Category Archives: Developing Faith

Living Your Inner Reality

I have read books and articles about my identity, and an equal number of books on changing and growing or becoming a better person.  As a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ, I want to be like Him.

One of the first things I did as a new disciple was to study all the passages in the epistles that talked about “putting on and taking off,” and adding to your faith.

However, I have learned that in all my efforts to “be like Christ,” that my greatest need my/your greatest need is to know  who I am already in Christ.

A Crucial Truth
Reading and studying about growing in Christ-likeness is not wrong, but could put our focus on performance and achievement. A more lasting and effective change or growth comes from knowing who I am, whose I am and who God is forming in me!

Transformation by Degrees
The transformation of my  nature and identity begins as I emerge from the waters of baptism.
Through this new birth, I am a new creation; saved; un-condemned; standing blameless before God; Spirit filled; and a child of God in the kingdom of light.

2 Corinthians 3:18 emphasizes the ongoing nature of our transformation. The “process of transformation” does not negate any of who we are as a new creation, but rather, it further develops the character and nature of Christ in us.

  • “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

Transformation Through All Things
Romans 8:28-29 reveals that our transformation into the image of Jesus is a direct result of the desire, good pleasure, and action of God. He is using his Spirit in us, His Word and “circumstances” of our life to work “the good” of being transformed into the image of His Son.

  • “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son … ” Romans 8:28-29

Truth About Transformation
The word translated as “transformation” is the Greek word “metamorphoumetha.” Strong’s Lexicon defines the word transformation as a change in form. There are two important aspects of this change in form.

 Transformation from Association
The first characteristic indicates  a change in form after being with.” Now for a disciple of Jesus that would imply we are changed through being with Jesus. We are changed as we believe in Him; as we receive His Spirit; as His Spirit works in us; and as we go deeper in our relationship with Him.

It is important to note in 2 Cor. 3:18 that this transformation process is initiated and maintained by the Spirit through our relationship with Jesus. This is not something I do myself, or even can do myself. We have all tried to effect change in ourselves with very limited success. This transformation occurs through my relationship or being with Jesus.

This is a truth. There were 12 men who “hung out” with Jesus for three years and they soon were defined by their relationship with him. We read that their close relationship with Jesus changed these men.

  • When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  Acts 4:13

As I reflect on this amazing truth, I have to ask myself, “Am I hanging out with Jesus, or just visiting from time to time?”

Transformation in Keeping with Reality
The second characteristic involves “changing form in keeping with inner reality.” This facet of the definition of transformation encourages my faith and gives me hope.

This aspect of transformation is at the core of who I am. It involves a change of form inside of me. It does not involve my heritage, education, appearance, achievements or performance. It is all about the truth of who I am in Jesus, and who he is forming me to be.

This truth is seen in  1 John 3:2 and Ephesians 2:6-7.

“Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

  • Our nature and identity are changed and we are becoming more transformed in Him.

“ … God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”  Ephesians 2:6-7

  • Here we see our transformation from dead to alive in Christ and that we are already seated with him. This is an amazing truth, we need to think about the implications of this.

Our True Inner Reality
What does this transformation, this change in keeping with reality” mean to me? It means I am currently exactly what God says I am in Christ. I am what God states in his Word whether I feel like it or not; whether others approve me; and whether I think I am living up to it or not. I am who He says I am.

Truths of Our Reality
For further study and meditation below are some passages that reveal who we are in Christ and who we are becoming. It is helpful to read these in the first person.

I am: a friend of God – Romans 5:10-11
I am: known by God – John 10:14
I am: no longer dead but alive in Christ – Ephesians 2:4-6
I am: no longer guilty but forgiven and blameless – Ephesians 1:4
I am: a partaker of God’s nature – 2 Peter 1:4
I am: a child of light – Eph. 5:8; Col. 1: 12-13
I am: the righteousness of God –  2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24
I am: a member of the household of God and a citizen of heaven- Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20
I am: a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17
I am: chosen by God; a royal Priest -1 Peter 2:9
I am: an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ – Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 1:4-5
I am: approved by God, not condemned -Romans 8:1-2; Romans 5:16
I am: filled with the Spirit of God – Romans 6:18
I am: fashioned God – Ephesians 2:10
I am: becoming like Jesus – 2 Cor. 3:18

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And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

God’s Love Is in the Details

When I first learned that God loves me and wants to be in a relationship with me, I was astounded! This closeness to God is what I have been searching and longing for all my life.

In those first days, weeks, months, even years of my walk with God, I was able to clearly see His love in Jesus the Savior. However, as I have moved along in my walk with God, I find that there are times when I do not have this clear sight of God’s love. Maybe this happens to you too.

Different trials and challenging events, such as: the slights and hurts received from others; disappointment at my own weaknesses and failures; chronic illness, and the weariness of the daily spiritual battle can blur or block out my ability to see God’s love. In times like this, I search for truths to hold onto.

I believe the Spirit has preserved, in the scriptures, various accounts of interactions between God and people. These interactions give us insight into God’s thinking and how he relates to us. One such story that has helped me recently is  the story of God and Elijah in 1 Kings 18 and 19.

God in the Low Points
In 1Kings 18 and 19, I read an account of God interacting with love at a low point in the prophet Elijah’s life. Reading this interaction reminded me to look more closely for God’s love in the details of my life.

This story prompts me to change my focus in difficult or challenging times, and  make a deliberate effort to see God in times when I have: “messed up;” am hurting, being hurt or failing; in times of frustration and anger; defeat and giving up.

Sadly, I am often late in associating God’s love with these times because I am so focused on the problem or my failure to respond the way I think a believer should.  From the story of Elijah, I see that it is exactly in those times of hurt and challenge that God is bringing His love to me.

Elijah and Us
The Bible tells us that this man, Elijah, was just like us. You say, “No, he was a man of God. He was a prophet. He did great deeds of faith.”  Yet, when James talks of Elijah, he says Elijah is a person who is like us. Elijah believed in God, like you and me. He prayed fervent prayers, like you and me. He serves God, like you and me. He helped others grow in their faith in God, like you and me. As believers in God and Jesus, we do these very things.

  • “Elijah was a person just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth yielded its crops.” James 5:17-18

This is a truth, revealed by God, that Elijah is a person just like you and me. Therefore, we can learn from God’s interaction with Elijah.

Background to the Story
Here is a quick overview of 1 Kings 18-19, but I encourage you to read it.

  1. The people of God were unfaithful to God.
  2. God worked through Elijah to call the people back to Him.
  3. In faith Elijah sets up a contest between God and the Baal worshipers. Both groups prepared a sacrifice to their god. The God who answers their prayers by lighting the sacrifice, is the true God.
  4. Yahweh, the God of Israel lit the sacrifice with a bolt of fire from the heavens. It burned  up the sacrifice, and the altar. (1 Kings 18: 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”)
  5. Elijah then got down on his knees and prayed for the rain to return, and it did. (1 Kings 18:44-45)
  6. Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, heard all that happened, and she threatened to kill Elijah.
    (1 Kings 19:2: “… by his time tomorrow” Jezebel says she will take Elijah’s life as he did the prophets of Baal).

Elijah’s Response to A Threatening Situation
Upon hearing Jezebel’s threat, Elijah became full of fear and anxiety. After having been partners with God, that very day, in an amazing display of God’s power, and love for the people, one would think Elijah would have trusted God to deal with Jezebel.

In facing the reality of the threat, Elijah gave in to fear and anxiety, and he ran away. Fear clouded Elijah’s thinking and blocked his faith. He turned inward and despaired. In fact, he gave up and wanted to die.

  • 1 Kings 19:3-5 describes Elijah’s state: “ Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. . . . He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.”

Elijah’s fear blocked out his ability to trust God. He turned inward, withdrew, and wanted to die. His thinking became distorted, believing he was the only faithful one left to take a stand for God.

God’s Loving Response to Elijah
One would think that God would be angry at Elijah’s fear and inability to trust God in this challenge. But, God did not get angry. He did not punish Elijah. God did not make a point of telling Elijah that he was messing up, failing to meet his expectations. Instead, God shows his love in the details of caring for Elijah.

In 1 Kings 19:5-9, we read of God’s compassionate and loving response to Elijah.

  1. God restores. God provided for Elijah to lay down and rest, and he gave Elijah food to strengthen him (1 Kings 19: 5).
  2. God comforts and supports. God sent an angel to minister to Elijah. The angel gently touched Elijah and directed him to eat and sleep. (1 Kings 19:5b-7).
  3. God speaks truth. God lovingly corrected  Elijah’s distorted perspective of things. God told Elijah that he was not alone, that God had reserved 7,000 people who have not bowed to Baal. So, Elijah had access to the fellowship of faithful people to encourage and support him. (1 Kings 19:18)
  4. God has a plan and a purpose. God continued to trust Elijah even when Elijah did not trust Him. God gave Elijah a mission: to anoint a king in Aram and a king in Israel, and then to anoint Elisha to be his predecessor. (1 Kings 19:15-18)

 Look for the Details of God’s Love
Elijah’s response has some elements of familiarity. I can see the pattern of his response threaded in some of my responses to trials and challenges. I can slip from faith to fear, or usually from faith to insecurity, and then turn inward and withdraw; but, meditating on this story in 1 Kings 18-19 reveals to me that God is there in the details.

We are like Elijah and God is the same to us as He was to Elijah. From the relationship of God and Elijah I am learning to ask myself these questions during the challenging times.

  • How is God restoring and comforting me?
  • What angel did God send into my life to help me?
  • What truth is God telling me about Himself, or myself?
  • What purpose or plan of God’s do I see? How did /will God use me?

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.”

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.

Grace Ticket

A grace ticket is: a ticket to stand firm; a ticket of help in time of need, a ticket to overcome; a ticket to endure, and at times it is a ticket of deliverance.

A grace ticket is when God “extends himself forward” on our behalf. This extending of God forward towards us is not something we deserve or earn.

The height of God’s extension of blessing to us is in the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus.  Grace is founded in God. Grace reaches its pinnacle in the redemptive act of Jesus. Grace is an ever present facet of the essence of God. God extends his grace to us, over us and around us as we walk with him. God’s grace does not end at cross, it continually flows.

  • “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Moses’ Grace Ticket
Moses received grace in time of need! When receiving his ministry from God in Exodus 3:1- 4:17, Moses is seeing himself as “not enough.” Moses believed he was incapable, and was sure of his eminent failure before he even began.

God, our encouraging and faithful Father, came alongside Moses and gave him a grace ticket, so to speak. God was frustrated with Moses (Ex. 4:13-16), but gave him a grace ticket, in that God did not condemn, ridicule, belittle, or withdraw from Moses. Instead God supplied what Moses needed. God gave Moses credentials that were the signs of God’s support. God revealed his name to Moses for the people to believe. God provided Aaron as a partner, an assistant for Moses. Finally God said he himself would go with Moses. (Exodus 3:12)

There have been and are times I feel not smart enough; not skilled enough; not talented enough; not reputable or respected enough; not a member of the right group; not faithful enough and so on. When I think this way, I pray God will help me remember the story of Moses and the truth that God encourages me and gives me grace in time of need.

Hannah’s Grace Ticket
We read about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. We see a woman sorely troubled, embroiled in a conflict with a woman with whom she shares a husband and a life. Hannah is “bullied and harassed” by this woman who feels superior to Hannah (I Samuel 1: 6-7,8-16).

Hannah felt judged and taunted because she did not have a child by her beloved husband, while the other woman did. Hannah sought her value in having a child and thought her worth to her husband and her standing with him was dependent upon that. Her adversary believed that her own worth was in having children, so she used her status to harass and humiliate Hannah. No a picture of sisterly love but it is the reality Hannah knew.

In the course of the story we see Hannah turns to God in faith, crying out for help. God’s response is to encourage her, to come alongside Hannah. God showed Hannah that he knew and understood how she felt. God gave Hannah a grace ticket.

God could have said: “I am enough, you don’t need a child.” God could have ridiculed or chided Hannah telling her she is looking for her value in the wrong thing. He could have told her to “buck up” and move forward in her situation. But he did not!

A Ticket Backed by Compassion
God understood Hannah’s need, her desire. He understood how frustrating and hurtful the situation was. Amidst all the sufferings in the world, God stopped and came alongside Hannah and encouraged Hannah. God’s grace ticket for Hannah was her son Samuel.

Have you ever felt bullied; harassed; intimidated; pushed out by someone who seemingly is more powerful, more reputable, somehow more accepted than you? Maybe you feel this on your job; within your extended family; within your community, school or church. Or, perhaps you are in a sense “bullied” by a task or event occurring in your life that you feel incapable of doing or getting through.

God’s heart is to encourage, to extend himself to us, to walk alongside of us and to give us the grace we need as he did with Hannah. Also, God uses our pain and his grace to work his purposes. In this case, Hannah’s son, Samuel, who was given by God to her, was  used by God to lead and strengthen his people.

Paul’s Grace Ticket
Paul, the apostle, is one of the most prominent disciples in the New Testament. He is highly qualified in handling the Word of God. Paul had a powerful ministry to the Gentiles and he was a diligent shepherd to the first century church.

Yet, Paul struggled to overcome something that was painful, frustrating and discouraging to him. We do not know what that was, though many scholars speculate about it.

We do know, it was painful to Paul, so much so that he beseeched God to remove it. God chose not to remove it, but God did give Paul a “grace ticket” to help him through it. That grace ticket was God’s grace.

  • “Even if I wanted to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.”2 Cor . 12:6-9

Grace Tickets and You
Grace tickets are costly, they are backed by the suffering and blood of Jesus, the Son of God who transfers all believers into the realm of grace.

  • “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” Romans 5:2-5

Grace tickets do not mean that God will instantly remove you from difficulty and suffering or give you everything you want. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3 are examples of God giving them a grace ticket that was not a pass out of the fiery furnace, but rather an escort, God himself, into and through the fire.

Grace tickets are a pass to walk with God through all types of difficulties. God will be with us in trials and produce good with us and for us through them.

What are the difficulties and struggles you are experiencing now? Reach out to God for a grace ticket, he will give it to you in your time of need.