Exploring Friendship with God- 2: Blood Brother

Two young girls sat on the back porch. They pricked their fingers with a pin and cemented their friendship with their blood in hopes of becoming closer.  It was an act to solidify their friendship and create a deeper bond.

As we explore the idea of “friendship with God,” we will see that the foundation of our relationship with God is the blood of his Son, Jesus. It is that blood which enables us to come into God’s presences and have a deep relationship with Him.

A Little Review
The concept of a friendship with God first caught our eye in the story of Abraham, not because Abraham was the first friend of God, but because Abraham was the first person that the scriptures actually say was a “friend of God.”

In the previous article, “Exploring Friendship with God – Part 1I,” we looked at the three scriptures that literally say that God considered Abraham his friend.

  • Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 2 Chronicles 20:7
  • But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend… Isaiah 41:8
  • And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God. James 2:23

The word for friend in 2 Chron.20:7 and Is.41:8 is “ ’ahab” and it means to desire, to breathe after- to long for, therefore,  implying a very deep and personal aspect of friendship that goes beyond the idea of companionship and takes into the realm of a deeply personal, intimate relationship. A relationship that involves sharing of inner thoughts and feelings leading to a “heart” knowledge of one another.

As we looked at several scriptures where the word “ ’ahab” was used, and we saw characteristics of God as a friend.

  • A friend of God is loved, beloved, and has God’s devotion and heart. Even more amazing is that God longs for me and longs to have a close personal relationship with me.
  • God’s friendship is characterized by a valuing and sacrificing. God values the friend, the beloved (us). He values us and so, he sacrifices what he must to make a way for the friendship to be reality.
  • God is humble and vulnerable in this friendship. He is willing to confide deep truths about himself and his will to me (us). God deems me (us) trustworthy of that confidentiality.

Really?
When I first heard someone talk about being “friends with God,” I thought this is preposterous. I was sitting in a co-worker’s living room. The people gathered there were freely sharing about their relationship with God. They made it sound as though they had some kind of special connection with God, an intimate relationship. I was shocked to hear people describing their experience with God as if he was their most adoring friend and closest confidant, but secretly I wanted that.

Yes, It’s True!
These claims of a close, personal friendship with God seemed far-fetched, but the more I read the scriptures the more insight I gained to this “friendship with God.”

Psalm 25:14 is a verse that clearly states  friendship with God is available to us. When we look closely at the word some scholars translate as “friendship” we will see it is no ordinary friendship but a mutual deeply intimate sharing of love and heart.

Look carefully at the rendering of the Hebrew word  ס֣וֹדcowd or sode” in the following versions of Psalm 25:14.

  • The friendship (cowd) of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. ESV
  • The LORD confides (cowd) in those who fear Him, and reveals His covenant to them. BSB
  • The secret (cowd) of the LORD is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant. NASB
  • The intimate counsel (cowd) of the LORD is for those who fear him so they may know his covenant. ISV

The word “cowd” comes from a primitive root meaning couch, a cushion, a triclinium, or a divan. It is a place where friends gather to share intimate conversation. It is, so to speak, the symbol of friends sitting together conversing, sharing the deep thoughts of their hearts. It extends to consulting with, counseling, and familiar conversation. The personal sharing of hearts. Each version above connotes this meaning. (See other passages indicating friendship with God: Proverbs 3:32; Job 29:4; 2 Chronicles 20:7; John 15:15; 1 Corinthians 1:9).

Also note, that the second part of each verse above makes a point to state that this close relationship leads to deep inner knowing of the heart and will of the other, in this case God.

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus in familiar conversations with his followers. At the Passover supper before Jesus’ death, we can picture him sitting on a divan or triclinium eating and talking with his friends, actually sharing deep things on his heart such as his upcoming death, the covenant of his blood, and even his betrayer.

The Basis Is Blood
I thought the people in my friend’s living room who were freely talking about their friendship with God seemed odd, and it was definitely foreign to me, but I wanted that. I wondered what would I need to do to have such a personal friendship with God.

As I began to study the scriptures, I realized that God opened the door for me to come near to him through the blood of Jesus.  And, what is more I did not have to stick my finger with a pin, feel pain and bleed in order to achieve a true and lasting relationship with God. It is Jesus who suffered and bled to bring me into the presence of God.

There are many passages in the Bible that explain the truth about the atoning blood of Jesus.
I isolated this timeless truth from a few passages. As I read and consider this truth in each passage, they reaffirm my belief and understanding of the basis for a friendship with God.

  • 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
  • Hebrews 10:9 – He (Jesus) did not enter (the presence of God) by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.
  • Hebrews 10:19 –“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…”
  • Romans 3:23-25a – “. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (See: Romans 3:19-26)
  • 1: 19-20 – “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.” (BSB) (See: Col. 1:18-23)

Reflections
The blood of Jesus is the foundation of our relationship with God. This thought is very reassuring to my faith. It is a clear and specific truth that shows us the extent of God’s longing for you and me to be His friend.

This truth brings a sense of relief and peace to me, in that I don’t have to be perfect, or sinless to come close to God. The blood sacrifice of Jesus makes me blameless and able to confidently approach God. I am not relying on myself, my knowledge, my achievements, or my personal righteousness, but I am relying on the blood sacrifice of Jesus.

This truth is especially reassuring to me as I walk under the shadow of death in this pandemic, I rest confidently on the blood of Jesus and know that He has secured for me an eternal friendship with God no matter what happens.

Exploring Friendship with God

I believe the idea of having a friendship with God is real and true. It is not an ethereal ideal or a fantasy proposed by pious minded people. There is a substance and reality to a “friendship with God.”

The events of 2020 nudged me to see that there is so much more I need to learn about a friendship with God. So in 2021, I am setting myself on a journey of exploring more about a friendship with God.

Two Things I Know
There are two things I do know: one is that a friendship with God explodes way beyond the boundaries of “religious” practice; and two, having a friendship with God involves a giving of my heart and my will. If I am always thinking of myself, how I feel, what I think, what I need and what I want, there will not be friendship, maybe acquaintanceship maybe – but not a friendship. Self focus and self-will are a brick wall to friendship with God.

What does it mean?
Abraham was called the “friend of God” three times in the scriptures, in 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23.

  • “Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” 2 Chronicles 20:7
  • “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend… ” Isaiah 41:8
  • And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God. James 2:23

So what does this term friend of God mean? In these Old Testament passages the word translated friend” is ‘ohabi/ ’ahab, and it is defined as “beloved, dearly loved, friend.”

’Ahab is derived from a primitive root meaning: “to desire, to breathe after, to long for.” This word carries within it a sense of intimacy, of personal depth that goes beyond the idea of a companion.

Wow! Imagine that! God longed for a friendship with Abraham. Abraham was dearly loved by God. God desired to be in a relationship with Abraham that involved vulnerability and a oneness.

“Longing” a Relational Word!
The truth and process of God “longing for a relationship” with people is described in Jeremiah 31:3.
“The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with loving devotion.”

  • “Everlasting love” and “drawn you with loving devotion” expresses longing, and an action taken on God’s part to initiate the relationship.

God longs to be close to you and me! As we read through God’s Word, we see God’s plan to provide a way for us to be with him. That plan involves the sacrifice of his Beloved Son, Jesus. This truth of the sacrifice of the Son of God is proof of God’s longing, his loving devotion and of his drawing us to him.

This “longing for” in friendship goes both ways. We, who seek this friendship, “long for” God.

This idea of “longing for God” is found in the Psalms. King David uses the expression “long for” to express his spirit’s need for God and his heart’s devotion to God.

  • I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, like a weary land…” Ps. 143:6

A Little More Understanding
Looking at a specific word such as “’ahab” in other scriptures helps to add shades of meaning to the definition of the word and gives us a more complete understanding.

A form of ’ahab is used to describe Abraham’s love for Isaac in Genesis 22:2.

  • Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love (whom you ’ahab; whom you long for)–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

This use of ’ahab helps us get a sense of the type of friend that is meant. It is a love of a father for his beloved child. There is a personal valuing of the beloved. There is so much value felt that it is near impossible to give up the beloved friend. This is one facet of being God’s friend.  You are valued by God.

We find this word “ ’ahab” again in Genesis 29:18 where it is used to describe the relationship of Jacob to Rachel.

  • “Jacob loved (’ahab) Rachel. And he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel’.”

Jacob’s love shows a longing to be in a personal relationship with Rachel. His love included sacrificing himself to work 7 years to have that close, personal relationship. So, to be in an “’ahab” relationship with someone is to be willing to sacrifice for them. God sacrificed His Son for you and me.

Friend in the New Testament
James refers to Abraham being a friend of God. The word for friend used here is “philos*” it refers to someone who is valued, dearly loved in a personal way; a respected, trusted confidant. * https://biblehub.com/greek/5384.htm

In John 15:5 Jesus says that he views the disciples as friends – “philos,” not servants or workers.

  • “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

A friend of God is a trusted confidant. Jesus shared with the disciples what the Father had said to him. Jesus shared trusted truths and mysteries of God with them. He revealed the heart of God to them. (See John 17:8,17,26)

For me to share deep heart feelings and thoughts, even personal insights in the word of God, with someone I have to have a solid trust in them. I trust their love for me, their heart to protect me; and that they will respect and value what I share. Jesus is this friend to me (us), he trusts me (us) with His knowledge, secret truths and mysteries.

A Friend But Not a Friend!
In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the parable of the kingdom of heaven being like the owner of a vineyard who hired workers for his vineyard. All the workers received the same wage, no matter what time of day they worked.

At the end of the day the first hour workers were paid the same as the eleventh-hour workers. Upon seeing this, some of those who worked all day grumbled about everyone receiving the same wage. The owner of the vineyard (God) answered them saying, “Look friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?”

Jesus used a specific word here for “friend,” and it is not “philos.” Philos implies a mutual friendship in which each friend holds the other as beloved and valued; both will give and share for the good and the joy of the other.

In Matt. 20:13 the word is “hetairos” which is translated as friend or comrade; however, it has the idea of “imposter” associated or attached to it. That is, one who poses as a friend and calls himself a friend but who has an agenda of self-interest and self-gain.

Jesus exposed the nature of their friendship, their association to him. This causes me to think more deeply about my friendship with God. What kind of friend am I to him?

Jesus uses “hetairos” when he addresses Judas in the garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus: “Friend,” Jesus replied, “do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus, and arrested Him. Matthew 26:50

Reflections
I think the definitions of the term “friend of God” that are relayed in scripture defines a concept that is layered with implications for my relationship with God.

I see that a friend of God is loved, beloved, has God’s devotion and heart, even more amazing is that God longs for me and longs to have a close personal relationship with me.

God’s friendship is characterized by a valuing and sacrificing. He values the friend, the beloved (us). He values us and so, he sacrifices what he must to make a way for the friendship to be reality.

God is humble and vulnerable in this friendship. He is willing to confide deep truths about himself and his will to me. God deems me (us) trustworthy.

As I explore what true friendship with God means, and as I see the characteristics of God in this friendship, I am led to ask several questions about my part in this “friendship.”

  • Does my interaction with God indicate that I love to be with him, that I long for Him?
  • Do I value the deep truths about God, his kingdom that he shares with me?
  • Do I seek his interests and his will?
  • Am I vulnerable in my relationship with God in that I will share with him my darkest parts, and am I willing to let go of those things in order to love him?
  • Am I humble with God? Do I ask him how I can be a better friend to him?
  • Do I know what God likes, what pleases him in relationship with me?
  • Am I a friend of God or an imposter?

I invite you on a journey to explore your relationship with God.

Star of Wonder, Star of Light

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,
and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:1-11

Matthew 2: 1-11 refers to a bright seemingly unusual star leading the “wise men” to Bethlehem to see Jesus. The wise men were similar to astronomers of our age, so when they observed this different and unusual star phenomenon they were drawn to it.

According to their understanding such a celestial occurrence signified the birth of a pre-eminent king. Perhaps they were truly wise men because they interpreted the language of the heavens as a message from God. They understood about the heavens revealing knowledge of God, though they may not have ever read these words of David in Psalm 19.

  • “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Ps. 19:1-4

Compelled by intellectual curiosity and possibly faith, these men set out to learn, explore, discover and then adore.

A Star for 2020
Astronomers of the 21st century are pointing to a phenomenon in the skies that is symbolic of light and hope in these dark times. These sky scientists report that in this year of chaos and darkness that the “Star of Bethlehem” will be seen again.

Actually, this “star” is the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that occurs every so often in history. It is thought that such a conjunction occurred around the time of the birth of the Christ. It is believed that this conjunction of the planets appeared as one very intense star, and this is what the “wise men” saw, studied and followed.

Current day astronomers report that on December 21, 2020, we will experience a similar conjunction of planets which will be seen as a very bright, intense star, that scientists have dubbed the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem.”

True Light of Our Life
A leader in our country recently said that this winter we are heading into some of the darkest times. When I heard this statement I began studying the scriptures about light, so I can walk through this darkness. Light dispels darkness.

It is because of this statement and mindset that I write this blog and remind us of the “Star” of Bethlehem – Jesus Christ the Lord. I propose to us that these “dark times” can be full of light and hope if we set our eyes, our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.

  • Jesus said … “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

God is Light
There are many scriptures about “light” in the Word of God, and why not since God, himself, is light. So if we draw near to God we will be in his light no matter what form of darkness happens to be around us.

Let’s read and meditate on some of these “light” verses. Take some time to think about these verses, savor them and think of this Light in your life today.

  • And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you: God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
  • The LORD is my Light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom or what shall I be afraid? Ps. 27:1
  • The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent… Psalm 104:2
  • The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:3
    Note: The word translated “radiance” means “the light flashing forth from.”
  •  He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. Daniel 2:22 (read Dan. 2:17-23)
  • In him (the Word/Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” John 1:4-9 (Note: Light in these passages is directly associated with Jesus. He is the Light).
  • For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6
  • Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps.119:105

Walking in the Light
During this time of threatening darkness, I am seeking to learn to walk in the light. So I am looking to shed God’s light on my path. Throughout the scripture there are truths that serve as “points of light” that will help us through this darkness. Here are some points of light that have encouraged my mind and spirit through this pandemic.

When I feel isolated and alone, these truths help me remember the closeness that I have with God, and the constant connection to family that I have available to me within the church.

Isaiah 40:11, “He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads the nursing ewes.”

  • This picture of God as a shepherd bringing his sheep close to his heart reminds me of his love and care for me.

Psalm 46:1, “God is my refuge and strength and ever present help in the time of trouble.”

  • This point of light helps me see that God is “ever present,” and my relationship with him as a place where I can find refuge and strength.

1 Corinthians 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

  • This truth reminds me that God called me to be in a relationship with him and with the company of those who believe in Jesus. So I am not in this alone. I am connected as in that connection with God and others I am called to encourage and build up. (1 Thess. 5:11- Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”).

When I feel purposeless and like a “no count,” I turn to the light of God’s word to speak truth to me. There I see that my purpose remains the same, it is to share the light of the world and faith with others. I regain a true perspective of who I am and what my purpose is.

  • Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
  • 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

When I feel weary of restrictions I read these points of light which give me strength.

  • Isaiah 40:31, “…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
  • James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
  • Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Finding Points of Light
There are many difficulties that we and others are facing, and there are many truths in God’s word to encourage our hearts and minds. I urge you to find truths in God’s word that serve as points of light for you. Make them your own, cherish them, and then use them to encourage others.

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“Star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright . . . guide us to your perfect light.”

A Thought for Thanksgiving

Eight months into the pandemic and we see no light at the end of the tunnel. Many have been sick; many have lost loved ones. Many are scraping through financially because of work shut downs. Others have fraught nerves as they juggle working at home and helping their children with online school. All of us are weary of the restrictions that have changed our lifestyle.

The difficulties and suffering of 2020 is like a heavy weight on the soul. However, even though no respite seems in sight and that light at the end of the tunnel is a shadowy mist, there is light, if we just look for it.

The idea of thanksgiving to God may seem ironic to some considering the above mentioned struggles, yet as we approach Thanksgiving in 2020, we may need to consider more deeply the idea of thanking God.

I read scriptures each week with a woman who recently had half her lung removed due to cancer. Recently, we selected a few Psalms that focused on giving thanks to God. She read the passages with a weak voice and halting breath, but with genuine thankfulness. Looking at who God is and meditating on his wondrous deeds increases faith and radiates light and hope.

Giving Thanks Brings Light
These readings caused me to consider studying about thanking God. The deeper I went into studying thanksgiving to God, the more layers to it I found to this concept. As I read I became more hopeful and more faithful. Thanking God brings things into perspective, at least for me it does.

The Praise and Thanksgiving Connection
The concept of thanksgiving to God and praise are interrelated. Some writers of scripture use the two words interchangeably. We see this in Psalm 100:4:

  • “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

The three words: thanksgiving, praise and bless are used as parallel structures while there are shade of difference in each meaning, these words are used in a poetic sense to repeat the same idea. In so doing each defines the other by adding a slightly different dimension.

A similar parallel structure is found in the passages below.

  • “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” Ps. 69:30
  • “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise” Ps. 35:18
  • “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.” Ps. 7:17

A facet of praising God is thanking God, so when I thank God, I am praising him as well as showing my need for him and dependence on him.

The Thanksgiving and Sacrifice Connection
In my studies I came across an intriguing passage about thanksgiving.
Hebrews 13:15 infers that giving thanks is equivalent to offering a sacrifice to God.

  • “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (NKJV)

This image of our thanks to God being a sacrifice is found in the Old Testament.

  • “I will offer to You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.” Ps. 116:17
  • “And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” Ps.107:22
  • Sacrifice a thank offering to God, and fulfill your vows to the Most High.” Ps. 50:14
  • “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Ps.141:2

These passages refer back to one of the types of sacrifices that the Israelites made to God. It is referred to as the “thank” offering and was offered in association with the “peace or fellowship” offering which celebrated having peace and fellowship with God. (Leviticus 7 provides specific details about these sacrifices.)

These sacrifices lead us to Jesus, our “peace” offering.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God, we have peace with God and are brought into His presence. (Read: Romans 5:1; 1 John 1:3, Eph. 1:4.-7).

Thanksgiving in Approaching God
When I was a young girl, attending church was a big deal. We got washed up and put on clean clothes, “Sunday best.” After all, this was serious business we were coming to worship God.

We really don’t need special physical clothes to come before God to show him respect and give him honor. The scriptures talk about an attitude of the heart that we need to wear to come before God, and that is a thankful heart. This idea is illustrated in the passages below:

  • “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Ps.100:3-4
  • “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” Ps.95:2
  • “Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.” Ps. 118:19-20

In the New Testament we see the same attitude when approaching God in prayer.

  • “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phil. 4:6
  • “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful…” Col. 4:2
  • “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men,” 1 Tim. 2:1
  • “Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:16-18

As I meditate on all these verses, I ask myself is giving thanks to God a primary characteristic of how I approach God. Hebrews 4:15-16 states that we can approach God with confidence because of what Jesus has done for us, but do I also approach with awe and a grateful heart?

Thanksgiving and the Life of a Disciple
As I study about giving thanks to God, I learn that thanksgiving characterizes the life of a disciple. Genuine thanksgiving characterizes how we receive the kingdom to how we should be talking to one another in the kingdom.

  • Receiving the Kingdom:
    “Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be filled with gratitude, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Hebrews 12:28
  • Growing in Faith:
    “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Col. 2:6-7
  • Communion: Fellowship with the Jesus and the Body
    “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” 1 Cor. 10:16-17
  • In Generosity:
    “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” 2 Cor. 9:11
  • In Purity and Speech
    “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Eph. 5:3-4
  • In All of Your Life
    “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col.3:17

Reflections
From my study I see that thankfulness is valued by God. A thankful heart and mindset will transform our relationship with God and with one another.

Thanksgiving and praise to God changes my perspective, my feelings, my interactions and my actions. Thankfulness increases my faith and shines light and hope in these dark times.

I am encouraging you to meditate on the passages in this study over the next few days, add new passages that you discover, Share what you are learning with others by thanking them.

As you talk with God ask him to open your eyes to the ways he is currently blessing you and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to him.

 

 

A Word from a Friend

The pandemic has brought many things to the surface in our society and in our own hearts.
In this posting I am sharing a blog post a friend of mine has written. It shares the inner turmoil of thoughts and feelings that have come in focus for her during this time.

After reading her thoughts I began to feel a lot of things, at the forefront of these thoughts is how we as the family of man, and even more so as a “spiritual community” need to stop and listen to these thoughts and feelings, and learn about others, about ourselves and about the culture in which we live.

As a “spiritual community” we need to ruminate on what love looks like and sounds when encountering these feelings of others. How can we listen without defensiveness? How can we listen with love, acceptance and empathy?

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 speaks truth into the “spiritual community” and set a guideline for how we listen and how we respond.

  • “ God’s purpose was that the body should not be divided but rather that all of its parts should feel the same concern for each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share its suffering. If one part is praised, all the others share in its happiness.” 1 Corinthians 12:25-26

My friend’s intent was not to cause us to think about spiritual principles, but more for her to write a blog about the importance of community and building into one another. I added the scripture thought because I believe we need God’s wisdom as to ways to love one another. As you read my friend’s thoughts and feelings, think about how you can suffer with her.

Becoming Your Best Self Doesn’t Mean You Have To Do It Alone 
A lesson I’ve just been learning on my journey to becoming my most authentic and best self is that I don’t have to do it alone. When we think of inspirational people like Michelle Obama, Oprah, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we think of them as a single entity. In reality, there are many people working behind the scenes to make them shine. The truth is everyone has a team, who’s on yours?

 At a Crossroads 
Lately, I’ve been struggling with my identity. The past eight years, my identity has been shaped by my faith, but now I find myself at a crossroads. I’m so deeply troubled by the racial turmoil that has taken over the U.S and the rest of the world. I find myself questioning if I can indeed be a Christian and an African American woman all at the same time. How does my faith that preaches being humble, patient, kind, compassionate, and peaceful, live in the same body of a tired, angry, sad, fearful African American woman? I wish I had the answer.

The church I’m part of has begun waking up to the issues of systematic racism and inequality in the world today against people of color. I’m grateful that collectively there is a church movement to be more culturally inclusive and address its past negligence and ignorance. But it feels really late.

On the flip side, I’m dealing with the resurfacing of suppressed trauma of blatant racism I’ve encountered that I’ve never dealt with. I’ve had to bottle it up because that’s what black people do to survive in a world whose fundamental core is rooted in oppression.

I’m at a place where I recognize how white the world is and the power that the white majority has over our government, education, economics, media, etc., and I’m sick of it. I’m no longer going to conform but to educate others and myself and take actionable steps towards equality and liberation.

 Seeking Guidance 
Yesterday, I was able to get some in-person (social distancing, of course) time with two of my closest friends. Those two conversations didn’t give me any solutions to the internal dilemma, but they did help me realize I can’t do it alone.

To protect their privacy, I’ll call them Louisa and Lena. Louisa is an older woman who has been in my life for the past five years. Lena is a few years younger than me and has been a friend since my undergrad days at Salem State. They were both there for me when my mom was going through chemo and became the family I needed when she later died.

Louisa helped me to see outside of my pain. She gave me an objective perspective and was also willing to ask questions to draw out my heart. Lena reminded me that even though our life circumstances are different, I can be vulnerable and real even if she couldn’t fully relate to everything I was going through.

Find Your Tribe
We all need a support system. If you don’t have trusted advisors, friends, or family helping you along the way, you miss out on reaching your fullest potential. It’s nearly impossible to become your best self on your own. Make sure you choose people who not only love you but strive to push you towards growth. If they aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, especially when you’re stuck in your own way, even better!

So, I urge you to find your tribe, those who will love you on this journey of becoming your best self. You deserve it. You need it. And the people who you’ll meet and impact along the way will be blessed by it.

 

Expressions of Beauty

We have been in the pandemic for 6 -7 months now. Our spirits tend to be weary and our perspective may need readjusting more frequently.  During this pandemic we have seen the sad reality of sickness, suffering and death, and we are receiving a clear view of the pain and ugliness of racism.

Each morning as I start my day, I sit on my back porch and look for beauty. I am never disappointed. The trees, sky and river express beauty. When I see the deep green of the trees; the architecture of their branches and leaves; the delicate wings of the birds; and the soft blended colors of pink, orange, blue, and purple in the sunrise I feel hopeful  because I see the beauty of God in the midst of the painful reality of these times.

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the beauty of the Lord. I imagine the beauty radiating from Him as a brilliant light, a sparkling and flickering of different colors.  Somehow I always come up short, expecting some type of ethereal, mystical encounter, but perhaps God’s beauty is less ethereal and more readily understandable.

The Beauty of the LORD
My heart and imagination are captivated at the thought of God’s beauty as prayed for by David in Psalm 27:4.  David writes of his heart’s longing.

  • “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and inquire in his temple.”

I am drawn in by the fact that David asks God to grant him the ability/opportunity to gaze on the beauty of God all the days of his life. Another fact stands out and that David believes it is attainable, we know this because the verse goes on to say that David seeks after this.

Start with the Word
I have to start somewhere in this quest so I start with the word “beauty” as used in Psalm 27:4.

There are several words for beauty in the Hebrew language, but the Spirit selected the Hebrew word transliterated “noam,” to be used in verse 4 of Psalm 27 perhaps because it refers to more than just the beauty of appearance.

 “Noam”  literally means delightfulness, but has an expanded definition of splendor, grace, beauty, kindness and pleasantness.

In Psalm 90:17 the word “noam” is defined as: beauty, favor, kindness or delightfulness.
The NIV, NASB, ESV, and HSCB translations of the Bible use the definition favor for “noam,” thus yielding another facet of the beauty of the LORD – His favor or grace.

“Let the favor (noam) of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Psalm 90:17

The Beauty of the LORD – Jesus
The more I think of the different facets of the word “noam.” The more I begin to see Jesus, beautiful in grace, kindness, tenderness, and full of splendor.

I see the beauty of the LORD in:

  • Jesus reaching out and touching the leper (Mark 1:40-42);
  • Jesus looking around with grief in his heart at the religious leaders who want to withhold healing from a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6);
  • Jesus as he shows mercy to the woman caught in adultery by silently sending away those who would stone her (John 8:1-11);
  • Jesus calling his friend Peter to come walk on the water with him and then lifting Peter up when he fell (Matthew 14:22-33);
  • Jesus as he lifts up the “bleeding woman” and calls her daughter (Mark 5:25-34);
  • Jesus compassionately raising the only son of a widow from the dead so he can for his mother ( Luke 7:11-17);
  • Jesus hanging on the cross breathing his last and asking the Father to forgive his accusers and killers, (and us) (Luke 23:33-34);
  • Jesus letting a doubting man touch the nail holes in his hands in order to strengthen the man’s faith (John 20:26-28).

Reflections on His Beauty
So when I mentally “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD,” I see Jesus!

Surely Jesus is the beauty of the LORD.  Jesus exemplifies all that is delightful about God; all the grace of God; all the kindness of God; all the splendor and power of God – all His beauty.

Hebrews 1:3 expresses this thought of Jesus being the beauty of the LORD in slightly different terms.

  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his beingsustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

When I gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and see Jesus it renews my hope in this dark time. Remembering the beauty of the heart and character of God brings a sense of peace and inner calm.

I can become preoccupied with the fear of the pandemic; the hatred and pride in political controversy; and the grievous injustice of racism. Focusing on the truths of the beauty of the LORD in Jesus produces faith and courage in me to move forward and not be enslaved by fear, depression and hatred. I can move forward with hope and faith to become a part of His beauty as I build into others and into my spirit.

Take some time and reflect on the beauty of the Lord that you see in Jesus, let it refresh your heart, faith and way of living.

Fragmented or Focused

We are six months into living with the corona virus. Over the summer, with bright sun and access to open air, we felt a little more secure to get out and about, and more hopeful about life.

We are at the end of August moving forward into autumn and the beginning of the school year. Concerns, anxieties and full blown fears about the virus are beginning to surface This is understandable because, even after 6 months, we know very little about the nature and long term workings of this virus. So anxieties rise in our minds and hearts concerning the safety of our loved ones and ourselves.

Jesus Speaks About and To Anxiety
Many people define anxiety as worry; fear; or a preoccupation with the difficulties and problems of life. Such a definition has truth to it, but when we look at the definition of anxiety we can get a deeper understanding of the term and the process.

Jesus understood the process of anxiety and addressed it. In Matthew 6:25 to 33, Jesus uses the term anxious 4 times.

Here are the statements about anxiety that Jesus made.

  • 25 – Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious (merimnate) about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
  • 27And which of you by being anxious (merimnon) can add a single hour to his span of life?
  • 28 – And why are you anxious (merimnate) about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
  • 31 – Therefore do not be anxious (merimnesete), saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

What is Anxiety?
“Merimnao” is the Greek word used in these passages. It is translated anxious or worried.

There is a deeper understanding associated with the term “merimnao. It comes from a root that means: to be fractured or fragmented; to be divided into parts; to be drawn into opposite directions at the same time; to be distracted.

Anxiety fragments our thinking and distracts us from a more clear focus. It impacts the way we think, reason, perceive and interact with our situation, people and God.

In the spiritual realm, anxiety pulls us between faith and distrust. It distorts and distracts us from trusting God and focusing our thoughts and activity on what God would have us do and be.

I believe Jesus was emphasizing the word “merimnao” and its meaning to conclude with a play on words to provide a solution. Jesus re-directs the anxious fragmenting thoughts by directing our focus on kingdom truths. Jesus uses a word that pulls fragmented thoughts together, he says, “Seek” (v. 33).

Seeking requires determined, continual focus and looking for. Seeking” pulls our thoughts and actions together and unites them to one focus, rather than for them to be pulling in opposite directions or scattered and fragmented into many ways.

Anxiety Close Up
An example of anxiety is seen in a follower of Jesus named Martha. We read this in Luke 10.

Jesus is visiting with his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He is teaching and speaking with them and others, sort of like a neighborhood Bible study, without the Bible but with the “living Word of God.” Martha is anxious about her hospitality mainly meal preparations.

Her mind is fragmented, distracted and pulled in different directions that she misses the main focus of her hospitality which is to relate with Jesus. Her anxiety affects her thinking about her sister, her words, and her time with Jesus.

We don’t know the back story of Martha’s thinking, but my guess is that she wanted to hear and learn from Jesus too, but she became overly focused on serving a meal. She became focused on the details of the work of the meal rather than the joy of being with Jesus.

Her anxiety arose from the conflict of the seemingly opposing goals. She gave into the one and allowed it to fragment her thinking, distract her focus and pour out of her heart.

A Choice
Jesus helps Martha to refocus.  In verse 41 Jesus says, ““Martha, Martha,” the Lord replied, “you are worried (merimnao) and upset about many things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion”

Jesus tells Martha, “Mary has chosen the better portion.” We can choose to be fragmented by anxiety by allowing the anxious thoughts free reign.

Martha could have chosen what would bring her closer to our Lord. Giving free reign to thoughts of resentment, anger, and jealousy did not bring her closer to God or to her sister.

Getting It Together
I cannot give you 5 steps to prevent anxiety in your life at this time. I do believe Jesus’ words point us in the direction of controlling our scattered thoughts of fear and “what ifs” and focusing on truths about God.

Throughout this time of uncertainty and upheaval, I have tried to focus on God’s faithfulness, his goodness, his sovereignty, and his proven love.

Pulling together my thoughts of fear and doubt by focusing on truths about God has helped me move forward in my relationship with God and others during this time.

In Psalm 86, the psalmist understands that a key to his relationship with God is pulling together his fragmented thoughts, emotions, and desires. I believe the psalmist understands he is unable to do this without the help of God, hence his prayer in verse 11.

  • “Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth;
    unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

In the Hebrew word “unite” we come full circle to what Jesus said about anxiety.
Anxiety fragments, distracts and scatters us. “Unite” means to join, to bring together all our parts and scattered pieces to be focused on God.

So when all else fails and anxiety pulls our emotions, thoughts and actions in all different ways, we can pray: “God, unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

Hugging God

The idea of “hugging God,” may seem a little odd or even irreverent. Yet, God actually commanded Israel to do just that. This is exactly what God tells them to do in Deuteronomy 13:20: “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.”

You may read this and think, “I don’t see the word hug in this verse.” But it is. The word translated “cling” comes from the Hebrew word dabaq/dä·vak’.” It means: hug, cling, cleave, hold fast, adhere, or joined together. (Note:  “dä·vak’” is the spelling to help us with the pronunciation).

Our God desires an intimate relationship with us, and I believe God meant this word in all the intimacy a hug implies. Dä·vak is a word of connection and of relationship. It denotes a more personal, intimate aspect of that relationship. It implies need, devotion, respect, love and a desire for closeness.

Embracing God
In Jeremiah 13:11 God uses the image of a waistband that is closely fitted and tied around a waist to describe how closely God desired the children of Israel to hold onto Him.

  • “For as the waistband clings (dabaq/ dä·vak’) to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’” (NASB)

In this passage, we see the term dä·vak’ bringing out the close connection that God desires with His people, as close as a waistband or belt around the waist. God wants us to be so close in relationship with Him that we are like children putting our arms around our Father’s waist and hugging.

When I was a child, I used to hug my dad in this way. I would put my arms around his waist in a clinging hug and stand on his feet. He would begin to walk around the room with me holding on and being carried along.

A Soul Hug
The above memory from my childhood of putting my arms around my dad’s waist and being carried along is a physical picture of a spiritual reality as noted in Psalm 63:7-8.

  • “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings (dä·vak’)  to you; your right hand upholds me.”

This scripture speaks of our soul embracing God and clinging to Him. God is reciprocal in this relationship, as we put our arms around him, He holds on to us as noted in verse 8.

Joined Together
The Modern Hebrew word for glue isdevek which comes from the same root as “dä·vak’ .”
This word highlights the idea of adhering to God, joining to God much like glue causes two things to adhere, stick together or be joined together.

When we believe and are baptized into Christ, we are joined to him. Paul, the apostle expresses this truth in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is speaking to the disciples about purity. He warns them against being “joined” to a prostitute, and reminds them that such behavior does not sync with the fact that they are joined to Christ, so much so that we are one with Jesus.

  • “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”1 Cor. 6:17 NASB

The New Testament Greek word for join in this passage is “κολλώμενος” from κολλάω
which  literally means I glue;” but is translated to join; to adhere; to cleave, and to keep company with.

So the concept in the word “κολλάω” is very similar to that of the Hebrew term “dä·vak’.” Both terms imply a full embracing of God in a continual relationship.

Like Flesh to Bone
To emphasize the closeness that God desires let’s look at Job 19:20. Job is describing his physical state; he is in terrible condition from his affliction that he barely escaped death.

Job uses a form of the word “dä·vak’ ” when he says: “My skin and flesh cling (da be gah) to my bones; I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.” Job 19:20 BSB

So this verse gives us another description of closeness to God, that we should “adhere/cling/cleave” to God as our flesh clings to our bones and our skin!

The Ultimate Embrace
God’s desire, His will, His intention is for us to live so close in relationship to Him that it is like living a hug. We are to cling to Him as we walk with Him.

Jesus expresses this desire in His prayer. I know this passage is traditionally interpreted as referring to “unity;” which it is, but I believe Jesus is referring to an absolute closeness with God to the point of being “one” with Him. It is being joined in such a way that we, as individuals and as His body, the church) are taken into Him. We might look at it as the ultimate embrace that melds us into him.

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)

Thinking about Hugging God
This concept has a deeper and truer significance than is noted at first thought. I give this study to you for meditation. As I studied this word “dä·vak’ ” and looked at God’s desire for me to be “huggingly” close to Him, I began asking myself questions. I will share these with you maybe they will help you in considering your relationship with God.

  • Do I “hug” God during my times with Him of reading His Word and praying, but release my embrace as I walk through the day? Am I like the picture of the child hugging her/his father around the waist while standing on his feet as we walk, a sort of dance of holding on and supporting?
  • Do I “cling” to God all the time or only during times of trouble and affliction?
  • In times of trouble, affliction and weariness with life, do I cling to God and trust Him? Or do I seek comfort or diversion in entertainment, social media, food, people, or ____________? (Fill in the blank).Or do I lash out at others and God in frustration?
  • Do I see myself as being “joined” to God so much so that I am willing to give up my will for His will, even if it means letting go of a relationship, a career, an addiction, a title or position?
  • If I were to give myself over to this concept, what would “clinging and adhering” to God look like in my life? What would my prayers sound like? How would this change my relationships; my view of difficulties and affliction; my view of other people?
  • What am I joined to; what am I cleaving” to if not God?

“Faith Spurs”

“Continue to pray and do not lose heart,” are words of encouragement that Jesus gives to his followers.

There are many situations and events in our world, our country and in each of our personal lives these days that can cause us to lose heart.  Jesus’ words give a sense of comfort and peace.

? Are you growing weary of:

  • social distancing
  • return spikes in the COVID virus
  • working at home
  • not working
  • limiting activities outside your home
  • issues in our society such as justice and equity that do not really change
  • concerns about marriage; being single; parenting ?

Are you weary of praying about these concerns and other problems and not seeing definitive answers?

Jesus Speaks to Weariness
Jesus “gets it,” and he addressed this weariness regarding prayer. In fact he addressed it using a parable concerning a social injustice.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells his followers a parable to reinforce the truth that they should continue to pray and not lose heart. To emphasize his point, Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. (See Luke 18:1-8)

The widow had been unjustly treated, cheated out of what was rightfully hers (Luke 18: 3-4).

She went to the “source of justice” for help, but found more corruption there (Luke 18: 4).

The widow did not shrink back, she continued to speak out and seek justice from the “corrupt, uncaring” judge.  In the end her perseverance was rewarded, not because of the “good heart” of the judge towards her, but because he did not want to continue to be “annoyed” by her (Luke 18:5).

Jesus then assures his followers that God is the righteous judge who sees and will answer (Luke 18:7-8).

Know These Truths
Jesus teaches several truths here:
1. God is good and just unlike the unrighteous judge.

  • “He (God) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Psalm 33:5
  • “For the LORD is righteous; He loves justice. The upright will see His face.” Psalm 11:7

 2. God is the sovereign righteous Judge; he will see to it that justice and righteousness are brought about. 

  • God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” Psalm 7:11-13

 3. Do not lose heart, keep praying. Prayer is to evidence true faith.

  • “… praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints… ”  Ephesians 6:18

“Do Not Lose Heart
In Luke 18:1, Jesus states the purpose of this parable; “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray at all times and not lose heart…”

What does it mean to lose heart? In the Greek New Testament the word is ykakein meaning: “to be fainthearted; to have inner weariness; to be exhausted; to be utterly spiritless; to lose enthusiasm and to become fearful.” Have you been feeling this way?

When we lose heart, we lose faith in the sense that we stop trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of God. When we become fainthearted and weary, we lose the ability to envision God answering our prayer.

When we persevere in prayer we continue to trust God. As Jesus walked and talked with his disciples he knew that keeping faith over time in difficult circumstances would be a challenge for his followers.

Jesus Increases Faith
Jesus understands how difficult it can be for us to believe what we cannot see; to trust that God will help when a situation seems beyond help; or to wait over extended periods of time to see God working.  Jesus understands that trusting God has its difficulties, so he provides truths and promises to help build up and increase our faith.

In Luke 17:5, a few paragraphs before Luke 18:1, we read that after Jesus taught on forgiving others, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They realized how challenging forgiving others can be.

Jesus responds with this encouragement: “He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Jesus helps the disciples out.  He reduces faith to the size of a mustard seed. Mustard seeds are 1 to 2 millimeters or 0.039 to 0.079 inches in diameter.  Jesus uses this small measure to reassure us that we can have faith in seemingly impossible situations.

When I am faced with a difficult situation that overwhelms me, I remember the measure that Jesus gave. In my mind’s eye I see a tiny mustard seed, the tiniest one in the pack maybe the size of a pin prick, and I think, “OK, Jesus, I can have this little measure of faith to trust you.”

Another encouragement that Jesus provides regarding faith is in Matthew 7:7-11.

  • Keep asking and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Here, as in the parable in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus emphasizes the idea of “keeping on” asking; continuing to ask, persevering in prayer.

I believe Jesus spoke truths like this at varying parts of his life to provide “faith spurs,”or faith encouragements for us along the journey.

Find Faith Spurs
I am weary. Sometimes I feel weighed down by everything that is happening, even though I see good in these things. Maybe you are feeling the heaviness of life right now. Look for the “faith spurs” that Jesus provided in the Word. Read them, pray them, and allow the words of Jesus and the Spirit to quicken your spirit. Then share them with your fellow travelers.

Got Justice?

Justice is not necessarily found in or confined to the courtroom. Justice and righteousness are qualities of God’s love and are reflected in the heart and lives of his sons and daughters.

I believe that God is shining a spotlight on our nation today and showing us the inconsistency and hypocrisy in our lives, our hearts and in our “religion.”

True Religion
Righteousness and justice
are facets of God’s love. The Word of God clearly connects love for our fellow man with our love for God. In fact scripture says it is impossible to have a right relationship with God while not loving our fellow man.

1 John 4:20-21 clarifies this connection.

  • “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

The two greatest commandments from God to mankind are to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as our self. Jesus states this clearly in Mt. 22:36-40

  • “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In John 13:34, Jesus re-states the second command with a slight change that makes it more powerful.

  • “A new command I give you: Love one another.as I have loved you, so also you must love one another.” John 13:34

This new command of Jesus defines the love we are to have for one another as a “lay down your life for” kind of love, which is exactly what Jesus did. Such love is characterized by humility; recognizing the image of God in others; valuing them; and being willing to do what is right for another person even at personal sacrifice to ourselves.

The racism that I have been seeing and reading about is not love. The recent spotlight on racism in our country is teaching me about the scope and depth of racism. I am learning that racism does not recognize value in another person or people; it does not meet needs in fact most often hinders access to having those needs met. Racism is grounded in pride, fear, and hatred; and wears boots of injustice and unrighteousness.

Racism is incongruous with being a Christian. As I have been looking through scriptures, and I am seeing that justice and righteousness are core values to God:

  • Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” Psalm 89:14

Justice and Righteousness Matter
The Law and the Prophets have much to say about justice and righteousness, and therefore have much say to us in the 21st century. I put forward some of these scriptures for us to consider. While the passages included here from both the Law and the Prophets have a specific meaning in their context with Israel, these passages speak very loudly as to what God values in His people, or those who claim to be in relationship with Him.

Before we look at some of these truths, let’s review some general definitions.

  • Righteousness in many of these passages refers to what is right, what is ethical, what is equitable and just.
  • Justice has several definitions but all of them have the same related undertone. Here are a few of the meanings of justice: judge rightly with a sense of truth, equity and rectitude

Righteousness and justice are often paired together in scripture and at times seem to be used synonymously.

Other words such as humility, compassion/mercy and love are used in association with justice and righteousness thus further describing what justice and righteousness look like.  These passage make evident the will and heart of God. God wants to see justice, righteousness and compassion in our relationships!

  • The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Ps. 33:5

 Let Truth Impact
Please spend some time reading these and meditating on them. These passages are powerful in and of themselves, they need no commentary. They have much to say to the “church” today regarding racism in all its forms.

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly…” Lev. 19:15

“Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.” Deut. 24:17

“Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”  Deut. 27:19

“Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right” Micah 3:9

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

“All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more desirable to the LORD than sacrifice.”  Proverbs 21:2-3

“For the LORD is righteous; He loves justice. The upright will see His face.” Psalm 11:7

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” Psalm 82:3

“But you must return to your God, maintaining love and justice, and always waiting on your God.” Hos. 12:6

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” Zechariah 7:9

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause…” Isaiah 1:17

“This is what the LORD says: Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” Isaiah 56:1

“This is what the LORD says: Administer justice and righteousness. Rescue the victim of robbery from the hand of his oppressor. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow. Do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3

A Concluding Reflection
Reading these passages one after the other screams out the heart of God and impacts my soul. As I read these passages, I am struck by God’s immense patience and grace, and his long held desire for us to love one another and treat each other with justice and righteousness.

In the late 60’s and 70’s, I studied about civil rights and racism and their impact on the education and development of young people. I was involved in preparing students for integration into formerly all “white” schools, but since then I have been distracted by life, even by my “religion;” and I have not been attentive to applying justice and righteousness in support of Black people.

I have not killed a black man out of uncontrolled rage and hatred; denied a black family a loan for a home; or equitable access to an education, but I deem myself a part of the problem. I have not given these injustices meaningful consideration. I have not spoken out against these and other injustices. Making “black lives matter” is part of my relationship with God and my love for Him.

I pray that you will not take offense at this article but rather I pray that all who read this will allow these truths to impact your heart and all your relationships.