminder and build in our heart as an altar before God. Here and now YOU preserved me, YOU brought me through, YOUR presence stayed there in the middle of it all, delivering me to the other side!
Delivering waters need to be crossed. God with us, God in us, God delivering us from what we deem impossible – impassable. THAT is our amazing God!
At the river’s edge.