On the Cutting Edge

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Photo credit to Holme Christian Fellowship.

 

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

 
When you think of a sword, what do you think of? I think of a weapon used for more than self-defense. I think of a lethal weapon aimed at destruction of an enemy. I hold the sword in my hand and wield it against my opponent. Is this what You are talking about here, Lord? Is this about me fighting my enemy? Do I hold the word of God in my hand and wield it? Or is this talking about something totally different? Is this talking about how You wield Your word in my life and against those things in my life that stand against You? Oh! That thought stings!

 
Frankly, I am learning to rejoice that You value my life enough to allow me to feel the sting of Your sword, to feel the weight of Your words, directly and for real in my life. It proves or shows some things to me. Truly, the more I feel Your cutting words in my life, the more it brings a crisis of faith, the more I know that Your words are not just written symbols and good thoughts to memorize or pursue. I come to learn that Your word is alive.

 
This two-edged sword is more than a two-edged sword. It’s how You use these different events or crises in our lives to accomplish Your different purposes in our lives. But it’s more than that. But before we look at the “more than” part of the two-edged sword, let’s look at the “word of God” part.

 
Here, Paul, who was so familiar with the Old Testament, pulls this important phrase from the Old Testament. God said in Isaiah 55:11 of His word, “so shall my word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I want to try to latch on to that concept. God’s word has a purpose and He will accomplish that.

 

Isaiah 49:2 talks of the Christ and says, “He made My mouth like a sharp sword.” How does God instruct and inform throughout the Old Testament? Isn’t it by “the word of the Lord”? I mean Paul was taking this concept from Scripture and applying what had come to life in Him in Christ. He knew that God spoke, really spoke to His people in different ways. He spoke through leaders, prophets, and through an audible voice. He spoke with authority and not just some authority, it was absolute authority. Today, I’ve diverted from the prophets again, but I’ve heard the promises and encouragement and heard the warnings and condemnation. I’ve seen the examples of those who clung to His authority and the examples of those who abhorred His authority.

 
God’s word works in wonderful and differing ways today. God has never changed. Abram didn’t have the written word. But He heard God. I know of people in countries where the written word of God is forbidden and yet people there have heard His voice just like Abram. I have met people who have received God’s written word in one of these countries, and as they read in secret, His word came alive, and they understood and heard the word of God speak to them. He is alive. Let’s face it, His word is so alive that it creates life, whether it is in the form of angels, trees, animals, or people. He’s not just the Way. He’s not just the Truth. He’s not just the Life. HE IS ALL. Yes, He is life in every aspect of real life. His word not only speaks life but creates life. Think about that.

 
See, this word for word is from the Hebrew root debar. It has to do with “speaking, declaring, commanding, promising, warning, threatening and conversing”. It’s not just about writing. But as I let the written word sink into my soul and into my mind and into my life, God speaks it into my life. I can lay in bed and hear His voice urging me to think about some words of His in Scripture and apply it in a deeper way to my life. I can’t explain His voice. But His word is urging me to get up and go to Him, get up and think with Him, get up and learn from Him, get up and follow Him, get up and obey Him, because there’s something I wasn’t quite understanding and obeying rightly.

 
When God speaks, how do I respond? It doesn’t matter if I’m in a jail cell, or hiding in my room from authorities, or in a classroom surrounded by people who don’t understand, or in my bed at 3 a.m., or sitting in my chair in a church service, how do I respond when I hear His still small voice tugging at me? Or how do I respond when it takes a life crisis to get me to hear and rethink my thinking?

 
God’s word has the power to do this in our lives, whether we want Him to or not, whether we respond rightly or not. His word is “living.” It’s alive. God’s word is living. It imparts life. It is the Creator of life. It is the breath of life. It is the sustainer of life. Paul shared with the Athenians, that God “gives to all life, and breath, and all things.” This is what the word of God does. This is it’s function. It gives us life and purpose and everything we need is found in God’s word. Why? Because it’s alive, it’s real, it’s actively creating. There is a Voice that commands and it happens. This is the voice of God by His word. Our life depends on His word. It cannot be ignored without consequence, without loss of life. God’s word has power.

 
God’s word is so powerful it is capable of results. It’s powerfully working His will out. And it is doing it effectively. He is actively operating out His will. And He is doing so more comprehensively, and more decisively by one fell stroke. In other words, His word impacts our life through significant situations that He introduces for the decisive purpose of directing us to obey and understand. His word is alive, so we must be confronted with it. We must get to the heart of it in real life and stand at a point of decision where we respond to it correctly, His way. He brings us to this crossroad by His sword, but not just by the thought of a sword.

 
See, this two-edged sword is able to get into the deepest and most hidden crevices of our lives and hearts. It’s like that surgeon’s knife that cuts precisely and with purpose between joints and marrow. The knife and the sword know what they are doing. They are removing what does not belong, what is harmful, what destroys life. Am I willing to submit to the sword? Am I willing to submit to the precision of the Surgeon’s knife?
But that word for sword is also the word for a double-mouthed river. Get it? A river has a mouth. Mouths imply speaking and words flowing forth, don’t they? God’s word is something that speaks into our lives. An amazing thing about it is how it can speak to one direction in my heart and in another direction in someone else’s heart through the same crisis or the same message. Yet, these are not conflicting words or messages we are hearing. God’s word is penetrating into our hearts and dealing with each of our hearts whether one needs to learn dependence on Him and another needs to learn independence from the world, whether one needs to learn the nuances to walking in faith more deeply, or the other needs to learn to take the first step of faith, whether one must learn to love by forsaking gossiping and another learn to love by sacrificing their life, whether one must learn to live, or one must learn to die.

 
The word of God is alive. I can therefore trust His word in my life to fill me with life as I respond in obedience. I can know that my life in Him has begun because life is in His word and from His word. I don’t have to wait for heaven. Life actually began the moment God created and especially the moment that He breathed life into man with His living word. But when we rebelled against His word through disobedience and distrust, we lost that life like Adam and Eve. We chose a cheap and temporary version instead. But by faith in Christ, through His sacrifice for us and His forgiveness, we are brought back into the life and power of the word that created us, we are brought back into unity, back into God’s purpose for us. What is His purpose for me? To be alive in Him. To display His life in this world. Heaven comes later. I was created for life here first. Yes, our purpose hasn’t changed from Genesis, “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” You know, the earth needs that life way more now than it did in the beginning, because now it’s like dead men walking. We’re here to give God’s gift of His word, His Life, His Power back to the world.

 
How will I respond to Your word today, Lord, or any day? What if You take everything from me? Will I listen and obey Your words to me in the midst of the crisis You bring into my life? When You throw my world upside down, will I stand on my head and do whatever it takes to hear and listen and understand what You are pointing out in my life, where I need to grow, what I need to turn from, how I need to obey? God, no matter what and no matter how strongly or deeply You must cut or speak, may I accept and listen and be healed as I respond in obedience. Teach me to obey that I do not suffer from choosing disobedience. Teach me to rejoice in the intervention of the cutting edge of Your word in my heart. Give me life and may I live in it.

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The Right Frame of Thinking

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Photo credit from Alaska Fish & Wildlife News (2003)

“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is in the midst of them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)

It’s not that I’m choosing things to depress here. I suppose I could choose all the flowery, happy feeling verses in Scripture and just share those. But if I were running toward the edge of an unforeseen cliff that would lead to my downfall or death, I’d certainly appreciate someone warning me and persuading me to turn from my desired path. Running off the edge to my death wouldn’t bring much happiness to me or my family. Turning and living out my days wisely and wonderfully would be a joyful thing. And maybe that’s what Hosea and God are trying to tell us. Maybe they are not trying to depress us but to call us back to a life of wonderful living in the One who created life to be lived to the fullest in Him.

Israel and Judah were running toward the edge of the cliff like lemmings. God was warning. You wanted them to live, not die. You wanted them to succeed, not fail. You wanted them to be victors, not defeated. The promise of Your Messiah was all about that. The promise of Your Messiah, trusting in You and Your provision, was all about Your people having life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, provision instead of want, relationship instead of duty. Jesus shared Your heart (which is His!) when He told us, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s not just a little more abundantly. That’s actually super abundantly, excessively, over and above and beyond measure!

But instead, like Israel did, we revolt against that. We hide from You. We go after other ideas and things that can’t supply like that, things that have no real power. We take these powerless things and we give them power over our lives. We sell out to them. We hand over our lives and our thoughts and our families and our desires to things that steal from us, kill us, and destroy us and those around us.

Think I’m crazy? Think about it. A father kills his daughter. Why? Because she chooses a different religious belief. He sends his children off wearing bombs to kill others and be killed in the process. He still isn’t guaranteed paradise. They live to die, but is that really living?  Do they have abundant life? Do they receive joy in this? Or are they being robbed due to lies? They are being killed and destroyed all day. Their hearts are being made callous. Their ears being made deaf. They think they know God, but Allah is nothing like God. They don’t know, and they frame their doings after this thief instead of after a God who wants to love them superabundantly. They follow another spirit who kills and destroys, who is killing and destroying their own and using them to do it.

But what about us? What about the ordinary John Doe or Jane Smith out there? What about those of us who know about You and about what You care about and yet we toss it back in Your face. “I can do what I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” You know, that doesn’t really work. Even this pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar came to that conclusion. Listen to his words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”(Daniel 4:37) And that’s the heart of our problem then and now. Pride.

Hosea tells us that Israel’s pride testified to his face. Pride closes eyes. Pride seals the ears. Pride changes the heart. Pride leads one to kill their daughter or their sons, not love. Well, what about Abraham, some might ask? Abraham didn’t want to kill his son. When Abraham lifted the knife, he was believing that His God, the True God, would make good His promise that through his seed, which was Isaac, He would make a nation. God can’t make a nation through a dead person. He has to be living. Abraham was trusting in a God of life NOW, not just later! He was thinking, “I must obey God because only in God is there life.” Abraham threw his pride out the door. His pride was in God and trusting in him. Now that’s faith! How many others would say, “No, God, that’s not a good idea. I think we need to do something else?” Well, that’s pride to think we know better.

Pride causes us to not frame our doings to Your doings God. We choose to not frame our thoughts with Your thoughts. We outweigh You which is such a ludicrous thought because the fullness of Your glory would just crush us; the weight of Your glory is unbearable. Let’s take this home a little closer to life.

I was reading a verse in Revelation this morning, Revelation 2:10 which says, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” What does it mean to have tribulation ten days? I’ve read some commentators that talk about 10 periods of persecution. I don’t doubt that, but what if You are telling us that we as believers can expect persecution? And what if we are to expect that persecution to last for some definite period of our life? After all, all 12 of the apostles were persecuted, 11 unto death, and one was sent into isolation. Each of them was persecuted for a set time and maybe that set time is like ten days in comparison with the superabundant complete life that You have planned for each of them and for us. How else could Paul honestly say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? The reality is that there is life in You even in the midst of persecution on this earth. We don’t have to wait to live till we die. We just continue living more fully after we die. To live is Christ, and to die is even more of Christ.

What happens when life throws all kinds of hard things at us? Do I handle it my own way? Do I try to manipulate my way through? Do I try to manipulate other people? Do I think that I shouldn’t have to go through this? Do I think that things are too hard for me or this just shouldn’t be happening to me or to those around me? Because of those thoughts, do I frame my own response and design my own actions based on my thoughts and feelings? Or do I trash my pride and frame my response and my thoughts according to Your thoughts and Your feelings and Your promises? Does that even really matter?

Do I think that only atheists and those following Islam are rebels? What about me when I won’t frame my doings after Yours? What about me when life is tough? Or when life is not tough? Who is my life framed after, me or You? Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” What does that mean? It means to be about what the Father is about. It’s not just about what He does, it’s about who He is and what He thinks and how He feels. Jesus’s frame of mind and life was based on the Father’s frame of mind and life. And that is what we are called to whether we come from an atheistic background, or an Islamic background, from Buddhist, or Christian, or Agnostic, or Postmodernism, or whatever. This is what we are invited into.

What difference could this frame of belief make in my life? Let me share two stories. Nik Ripken is a missionary from Tennessee that’s lived and loved in some really dangerous countries. While ministering and living in a neighboring country from Somallia, his son died of an asthma attack. The believers their surrounded Nik and his wife and family with prayer and provision and even came over and sang them to sleep every night before the funeral. Nik had called an office to share what happened with a friend who was a co-worker. The co-worker was not a believer. When the co-worker heard the news there was no answer. Nik thought it strange but figured he had been called away from the phone.

What really happened was that his co-worker started walking that instant from Somalia, across the border to where Nik was. Five days later the co-worker shows up bedraggled and smelly at his door with these words, “I came to bury our son.” At the funeral, he unculturally sat between Nik and his wife, all the while watching the response and listening to the words of all the believers around him. This muslim man, took hold of Nik’s hand and his wife’s hand. He sorrowed with them. But through this and the way the believers here framed their doings in the midst of tragedy, he came to see the life that Christ had for him. He saw the LORD. He came to know the LORD. And when he returned to his country, in the office with his fellow-workers where Nik had not shared for fear of death, this man shared the life that he had seen offered before him that day in the midst of a funeral.  Do you know what those other muslim workers asked, “If you knew this, Nik, why didn’t you tell us?” This is what it looks like when we frame our thoughts and our life after the One who is LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) And Jesus does not lie.

My second story is about a friend I love. It could be about any of us. It’s a story about any of us who go down the road of not liking our hardships and just wanting to get out of them. It’s the story about focusing on my own feelings instead of God’s glory. It’s a story about giving up instead of running the race to the end. Paul warned, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) Later in the letter to Timothy, Paul shared of his own journey, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7) But this isn’t the story of hardship and a life lived fully I wanted to share. Paul’s story is Nik’s story if he continues in the faith. Paul’s story is the story of those believers in Nik’s life who kept their lives framed on Christ even to the last moment that it was taken from them to the point the what was once over 200 believers in Somalia became only 4 living believers remaining. Let us heed Paul’s warning.

If I don’t heed Paul’s warning, when life gets rough and my temporary hardships (temporary compared to eternity) become what frames my thinking and life, I quit. I quit on God. I quit on myself. I quit on my family. I go off the grid. I take care of things my own way. I abandon and rebel against Your frame of thinking and doing. I do it on my own, in my own strength, which I’ve probably just cried out to You saying, “Lord, this is too much for me! I can’t do it!” And then of all the stupid things, after saying it’s too much for me and I can’t do this, I take matters into MY OWN hands. Yes, I’ve been there and done that. And my friend has been there and done that. Only I reframed my thinking and got it back to Yours and my friend didn’t. My friend left the support of loved ones because Pride said, “You are a burden to others.” When he died or maybe took his life, there was no one there to pray with him, to hold him. The light that should have shone to encourage others, has become a discouragement. And yet, I believe that God can use my dear brother’s lonely story to save someone else from the cliff of a wrong frame of mind focused on self and suffering instead of on Him.

Here’s the truth that would have framed my brother’s thinking differently, or at least some of the truth (there is so much truth, how could I ever share it all!). “I am a burden to my brothers and sisters.” What a lie! Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:16 that God’s heart that should be in us is to “not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Why is that pleasing to God? Why is that God’s mind frame? Because He does not neglect to do good for us and to share what He has with us, so it is a blessing for us to do the same. For me to share that blessing with a brother in need is for me to demonstrate that I have the mind of Christ by having the same heart and demonstrating it by my life actions. Brother, why didn’t You give me and others that blessing to love on You like our Lord wanted to?

We are all in need, sometimes in our life more than at other times. And some of us are in greater need than others. Those of us in Christ have had our greatest needs met, and because of that, when we are in a state of having goods and opportunities and see a brother in need, we are to reach out and share our goods and opportunities and love with him. Why? Because that is how God demonstrated his love for us. When Scripture says that “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” it’s not just saying because we were rebels against God. It’s saying while we were empty, lost, filthy, and in need, and without even realizing how much so, He opened His heart toward us and invited us in. That is love. That is what we are called to. That is what we are invited into.

Why did the Israelites and my friend lose their right frame of reference? Why do I lose mine sometimes? Paul answers that in part. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We focus too much on ourselves. We forget how our life effects those around us. We forget how our life effects the glory of God before others. We focus too much on our own interests and too little on Yours God, or on the lives of those around us. Self-pity is a form of pride and pride just leads to destruction. Thank You that Jesus didn’t surrender to self-pity and pride. Thank You that Jesus, though so agonized over going to the cross that He sweated blood, loved You and loved us more so that in Your interest and ours He gave His life and said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the proper and improper frame of thinking. It starts now, in this life, and not in heaven. Truth is, if we don’t think like God now, we won’t start to think like Him in the afterlife. It’s now or never. How do we handle caring for others now? Am I only thinking of my own hunger or do I notice others around me and care about feeding them? Am I only thinking about my own thirst or do I notice the thirsty around me and give them drink? Am I too worried about my loneliness or do I use it to help me see other strangers and lonely people and welcome them in. When I feel shamed and naked, do I see those around me being shamed and stripped and offer them clothing? When I am sick and hurting do I see those who are sick and hurting around me and lift them up and encourage them? When I feel imprisoned, do I notice the other prisoners and go to them?

Because if I have been delivered from any of these, then I know my Deliverer and I ought to be sharing the deliverance He gave me. And if I am in the midst of any of these trials, I need to be trusting in my Deliverer, even if it means trusting unto death. Look, I know it’s not easy, but the reward is ALL GAIN. Anything else, anything less is shear loss.
My brother may have surrendered his right to finish the race well. He finished. Maybe last. But he lost. He lost fellowship. He lost encouragement. He lost helping others. He lost meeting new brothers and sisters. He lost lots of life here and now. Not because he had to, but because he chose to frame his thoughts after his own thinking and not Yours.

He’s not alone. It’s a struggle many of us will go through or are going through right now. Multiple Sclerosis becomes so painful and constant and hard. You have to constantly focus rightly or it will guide your thinking. Constant back pain could do the same. Troubles from bullying or persecution from those who ought to be your friends. Problems with your children or problems with your parents or problems in your church or financial problems or other health issues like cancer or the loss of a loved one whether naturally or taken through violence are real. But how will we respond?

Hear this. Give ear. Don’t let it be a snare. Don’t let your own thinking and your own feelings be a snare. I know, I’ve been there. It’s not just about Israel or Judah or other nations. It’s about every man. We all have the tendency to be revolters. We all have a tendency to run like Adam and Eve from the Truth. We all have a tendency to frame our own doings and not turn to You, God. We all have a tendency to think we know You when we really don’t, because we won’t even agree with You.

Well, today is the day to choose to agree. Today is the day that I can hear the warning and avoid the cliff’s edge that leads to my destruction. Today is the day that I can choose to frame my thinking to Yours. But the choice is mine. What will I choose? Life or death? I can choose like Joshua did, to share the light of Life in my house and to my house and to all that are influenced by my house. What about you? Will you choose Light and Life no matter what or how you feel? Will your life somehow shine like Nik’s story? Or will you only choose Light and Life “if…” and leave your friends and loved ones feeling robbed and wishing you would have known the truth about how much you were loved? Are you even running the race yet? Jesus is inviting You because You can only finish well in Him. If You want Life, come to Jesus, because He is LIFE. Run in Him because He ran for you and He runs with us, that’s how we can cross the finish line no matter what. Frame your doings in Him and turn to Him who gives life super-abundantly.

Side note: Lemmings do not run off cliffs in mass suicide!  It was a Disney mis-truth made for a documentary.  Sometimes they migrate to where there is more food, and masses may dive into the water, but they can swim.  Sometimes they drown if they get too bogged with water.  You can check out the story under “Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior by Riley Woodford” and other places on the internet.  So, I don’t want to promote an urban myth now that I know it is one, but we’ll use that imagery for today.

A Yada Kind of Knowing

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“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  Psalm 1:6

There are two people being discussed in this Psalm.  On one hand we have the righteous and on the other hand we have the ungodly.  So what makes one a righteous person?  A righteous person delights in You, Lord, and Your ways and thinks about You and Your ways all the time.  A righteous person who is occupied with delighting in You and thinking on You, bears fruit in their life that resembles You.  The ungodly, though, have nothing firm to stand on, no foundation, no root from which they can draw life sustaining sustenance that resembles You.  But what hit me here isn’t at all about thinking about whether I am among the righteous or the ungodly only, but what it really means that “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.”  I mean, to me, it’s one thing to think that I have an inkling and am coming to learn Your ways.  But to think that You know the way of those who trust in You is something I want to think more about.  Stop and think.  God knows my way.  But those who don’t delight in God, there is no mention of God knowing their way.  There’s just mention that it will perish.

What does it mean that You know the way of the righteous, of those who delight in You.  It’s this word yada that I’ve gotten excited about before.  It’s all about knowing with the head and the heart and the actions.  It’s knowing and experiencing something.  And the more I read about it and the more I think about it, it’s as though You know us personally and interact with us personally.  It’s not like You just set things in motion and then stand back and watch.  That’s not yada.  It’s not just about seeing.  It’s about seeing and being involved.  It’s about seeing and experiencing.  It’s about being a part of the action with us.

Imagine that yada, or knowing, for God involves the emotions, the will, and the intellect.  That means that You, God, have feelings for us and toward us.  You weep when we stray or when we are too blind and stubborn to see and desire Your way.  Your will desires our presence with You.  You know everything about us and everything that is best for us.  I mean, let’s face it, You are all-knowing.  Therefore You are all-yada.

That doesn’t mean You don’t love those who are perishing, but because of who You are, those who do not make Your ways their ways, cannot be found righteous and come before You.  Why?  Because all people are invited into Your yada.  We are invited to know You as You know us.  We are invited to know You with our emotions, our will, and our intellect.  But some choose their own way and not Yours.  And sometimes, those who have chosen Your way, pick their own way up and need to be reminded of what we miss when we do so- the presence of God.

Listen to Isaiah’s words,  “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)  Here, the prophet Hosea is sharing Your heart with Your people who were prostituting themselves with Your enemies!  He pleads for them to return to You and the tearing and being smitten would be healed and they would be bound up.  You would revive them and raise them up and they would live in Your sight.  They wouldn’t just live.  They would see Your face, they would know Your face, because they could live in Your presence!  Then they would know You and Your ways, if they chose to follow You and Your ways.  Then You would come to them.  Why would we refuse that?  Who in their right mind would refuse You like that?  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe our minds are the problem and we busy them too much with thinking about other things.  Maybe if we started filling our minds with You, and cut off the other thoughts that want to grab our attention, we’d know what really mattered.

The truth is that Your heart breaks over us.  You feel distress, disgust, anger, betrayal, hurt, humiliation, heaviness, and hopelessness.  You feel.  But the question is, what kind of sympathy do we have for You?  Do I feel what You feel?  When my thoughts are occupied with other things, do I feel the separation?  Am I weeping over missing Your love?  Am I agonizing because our relationship is broken?  Do I even have a heart for You or am I just going through the motions?  How stupid will I let myself become?  How callous can I be?  Do I cry for You like You cry for me?

You know, God, I know a ton about You.  But it’s not about knowing info, is it?  How much do I feel the way You feel?  How sensitive to You am I?  How’s my empathy with You?  Do I really know You as You know me?  Is my life right?  Then my focus will be right.  Is it?

“YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)  “He knows those who take refuge in Him.”  Why do they take refuge in Him?  Because they know, so they do it and they feel it.  It’s a package deal.  We understand the relationship that You are offering here.  You are offering me shelter.  Why?  Because I need it.  Now, if someone offered me shelter when I was in need, how would I feel about that?  I would be emotional.  But that also means that the One offering me shelter has emotions toward me, emotions like empathy, concern, and pity.  This is not someone who is aloof, distant, and removed.  This is someone who wants to be intimately involved with us.  This is someone who wants us to want intimate involvement with  Him.  This is someone who feels deeply for us and wishes us to feel as deeply for Him.  Yada is all about unity, you know, “That they may be one” kind of unity.  God loves me.  He REALLY loves me!  What will I do with a love like this?

It’s not just an Old Testament idea.  We see it out of Jesus’ own mouth.  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”  (Matthew 7:23)   The problem is it’s so easy for us humans to get distracted.  Actually, I think we’re born distracted and distractible.  And we are not all lucky enough to grow up where we’ve been surrounded by people who have experienced the love of God in their own lives.  And we think it’s so easy to make up our own way and that God’s just going to give us kudos, a pat on the back for the “cleverness of me.”  But if Your word is truth and You are the only way, the only truth, and the only life, then everything else is lawlessness, emptiness, and foolishness.

Sometimes I want to feel Your presence right here, and right now, all the time.  But sometimes You step back to prove how I will respond.  See, You are forever faithful, but what about me?  Will I be faithful when no one seems to be looking?  Will I be faithful in the dark?  Will I be faithful when I can’t seem to hear You or see You or feel You?  Will I be faithful when I feel lonely?  Will I be faithful when I am hurt?  You were.  And You are.  But what about me?

Do I know You and love You so much that I would walk through all these experiences and more and continue to cling to the desire for You and Your presence no matter how long it takes?  Or will I allow myself to be drawn away by things that instantly gratify, by things that seem to fill my needs, which in the long run, never match up to You and leave me wanting and without refuge?

Loneliness, pain, disappointment, feeling unloved, or feeling under appreciated are not excuses to give my heart to another.  If only I realized that my cry is for You and not for lesser things, I’d find You much sooner.  I wouldn’t have to spend so much time in the lonely, bitter wilderness, would I?  My longing for Your presence will not be satisfied by anything else but finally coming into Your presence.  How can I ever be at home in a place that wasn’t created to be my permanent home?   How can I ever be satisfied with putting my trust in another, or being comforted by another who was not created to satisfy all my desires?

What a strange place we live in that was created for the glory of the One who created it.  Yet, this place refuses to submit to His purposes.  And these people think they can trump His desires all the time.  Will I allow myself to live and think contrary to You?    There’s a way that seems right to a man, a way that is contrary to You, but it leads to death.  I don’t want to go that way, but I fall into that way sometimes.  I want to be better prepared to see that way coming and refuse to accept it.  I want to remember the yada You have for me every moment so that I can reciprocate that yada.  I want to feel about You the way You feel about me and act upon those feelings.  I want to stop being attracted to lesser things and lesser thoughts.  I want to delight in You and everything about You no matter how long or hard the wait to feel Your presence.  See, if I’ve already experienced You even once, then I already know, and I have no excuse.

So Lord, I want to live in the blessing that exists in knowing and experiencing You.  I don’t want to act in accord with those who don’t know You.  I want to choose to delight in You.  I want to fill my ears and mind and heart with You.  I want to listen to You and speak about You and walk around and appreciate You.  I want to learn to wait on You, and wait and wait and wait and wait if I have to.  Because if I can learn to do that in the really hard times, then that hope and satisfaction I will have in You when You come to me will be unsurpassable by anything else.  I want to think about Your Word and Your ways and You all the time.  And I want to experience Your living waters flowing through me and producing beautiful fruit.

I am so grateful that You don’t give up on me.  I am so grateful that You forgive me and renew me.  I am so grateful that You are not a God who is far away and aloof but that You love me with a real and genuine and present love.  I’m so glad that You love me in an emotional way but that it’s not just some gushy love.  It’s a love that paid a price, through Jesus.  So, Lord, let my love also stand the test.  May my love for You be willing to pay any price to hold fast to You and never let You go.

John got it.  I want to get it too.  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”  “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.”  “He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.”  If I say I know You, then my life ought to show that I know You.  Words don’t cut the cake.  It’s only when you take the knife in hand and move your hand to slice that it happens. Thank You, Lord, for knowing me so intimately and inviting me to know You in that way, too.

Troubled Waters

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Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me.”  John 14:1Image

“Let not your heart be troubled.”  Is this on the same line as “be careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6)?  But as we look together, Lord, I see these aren’t the same.  Both “attitudes” lead us away from You, but there is a fundamental difference.  “Let not you heart be troubled” focusses on my “inner me” attitudes that guide my decision making.  It’s the “heart of the matter,” so to speak.  “Be careful for nothing” looks at the things that get in the way with my walk.  Both have to do with a wrong focus on my part.

“Let not you heart be troubled.”  What does that mean?  What is my heart responsible for?  The Greek word for heart is “kardia.”  Through my internet searching I found that it’s never used of the physical, blood pumping heart in Scripture.  Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament it is always referring to the inner life or intentions.  Strong’s Concordance defines it as the mind, character, inner self, will, intention, center.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it is the “‘affective center of our being’  and the capacity of moral preference (volitional desire, choice).  [It’s the] desire-producer that makes us tick” (G. Archer), i.e our ‘desire-decisions’ that establish who we really are.  It’s the “seat and center of all physical and spiritual life…’the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.'”  (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)

“Let not the “inner you” be troubled.”  “Let not your mind be troubled.”  “Don’t let your thoughts be troubled.”  “Don’t let your purpose be troubled.”  See, this is a whole different emphasis than “cares.”  But now I have to stop and figure out what my inner me, what my thoughts aren’t supposed to be doing.  They aren’t supposed to be troubled.  What does that really mean for me?  Troubled how?  Troubled about what?

“Tarasso,” is the Greek word for “to stir or agitate (roil water).”  Now the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon gives us some other thoughts on this word.  Not only can it imply agitation and troubling a thing “by the movement of its parts to a fro”, but it can imply  inward commotion where my calmness of mind is being robbed from me.  It disturbs my equanimity.  Oh, my, that’s a big, new word for me.  What does that mean?

Wow, this is an important word today.  According to Webster’s dictionary it means “evenness of mind.”  He goes on to define it as “that calm temper of firmness of mind which is not easily elated or depressed, which sustains prosperity without excessive joy, and adversity without violent agitation of the passions or depression of spirits.  The great man bears misfortune with equanimity.”  I think I’m beginning to get the picture of what You mean by “troubled.”

But the Lexicon goes on to say that “troubled” means to “disquiet, make restless.”  It means to “stir up.”  The expression “stir up trouble” comes to my mind.  It can mean to “strike one’s spirit with fear and dread.  Trouble can render me “anxious or distressed.”  It can “perplex the mind of one by suggesting scruples or doubts.”  Scruples?  I better not leave that word undefined.  Again, according to Noah Webster, scruples refers to “doubt; hesitation from the difficulty of determining what is right or expedient; backwardness; reluctance to decide or to act.”

“Let not your heart be troubled.”  Don’t doubt.  Don’t hesitate.  Don’t harbor false thinking.  Don’t let the doubts be stirred.  Don’t let fear take over.  Control your thoughts.  Think My thoughts.  Push out the foreign hand that’s stirring up the waters.  Concentrate on Me.  Let me speak, “Peace, be still” over your mind and heart and in your thoughts.  “Let not your heart be troubled.” Stop entertaining other thoughts.

How, Lord?  How do I do this.  You know that my mind is constantly going.  I’m one of those creative, imaginative people.  I’m always thinking.  How can I get my mind under control?  I can’t do it by myself.  I know.  My mind used to occupy itself so much with thinking that I couldn’t sleep sometimes.  The only way I could fix that was to ask You to give me a quiet mind at night.  And you did.  Now I sleep like a baby.  Just let my head hit that pillow.  “Let not your heart be troubled.”  How?

“You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  I’m going to go with the ERV version here.  “Trust in God, and trust in Me.”  This is the answer.  Trust.  It seems like such a simple word.  It’s only five letters.  I read it and figure, “Well, there’s an easy one I don’t need to look up.”  I mean, it’s not like “equanimity” or “scruples.”  But actually, it’s just as important or more so.  Because, what does it really mean to trust?  Especially, what does it really mean to trust You, Jesus?

How do I explain faith?  Well, I’m going to let some others help me understand.  This is one man’s explanation. “True Biblical faith has God as its object. We believe God and trust His Word. That Word does not tell us that we have any reason to expect to be the richest merchant on Main Street. It tells us, on the contrary, that we will have tribulations and that as Jesus’ disciples we will have crosses to bear. It assures us, however, of grace to bear them. Faith has a backward look. It declares that God has done mighty acts in days gone by. Faith also has a forward look. It declares that He can be trusted for the future….Faith is the firm assurance, the conviction, that God will do what He has promised to do. It would, of course, be presumption to insist that He must do what we want done. Many Christians grow disillusioned in their Christian lives because God does not conform to their wills. Faith takes God at His word; faith does not insist that He conform to our ideas. (Pfeiffer, C. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Chicago, IL: Moody Press)”

That’s not all.  Here is more.  “True Bible faith is confident obedience to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences.  Read that last sentence again and let it soak into your mind and heart. This faith operates quite simply. God speaks and we hear His Word. We trust His Word and act on it no matter what the circumstances are or what the consequences may be. The circumstances may be impossible, and the consequences frightening and unknown; but we obey God’s Word just the same and believe Him to do what is right and what is best. The unsaved world does not understand true Bible faith, probably because it sees so little faith in action in the church today. The cynical editor H.L. Mencken defined faith as “illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible.” The world fails to realize that faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word. “(Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament. 1989. Victor or Wordsearch)

Wow!  And listen to this comment.  “By defining faith (Gk. pistis) as “assurance” and “conviction,” the author indicates that biblical faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future—something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God—will actually come to pass because God will bring it about. Thus biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable “leap in the dark”; rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy—the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation, and who will “never leave nor forsake” his own (Heb 13:5).” (ESV Online Study Bible Crossway or Wordsearch)

A man named Vincent said, “Our senses may lie; God cannot (Titus 1:2). People fail; God does not (Nu 23:19). Circumstances change; God never does (Mal 3:6).”  And this is important, because of who my object of faith is.  I don’t have blind faith.  I have faith in You, Jesus.  I have faith in the Dependable One.  I have faith in the Faithful One.  I have faith in the Mighty One.  I have faith in You, Jesus, in God.  And that is what matters.  Because You alone are Dependable.

Faith is the conviction of the truth of You.  Faith is the conviction of the truth of God.  Faith is “You said it, therefore it WILL come to pass.”  Faith is believing in You, in everything You said, in every truth You showed.  Faith is my allegiance to You.  It’s 100% allegiance that leads to the “persevering of my soul” no matter the circumstances.   Bob Utley states, “Faith is a human response to God’s faithfulness and His promise. We trust His trustworthiness, not our own. His character is the key.”

I think of another word for trust that You showed me yesterday.  How the idea of laying my life down for You means to place all of my well-being and safety and care into Your hands.  I become Your “property,” Your “possession” to be cared for.  I become Your “legal” obligation.  Which is a good thing.  I can place all of me into Your hands because there is this legally binding eternal contract, Your death and resurrection for me, that guarantees my care.  Faith is trusting that contract 100%.  Faith is living and thinking as though I have been placed eternally into Your hands and I am Yours to be kept and cared for.

This is how I keep my heart from being troubled.  I keep myself in You.  I keep my thoughts lined up with Your thoughts.  I could list Scripture references that talk about being troubled.  Sometimes it has to do with being fearful.  I experience that sometimes.  And then I run to You and grasp Your Word even more tightly until it pushes the fear away and replaces it with love, power, and a sound mind.  Then there’s the difficult situations that just hurt to have to go through.  I’ve been there too.  Still in some.  I run to You.  I run to Your Word.  I run to fellow believers and I fill myself, my mind, with Your truth.   I cling to it.  And I experience that I am not alone; I am never forsaken; and I get to eventually become one of Your overcomers.  But most of the time, there’s a bantering that continually wants to pose doubts.  It comes from within and from without.  It can come from inside the church and from the world.  And sometimes it just pops up from my own mind.  But You say, “let not your heart be troubled.”  So, I’ll listen to You and trust You and not those thoughts that don’t line up with You regardless of whether they are from me, or a friend, or the church, or the world.

Yes, Paul, examined this idea.  See, he had been living under a false faith for a long time.  So he had come to understand the power in these words.  He shares the answer with the Corinthians and with us.  “The weapons we use in our fight are not the world’s weapons but God’s powerful weapons, which we use to destroy strongholds .  We destroy false arguments; we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

Lord, this is my prayer.  I want to rely on Your weapons.  Well, I don’t want to just rely on Your weapons; I want to rely on You and all that You are.  I want to live and make my decisions based on the reality of who You are, based on Your power.  Break every stronghold in my mind.  Tear down every brick and crush it to smithereens.   Every false argument that pops up in my mind, slay it, crush it, destroy it, and cast it out.  Every proud idea that puffs itself up against You, pull it down.  I want to actively join in this battle with You.  Give me the power to slay, crush, destroy, and cast out.  I want my thoughts to be obedience to You, to be lined up with Your thoughts.  I commit to not allow doubt, or fear, or discontent to remain in my mind.  I will actively entrust You with my thoughts and my life.   Let my mind be Your mind.  Let my life be Your life.

(Thanks to Doctor Judith Armandico Manito for letting me use her beautiful photo from home!)