Drift Wood

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Never fails.  I set a goal to blog every week, and some big life thing happens that seems to stretch out forever.  It has, yet again, been two weeks, and I have not posted.  So, I endeavor to do so now!

I mentioned in past blogs that I had memorized Hebrews 11.  I finished it before 2016 ended, which was my goal.  Since then I have been seeking where to go next for memory work.  It’s not like there aren’t a lot of options, but I want what is best for me right now.

I expect I will head into James.  It is a short book, and there is so much in it on how to live, that I think it is just a MUST.

For this week, however, I am working on Hebrews 12:1-2.

In recent past, I quit my job and am still moving.  I never do one thing at a time.  Change comes as a tidal wave for me, or it doesn’t come at all.  I have been on automatic pilot, as a result, and I know God is okay with that.  There have been many times in my life where I was simply riding the waves, not really exploring anything that would deepen my walk, and I know that God gives such seasons of grace for us to just survive and lean on him, sheltered in his wings.

At such times, I have a vision of myself on a piece of drift wood, passed out, as I ride the crest and fall of every wave.  I am so thankful for the drift wood, which is God’s grace and protection; the shadow of his wings to use another image.

Now, however, I am being called back to exploration.  Time is past for automatic pilot, and it is time to re-engage in God’s word, as it is so very powerful, and soldiers do not advance without their armor and their weapons.  That would just be stupid right?  I know that his word is mightier than any sword.

12 For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Yet how many times do we head out into the things of the world without all our spiritual gear?  And then we wonder what the heck happened.  Why did I get hit?  Why wasn’t I effective?  God, where are you and why weren’t you there?

The Bible says he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  So what happens?  Well, we are running off to battle every day, missing our gear.  If you do not have your helmet on, you might easily take a head wound.  No breastplate, and you will likely receive a chest wound.  If you are not carrying your sword, which is truth that can only come from the word of God and his enlightenment through it, you are not going to be able to defend yourself.

It kills me the number of Christians who are committed to God, yet never read his word.  But, for many years, I was one of those people.

I think it intimidated me.

I also think it overwhelmed me.

I have learned some things in working with God’s word that help.  The first thing I do is pray that God will give me insight into what I am reading.  Sometimes I go to the stories of the Bible.  There are so many.  I grab a name like, say, Samuel, look it up (if I don’t know where to find him) in the back of my Bible, and go read about this person.  I have also started memorizing scripture, as it gives me a solid reference point.  I have also found that recall for scripture is much quicker when I have it memorized, and recall is necessary in a spiritual battle.

The danger with being on automatic pilot is that we run the risk of staying, and when God calls us back to service, which includes delving into his word, we choose not to listen.  We are too busy being absorbed in our frailties, and the idea of getting up off our drift wood to swim to our destination, is not something we want to do.

You understand what I mean when I say “petrified Christians”?  These are people who have literally become part of their drift wood.  They are apathetic or rigidly unbending.  What they are not, are contributors to the kingdom of God.

We cannot allow ourselves to stay in that place where we do nothing and try to coast.  God will either bring something along that rudely dislodges us from our drift wood, or, if we tenaciously cling to it, He will leave us there to atrophy.

So, let us endeavor to seek God’s word one visual bite at a time.  You are welcome to join me in memory work.  At the beginning of this missive, I had planned to move into James, something you can certainly do, but I think after writing this blog, I may need to stay in Hebrews.  As I mentioned previously, Hebrews 12:1 is my verse for the week.

Join me!

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He Sings Over You

zephaniah_3_17

Do you know God sings over you with joy?  I am trying to imagine what God sounds like when he is singing.  I just can’t, and to further try to imagine His singing being about me just short circuits my synapses.  I come back to one question.

Why?

Why would he sing over me?

This little scripture is power packed with story.  Judah finally had a king in Josiah who was willing seek the ways of God.  They had had two kings, Manessah and Amon who were just vile.  They had led God’s children, who were so easily “led down the garden path” in spite of the fact the God had proven his love and provision for them over and over again.  So Josiah was attempting to reverse the worshiping of Baal and paganism to bring them all back under God’s blessing.

In that time the prophet who was delivering God’s messages to the people was Zephaniah.  And if you read the book of Zephaniah, which is, in fact, the message God gave him to deliver to the people, it may be short but much like the above referenced verse, it lays it all out with no frills and is powerful.

The first two chapters are about God letting the people know just what he is going to do to them for disobeying him, and I have to tell you I think this may be where the phrase, “putting the fear of God in” came from.  Zephaniah pulls no punches as he explains the day of judgment coming for Judah.

In chapter three there is what I perceive as a pivotal part of the dissertation in verse 3, where Zephaniah says, ” Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands.  Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”  Makes me think, “Okay, so God is maybe going to spare those who have attempted to follow him.”  And it also tells us that it wasn’t the whole of Judah turning away from God.  There were those who maintained his ways and walked in humility and righteousness.

Finally, in the third chapter we see that God has referenced hope, and in verse 17, not only is there hope for Judah but this scripture speaks to all the generations.  In it is not only the promise of forgiveness but so much more.

Do you know God is with you?

It sometimes seem that the limb we are swinging from is one we are on all by ourselves, and rather often we know we have gotten there of our own doing.  But sometimes we find ourselves out on a limb swinging away due to someone else’s decisions that have impacted us, and whether the wind is a freezing Nor’easter or a mild Zephyr, the fact that we are out there blowing around on our own renders volume or temperature superfluous. Verse 17 is help in so many words.

The first line is simple, “The Lord your God is with you.”  Stop there if you must.  That should be enough to help move you to the knowledge that you are not hanging but grasped in the hands of Almighty God, and coupled with his promise from Hebrews 13:5 that he will never leave you or forsake you should give you nothing if not hope that you are not alone.

The second part of verse 17 tells us that God is more than able to rescue us from catastrophe that befalls us.  “He is a mighty warrior who saves,” and I don’t know about you, but this living life thing is brutal.  When I am promised God, the mighty warrior to save me, I’m going to hold out my arms and await the rescue.

Not only will he rescue us, but “he will delight in us.”  He will take great delight in us.  Wow.  Can’t think of any reason I gave God this week to greatly delight in me.  As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any reason, ever, for God to take great delight in me.

And yet the scripture says he does.  It is true, this scripture was written specifically to Judah, but these scriptures are prophetic, which means they span time and space.  That means the application and lesson may be about a certain time, place, and people, but the meat is for all of God’s children to read and learn from.  The story endures for us to experience and learn.

So not only is God with us and delights in us, but the next part of verse 17 says he will “no longer rebuke you in his love.”  The NIV Life Application says, “he will quiet you with his love.” This translation speaks to me more, as I find the concept of quiet correlative to rest and solitude.  It is generally what I need most when I am at the end of myself, and to think that God’s love can reach out to that which is fractious in me and quiet it with his love, is so very appealing, hopeful, and humbling.

Then the verse says the thing that just blows my mind, “he will rejoice over you with singing.”  Seriously?  Singing?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally struggle with confidence.  I know who I am; my strengths and weaknesses, and I will pat myself on the back when I know I have done well at something I have worked for, but I NEVER sing over me.  I would not even consider there to be something I have accomplished that would warrant me singing my praises…

So I cannot begin to fathom why God would.

But, then, I don’t think this little line is about accolades and pats on the back.  I believe that this little line is about the essence of the creation he made; you. Me.  It is the fact that he rejoices over each one of us, because each on of us is his favorite creation and he loves to delight over us.  He loves to sing over us, and I firmly believe that he sings blessing, protection, strength, and hope.  In fact, I think he sings things over us we do not have vocabulary to define.

God is with you, saves you, delights in you, quiets you with his love, and

God sings over you with joy.

 

God is My Shepard: Insights From the 23rd Psalm

 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

(The Message)

I always think of Psalm 23 as “The Death Chapter.”  I mean, it seems that it is rather often spoken at grave sites and funerals.  Whenever there is a traumatic scene where a funeral and a church are involved, they are reading the 23rd Psalm.

I am a fan of Jason Upton.  I listen to him a lot, and he has a song called Psalm 23.  He has a way of singing scripture that leaves it raw and yet whole.  I realized recently that when I listen to this song which, as you may have guessed, is about Psalm 23, I do not listen to it in the context one might think. Oblige me as I pontificate…

I have recently come to think of this scripture differently than as “The Death Chapter”.  I realized one day that I was using it was warfare.  It is not some lazy little portion of scripture that sits by idly until we need comfort.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it is comforting, and comfort is good!  But, it is also a club we can pick up and fight with.

Most people, no matter the spiritual background, are familiar with the 23rd Psalm.  “The Lord is my Shepard…”  reverberates through the memory banks and transcends many other texts we have heard.  And yet, how much do we actually use the scripture?

The version of the scripture I have posted above is lesser known from the Message, but no less poignant.  I think it paints a very vivid image, and for those who are unfamiliar with the Message, don’t discount it because of its construction.  It was written with much knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew and is exceedingly eloquent, textual, and vivid.

“…you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”

Wow.  I love the wording of that.  There are so many days I just need to STOP.

Stop the push and pull.  Stop the obligations and expectations.  Stop the performance and the accomplishments.  Stop resisting.  Stop fighting. Stop the fatigue.

Stop.  And catch my breath.

What do you stop?  What do you do to catch your breath?

And not only do I, we, have permission to stop, but then He will send us in the right direction.  And I think it is not coincidence in the set up of that scripture there.  Is it possible we miss the right direction because we do not allow ourselves to catch our breath?  Maybe we don’t hear what God is saying and how he is directing because we won’t slow down and take a breath.

“Your beauty and love chase after me.”

Again.  Wow.  That brings me to tears just to read.  It seems fantastical that not just God, but specifically, his Beauty and his Love chase after me, us.  Wow.  Just wow.  You know why I say that?

Because I know what a vile little shrew I so often am.  I know that that there are times the fallible people around me can hardly stand me, so how can the perfect God of the universe not only look at me but have his love and beauty chase me around.

Seriously?

Hard to wrap my head around.  But here is the lesson therein.  We are so busy looking to others and seeking approval that we are lovable and beautiful and worthy, when Psalm 23 says that God’s beauty and love is chasing us around.

What does that even mean?

I will tell you what it means to me.  It means that each day I live, I am renewed with the beauty of Almighty Yahweh.  It means that no matter how I am treated or even how I treat myself, his love endures through every moment of my human life.  It is like a heat seeking missile, and as long as I draw breath, it will find me.

Verse 4 says, “I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.”

If you are a person who deals with the darkness of life on a regular basis, no matter how fearless you are by nature, there comes a point when the human factor simply isn’t enough to combat some of the monsters crouching in the dark.  This chapter is about stepping into those dark places knowing that the kind of fear that is elicited from what lurks in those depths can only be negated by God alone. Knowing that even though you walk into darkness, with God you will walk back out into the light again at some point.

It is God walking with me that helps me step fearlessly into what would consume human strength.  That is how this scripture moved from a poem to a living breathing torch full of permission, comfort, protection, and hope for me.  It now breaths into the icy chill that life sometimes is, bringing a flicker of light to the dark night.

It is not difficult to understand why this Psalm is popular at funerals, for it is often at funerals where we find ourselves in the darkest night of loss we can image. That is why the scripture is iconic for the lost and mourning, and why it endures not only as solace but as a weapon.

 

 

Faith and Promises

by-faith-hebrews-111

I believe I mentioned in a past blog that I have been working on memorizing Hebrews 11.  This week I have completed my goal.  40 verses.  And through the process, I have gained intangibles that I believe will produce fruit for the rest of my life.

For one thing, this one chapter has cause me to consider the application of faith not just in my own journey but in the journeys of those mentioned in the text.  Abraham, Enoch, Moses, Noah, Joseph, Abel, Isaac, Rahab, Sarah, Jacob, and many more.  A lot of big hitters in that text.  And those whose journeys were specifically mentioned had a couple things in common.

They did what was asked of them, even if it didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time.  They were told to build an ark, move to a land  that was promised but that they had no possession over, sacrifice their only offspring through whom their promised descendants were supposed to be reckoned…

And they never received the promises made them in their lifetimes.

Cogitate on that for a minute.

“They were stoned, sawed in two; their lives were taken by the sword; they went about in  sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in the deserts and mountains, in caves and in holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised them.”  Hebrews 11:37-39

I won’t lie.  This depresses me a bit.

But  it also humbles me to the core.  Who am I to complain about the inconveniences in my life when these people experienced all horrible things to provide the experience of faith for their offspring?

Verse 40 renders explanation.  “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

What does that mean?

I looked it up in a the Amplified version, as I had been doing my memorizing in the NIV.  And it says for verses 39 and 40, ” And all of these, though they had divine approval by [means of] their faith, did not receive the fulfillment of what was promised, Because God had us in mind and had something better and greater in mind for us, so that they [these heroes and heroines of faith] should not come to perfection apart from us [before we could join them]”.

Ok, so this gives a more expanded concept, and it reminds me that God doesn’t see the timeline JUST in order.  He sees it in ALL order.  Ever looked at something from the front and thought that was all there was to it, but then when you took a step to the right or left you realized there was much more dimension than what you originally saw?

I apply this concept to Hebrews 11.  These people and what they lived look to me (from the front view) as birth, life, and death.  They were born.  They lived and received promise, they walked out their faith, and then they died before receiving what was promised.  To that construct, the lack of fulfilled promises is discouraging to me.  But when I step a bit to the side, I can begin to wrap my head around the concept that God’s perspective is not only linear, and the complete fulfilled promise was that we all partake of His promise of everlasting life.  Not only that, but I can see that God, back when He was directing these saints, had me in mind…

and you.

Abraham and Sarah’s promise that their descendants would be numerous as the stars and grains of sand is still being fulfilled.  Had Abraham and Sarah not had faith that God WOULD fulfill the promise he made, we would not be reaping the benefits of their faithfulness now.  What about all of the saints referenced in this text?   They were given promises that are still, today, being played out.  The deaths of those who were fighting for the Gospel to reach all peoples were not in vain.  The promises are still being walked out.  And those promises have become ours.

Another thought occurred as I contemplated this.  If God were to say to Abraham, “Hey, how about I send you back to where you were in the promised land, and instead of coming home at the point of death, you can just hang on there until I finish fulfilling the promise I made you?”

I’m guessing Abraham would be like, “Uh, well, if it’s all the same to you, Yashuea, I will stay here in heaven with You.  I’m good.” Why in the world would he want to stick around for the fulfillment of a promise, when he had the option of heaven.  And ultimately, heaven really is the promise fulfilled for those who serve God, right?

So in thinking this way, I have to rethink my understanding of my Dad’s promises to me.  Sometimes He makes me promises that He fulfills in my life immediately.  His Word houses promises throughout that I find occurring in real time in my life.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,”(Hebrews 13:5) is one that comes to mind.  That is a promise he renews each day I’m alive and I find it answered as I drift off to sleep every night.

But there are other promises that are, perhaps, generational.  And they take much time. I truly believe that the promises given the saints in Hebrews 11 are now mine, and every generation of saints hands off the baton to the next.  We all share in those big monumental promises of God.  We all contribute.  We run our race, and we have faith that even if we do not see the end result, God will not waste us.  He will use us for the fulfillment of promises. And that is where faith becomes very active for us.

Because we are so finite, we tend to think the best promises are the ones that we see fulfilled in our lives. They are wonderful, and God loves to give to us, but the promises that matter the most are those we contribute to, I think, rather than the ones we see only for ourselves.

If you have not spend time memorizing scripture, I encourage you to do so.  Just a verse at a time.  It will have a profound impact on your walk that will ripple throughout the moments in your journey.  This section of scripture has been a game changer for me.  It is massive in warfare.  It has given me hope.  It has bolstered my endurance.  It has expanded my theology, and it will continue to educate me long after I move on to other scripture.