Category Archives: Devotional Thoughts

Devotional thoughts about a relationship with God.

What Child Is This

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

God Has a Thing for Names 
Everyone wants to know the name of the new born child, even before the actual birth of the child we eagerly ask the parents, “What is his or her name?” That is because we know names hold out meaning and promise.

God was very specific about names. He used names in several significant ways:

  • to communicate messages (as in Isaiah 7 when God instructed the prophet to name his son Shear-jashub meaning a “remnant will return”);
  • to commemorate wondrous events  (as when God met with Jacob through the ladder to heaven and the place was named “Bethel”- the gate of heaven, Gen. 28:16-19);
  • to define Himself (YHVH Shalom-God of Peace, Judges 6:24; Elohay mikarov– God Who Is Near, Jer. 23:23; El Elyon-God Most High Gen.14:18).

Considering this, it is not strange that God would give His son a specific name(s) that would reveal Hus  nature, character and mission.

There IS Something in a Name
In this holiday season of Christmas when many Christians honor God becoming a man in the sending of His Son, Jesus, “Emmanuel,” God with us (Matthew 1:22-23),we look at the names given Him in Is. 9:6.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

These are amazing names. The more I learn about them the more I am filled with awe and wonder as to who Jesus is and what He does. For this season, in a series of articles, we will look into each name.

Wonderful Counselor
The name “Wonderful Counselor” is transliterated as pele yäats in the original language. Pele is translated wonderful and has several shades of meaning that enhance our understanding.

This term is usually used to refer to the deeds of God. Pele is translated as wonders of God in verses like:

  • Exodus  15:11- “Who among the gods is like you, LORD?Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
  • Psalm 77:14 – “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”
  • Isaiah 25:1 – “LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.”

Astounding-Miraculous!
Pele refers to the “miraculous,” that which is supernatural. It is that which is extraordinary, hard to be understood by the human mind. This word points to something beyond the realm of human understanding. It points to the supernatural, even miraculous, wisdom of God as described by Paul:  

“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Cor.1:23-25

In addition to the “Wonderful Counselor” bringing us understanding of the deep truths of God, Our “Wonderful Counselor” speaks words that have life changing and demolishing strongholds power (Heb.4:12) (Rom. 1:16-17).

In addition to the “Wonderful Counselor” bringing us understanding of the deep truths of God, Our “Wonderful Counselor” speaks words that have life changing and demolishing strongholds power (Heb.4:12) (Rom. 1:16-17).

If you want power to change, seek out the “Wonderful Counselor.”

A Trustworthy Counselor
The word translated counselor in most Bibles comes from the Hebrew word yäats. This word has shades of meaning that enhance our understanding.

It is translated: to advise; to consult, to counsel, to deliberate, to strategize, and to plan.  It is said that this word indicates the innate quality of the person and not simply their actions or words.  Again we see the connection to Jesus, literally, being the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-25).

Some students of scripture have suggested that the title “wonderful counselor” could be translated as “wonder knower” or “wonder genius.”

Who better than the One (Jesus) who resides in the bosom of the Father to reveal the wisdom of God, the character of God, the mysteries of God and the heart of God to us. The counsel of Jesus can be trusted because He is One with God.

  • “No one has ever yet seen God. The only begotten God, the One being in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” John 1:18 (Berean Literal Bible)
  • No one has ever seen God. God’s only Son, the One who is closest to the Father’s heart, has made him known.” John 1:18 (God’s Word Translation)

Jesus is able to “advise” us because His qualifications surpass all others.  In Colossians 2:2-3, Paul reminds us that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus.

  • “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Jesus has a deep understanding of our human nature. He, being God, knows us from near and afar; knows when we rise up and when we sit down; He perceives our thoughts and knows the very words that are on our tongues. Psalm 139 tells us that His knowledge is too “wonderful” for us to grasp.

Jesus, our counselor, can relate to us since He, who is
“ Emmanuel-God in the flesh”has endured troubles and trials the same as you and me. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

What Now?
I am just a woman of ordinary skill and average intellectual ability. On my own I cannot understand the deep truths of God and the salvation He offers. The truths and mysteries He reveals to us are extraordinary. They are astounding. They are pele– of a miraculous quality. But we have a “wonderful counselor” who advises us.

Jesus asked his disciples who do you say I am, Peter answered you are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God. Jesus said that Peter did not know this in and of himself, but that God revealed it to Him. In the birth of Jesus the marvelous wisdom revealed is that God became a man in order to become the sin offering for us!

As you move into this holiday season take time to read the words of Jesus. Ask Him to teach you how to live each truth of His wise counsel.

The Breath of Thanks-giving

Thanksgiving is celebrated once a year in the United States. It had its roots in humble hearts coming together to thank God for providing for life. I am not sure that “Thanksgiving” has retained that purpose in this age. Nevertheless, we should consider the quality of thankfulness not solely in the context of a national holiday, but more appropriately as a characteristic of our soul.

Gratitude is a perspective we choose to take in life. There is no doubt that such a perspective can bless our life, but if we are not careful our gratitude can become just a step in our pursuit of a happy life. If you are a believer in God and Jesus Christ then you need to consider the place that giving thanks to God has in your spiritual life.

Thanksgiving and Faith
In the Gospel of Luke there is an account of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). One of these men returned to give thanks to Jesus.

Jesus makes an important statement to this one grateful man: And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19 (ESV)

Jesus connected this man’s gratitude with his faith. It was the man’s faith that caused him to come back and thank Jesus. It was perhaps at the moment of healing that this man really saw and believed who Jesus is.

Jesus said this man’s faith made him well. Perhaps Jesus is not talking about the initial faith the man had that lead him to ask to be healed, but rather the belief about Jesus as the LORD and One Who truly saves.

Jesus then pronounced the man well. The word “well” has several meanings: to be healed; to be made whole; to be delivered or rescued; or in a spiritual sense to be saved.  The other nine men were cleansed from leprosy, but this man was made whole. His body and soul were made whole, were delivered, and were saved.

Breathe In and Breathe Out Thanks
Air with its different components, but most primarily oxygen, is necessary for our physical life and proper functioning of all of our body. Giving thanks should be as vital to our soul and spirit as breathing in oxygen is to our body.

If you are a person who believes in Jesus, the Son of God, then consider some of the blessings that you have received in and through Jesus. In this article, I would like to connect our thanks-giving focus to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps meditating on some of these blessings will not only enrich your celebration of Thanksgiving this year, but also help you to develop “the breath of thanks-giving.”

Life Giving Blessings
To begin our journey of developing the “breath of thanks-giving,” start by meditating on the three blessings in Christ that are briefly referenced below.

Friendship with God: God is not a cold, distant being. He desires a relationship/friendship with us, and we receive a living relationship with God as a gift through Jesus.

“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Romans 5:10-11 NLT

Free from the Weight of Guilt and Condemnation
As a young woman I had difficulty forgiving a relative. It was like a ball and chain on my leg. As I learned about and accepted Jesus’s forgiveness of me, I was able to forgive and be set free from the weight of guilt; the weight of the condemnation I felt for not forgiving and the weight of the condemnation I held over the other person.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2 NLT

The Mother of All “Do Overs”
I don’t know about you, but I have often wished for a second chance, a do over with various aspects of my character, choices or relationships in life. In Jesus we are made new spiritually. It is the grand do over.

“He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them . . . Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:15, 17

“For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6: 4-5 ESV

On Your Own
These are only three blessings that were selected for this posting. There are many more blessing in Jesus. As you read through the scriptures begin journaling blessings in Jesus that can be found in both the New Testament and the Old Testament.

Collect and treasure the blessings you have. Breathe them into your spirit and then breathe them out into life.

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“I will always thank the LORD; I will never stop praising him.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD…” Psalm 34:1-2a

Soul Speak

The Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus, is dynamic truth. It is living and active. In fact Romans 1:16 states that the gospel is the power to salvation:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

The Gospel is Dynamite!
The word for “dunamis” in Romans 1:16 is translated  power. The origin of the word dynamite has its root in this Greek word.

“Dunamis” is defined as strength and power. This is no ordinary power, it is resurrection power. It is further defined as the power inherent in a thing or being by its very nature. Such as the power that is Jesus. The power of God is inherently in Jesus. Numerous scriptures reveal this truth.

  • Luke 6:19 – “And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them
  • Luke 8:46 – “But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.”
  • Luke 4:36 -“And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.”

The gospel has the power to break down the strongholds of sin and darkness, and to transform hearts, minds and lives. When we believe the truth of the gospel and obey it, this power causes us to rise up from spiritual death to life.

Tell It to Me Again! And Again!
The gospel is for all times. It is not something that we encounter at the beginning of our walk with God, but the gospel, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ,  sustains our faith every day. (If you are unsure of what the gospel is, the passages presented below will make it clear).

It is important for us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ to refresh our souls daily with basic truths from the gospel of Jesus.

The many activities associated with our walk with God, as well as the difficulties of life can cause us to become confused as to where we stand with God and the basis of our relationship or friendship with God. We can easily begin putting our trust in our feelings or our performance rather than in the saving work of Jesus. This can lead to doubts about our salvation, and leave us feeling that we are “not enough.”

Therefore, it is good to review the basic gospel truths daily to re-set our hearts and re-focus our faith.

Make It Personal
Look through the scripture for the basic gospel truths, and then make them personal. Change the pronouns such as “we” to “me,” and insert your name in the verses as if the Holy Spirit was speaking to you through these words because –
He is!

Read through these passages. Personalize these truths between you and God, Let these truths strengthen your faith and help you honor God.

  •  “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on my behalf, so that  I (insert your name) might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21
  •  “… He himself bore my sins” in His body on the cross, so that I (insert your name) might die to sins and live for righteousness; for by His wounds I (insert your name) have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
  • “In Him, I (insert your name) have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7
  • “But He was pierced for my transgressions, He was crushed for my iniquities; the punishment that brought me (insert your name) peace was upon Him, and by His stripes I am healed.” Isaiah 53:5
  • “For I know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that I ( insert your name) was redeemed from the empty way of life I inherited from my forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
  • “For He (God) has rescued me (insert your name) from the dominion of darkness and brought me (Insert your name) into the kingdom of the Son He loves…” Colossians 1:13
  • “… don’t I know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  I (insert your name) was therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, I too may live a new life. Romans 6:3-5

Speak the Gospel Today
I encourage you to find other passages that tell the basic message of the gospel. Write the passage down and read them back to yourself with personal references to you. Speak the good news to others and speak the gospel to your soul. I want to suggest that you do this each day for a week and take note of the increase in your joy and your faith.

God: A Personal Friend-Part 2

While God is Almighty, all powerful, and the sovereign Lord, He does extend Himself to us as our intimate friend.

In Psalm 25:14 the scripture describes the God who creates and sustains all life as wanting to confide in us.

”The LORD confides in those who fear Him, He makes His covenant known to them.”
Ps. 25:14 (NIV)

In the previous entry, “God: Our Personal Friend,” we saw that this expression confides was translated from a Hebrew word having a primitive root meaning “couch.” This has the inference of a place where two people lean into each other and share intimate, personal conversations. Where they can open up their heart and share their inmost thoughts and feelings. God is welcoming us to do that.

It seems unbelievable, but it is true! If you are in any form a believer in God this is an astounding truth. I, for one, desire such a relationship with God. I want to go beyond the religious exterior of performance and be in close friendship with God.

God, the Initiator
God has been reaching out to man to have a very personal relationship since before creation. Eph. 1:4 states: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

God initiated setting us up to be able to have this close relationship with Him even before He created the world. This close relationship was always God’s intention, will and desire.

Let’s look at a few of these types of encounters with God.

More Snapshots on the Couch with God
As we flip through the album of God’s friends as written in the scriptures I see God’s overtures to man to indicate that God truly does welcome such closeness.

A Bold Conference with God
In Genesis 18, the LORD visits with Abraham to confirm the promise of a son. As the Lord is leaving He considers Sodom and Gomorrah and looks in the direction of those cities. He plans to destroy them for their wickedness and harm to others. His intent to have a close relationship, one in which includes Him revealing His heart and mind to man, is indicated in these words:

“When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” Gen. 18:16-17

After this comes a dialogue between Abraham and God in which God reveals to Abraham what He is about to do, and Abraham intercedes back and forth with God about this what God plans to do.

Abraham asks God in a series of dialogues if God would destroy these cities even if Abraham found 50 righteous people. God says, “No.” Abraham intercedes back and forth through 40, 30, 20 and 10 righteous people. (Genesis 18:16-33)

This is a true to life example of sitting on the couch with God.

Vulnerable Outpouring on the Couch
Have you ever been so frustrated and hurt by a situation or a person that you just had to sit down with your best friend and have a good cry, pouring all the hurt and confusion out? This is what we see in the next picture of Hannah and God.

In 1 Samuel 1:3-17, we see Hannah in a frenzied state talking to God. In verses 6 and 7 we read the background of Hannah’s soul talk with God. We see Hannah has been being harassed by her rival, Peninnah, the second wife of Elkanah.

We read hard words: provoked, irritated and rival. Some translations use the words provoke grievously and taunt severely to describe how Peninnah interacted with Hannah.

The scriptures relate that Hannah was in “deep anguish” when she confided in God, 1 Sam.1:10. The term “deep anguish” is translated as: in bitterness, anger, or discontent.  One older translation says in bitterness of soul she prayed to God.”

We might say Hannah was more than discouraged. This was not some simpering, prayer full of clichés and platitudes. She was frustrated and angry. She was honest and vulnerable before God. She prayed in such a distraught fashion that the priest who watched her as she spoke to God took her to be drunk, 1 Sam. 1:12-14.

What did God do? Ignore her? Recoil? No! God did not chastise her. He did not turn away from her. He listened to her and responded. He understood and answered her prayer. Infact, God had a mission for the son she would bear as a result of this talk with God.

You and God: Heart to Heart
God wants to have heart to heart talks with you also. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (NLT)

Jesus is talking to believing disciples in this passage. He is not speaking to non-believers; He has another invitation for them in His Gospel. He is addressing the church in Laodicea.

He is reminding these disciples that He wants a deep personal friendship with them. The imagery in this passage is of sitting down and sharing a meal and conversation with Jesus. It is a picture of a personal friendship.

God wants to have a heart to heart talk with me, every day. Do I want to have this with God? Do I trust Him and His love for me?

God made it possible to be close with Him. He set this up through the death of His Son. Do I come in openness, humility, and a willingness to be vulnerable with God? Am I sitting on the couch, leaning into Him? Am I sharing a meal with Him, or participating in a routine or a religious process.

Think about it. What is it like between you and God?

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“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Psalm 42:1-2

God: A Personal Friend

Picture this: It is the dark of the night, the sky out in the country is brilliant with stars, myriads of stars, countless, dazzling, bright stars, against the dark backdrop of night (imagine no street lights). As we watch the scene, Abraham stands looking up. He seems to be talking to someone, someone who has his arm around him and seems to be pointing to the stars. The scene seems to present two friends appreciating the night sky and conferring with each other.

Something like that really did happen to a man named Abraham. It is recorded in Genesis 15:4-6.

  • “Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  He (God) took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Now picture this: you seated on your couch with God next to you. Maybe He is holding your hand or has an arm draped around your shoulders, talking to you and you to Him.

Can’t picture it? Let’s see where we get this idea about a very personal God.

Come Sit with Me
Psalm 25:14 states: “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him and He will make His covenant known to them.”

The word translated secret” inherently implies some type of intimacy. Like one friend whispering a confidence to another. The word “secret” is “cowd” in Hebrew. It means “counsel, consultation; familiar converse; intimate conversation.”

Actually this word “cowd” comes from a primitive root that means a couch or a cushion upon which someone reclines, indicating people sitting together leaning in towards each other and conversing.

  • The NIV translates this concept as: “The Lord confides in those who fear Him;
    He makes His covenant known to them.”
  • The ESV translates it as: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
    and He makes known to them His covenant.”

Both translations catch the intended meaning with the words “confide” and “friendship,” but the primitive root of “cowd” captures the intimacy of this relationship. We need to be careful that our “religion” does not obscure our vision of the relationship that God is longing to have with us.

A Second Look at an Old Friendship
So what does this very personal friendship with God look like? If we take time to look closely, and beyond the way we have always seen the story of Moses and God, we can get a glimpse of it.

We see this relationship throughout the life of Moses. Let’s look at one snapshot of their relationship, such as when Moses was called to work with God to deliver Israel from Egypt. This meeting is recorded in Exodus 3 and 4.

I am used to seeing this meeting of God with Moses at the burning bush as God, the Sovereign LORD, giving a command to His servant Moses. But, on second look, maybe what we really are seeing is God reaching out to a man (Moses) to bring him into a friendship and partnership with Him.

What signs of friendship do I see?
I see God’s reassurance of His presence with Moses, like he isn’t going it alone; it doesn’t all depend on Moses.
      And God said, “I will be with you…” Ex. 3:12

I see it in God, like a true friend, being transparent and revealing His true identity to Moses.

  • God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” Ex. 3:14-15

I see it in God, as a good friend, sharing His strength and power with Moses.

  • “Then the Lord said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” Ex. 4:8-9

In chapter 4, we see Moses, so to speak sitting on the couch” with God, having intimate converse or consult with God. Moses shares his weakness and fears with God, and God provides support for Moses in each thought. There is intimacy; there is encouragement; there is frustration and even anger expressed; but always, God is the friend, the help, the advocate.

Many other instances in the life of Moses reveal this close personal friendship and partnership between God and Moses. We can see it in the life of Hannah, David, Hezekiah, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel and countless others, but the question is do we see this for our life today?

In the End It Is “Religion or Relationship”
So many times in my life I have tripped over my practice of religion and missed the depth and beauty of a real relationship with God. God is all about this relationship. He has set it up from before the creation of the world for us to be close to Him.
Eph. 1:4 – 6 states this truth clearly. Look for the relationship words.

  • “For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence. In love He predestined us for adoption as His sons/daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One.”

While God is Almighty, all powerful, and the sovereign Lord, He does extend Himself to us as our intimate friend. In the next article we will explore this relationship as seen in others in the scriptures; God’s many invitations; and what it takes for us to have this relationship.

God: A Keeper – Part 2

In the ups and downs of life it can be difficult to believe that God is really there for me. One of the reasons I struggle with this at times is because I do not have deep understanding of the character of God. Another reason is because I tend to go by my feelings instead of the truths I know about God.

I have set out on a journey to learn more about the character and truths of God to help keep my faith stable.

God, a Keeper of Old
In the Old Testament there are many beautiful descriptions of God, one of them being that He is our Keeper. One sense in which God is our Keeper is that He keeps us within His presence during times of difficulty.

In Psalm 31:19-20 we see that God keeps His goodness stored up for us during times of difficulty, and He keeps us our hearts safe in His presence during times of challenge and trouble.

“How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up (tsaphan) for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep (tsaphan) them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.”(NASB)

In Isaiah 26:3,  we learn that God keeps faithful watch over us, so that even in times of trouble or sorrow, He is there watching over us and assisting us through our trials.

“You keep (natsar) him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

In Psalm 12:7, David uses the Hebrew word “shamar” in this psalm to indicate God as a keeper who  builds a spiritual hedge around our heart so that we are not spiritually destroyed during dark times. So, in a sense, God keeps us so that we can keep holding onto God.

“You, O Lord, will keep (shamar) them; You will preserve (natsar) him from this generation forever.” Ps. 12:7

David is an example of someone going through significant trials, especially in reference to his relationship with Saul, yet, even in the midst of his troubles David understands that God “keeping” him.

Jesus An Appointed Keeper
I am very drawn to the picture of Jesus as our keeper in John 6:37.
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

The expression “drive away” is associated with Jesus as our keeper. “Drive away” means cast out or banish.  In a sense Jesus will not remove us as a part of Him. He will not withdraw His love or step back from a relationship with us. He keeps us.

In some instances the term “drive away” carries the connotation of being “rejected or cast away” as in John 9:39, “They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out (of the synagogue).”

I find this thought reassuring that even in my inner struggles and trials of life, Jesus will keep holding onto me. This is a remarkable truth, especially considering during these times I may not be thinking and saying uplifting things about or to God.

Hear It Again
Jesus wants us to get this truth about “keeping us.” In the same chapter of John two verses following verse 36, this truth is repeated again using slightly different words. Jesus is driving this point home.

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 6:39

The term “lose none” implies keeping, protecting and guiding so that we do not perish but rather hold onto eternal life. This term brings up pictures of the story of the Father and his prodigal son, as well as the Good Shepherd guarding and leading His sheep.

John 6:39 brings out another encouraging truth about God and that is: it is God’s will, His preferred desire, His deliberate intention for us to be kept. This reveals the heart of God towards us that He wants us to be in a right relationship with Him. He sent His Son to be the atonement for our sins so that we can be in a right relationship with Him and then in that relationship He “holds onto us.”

Take a Spiritual Selfie
Meditate on these passages and study them out for yourself. Let the picture of what they say be engraved in your heart. Take a picture of Jesus with you as your “keeper.” What do you see?

The next time you are undergoing difficulty, hanging on the precipice of fear, and doubt; and wondering where God is – pull up this picture and let the truth behind it uphold you.

Wonder of Wonders

Have you ever been “stuck” in your faith, in trusting God during a rough season, one of those dips or pits in life? Struggles of a physical, spiritual, emotional or relational nature show up in our life on a regular basis, at least they do in mine.

These are the times when we question God about: His love, His good will towards us, His power, His truth and even His presence in our life. It seems odd that we should question the very character and nature of God, but when overwhelmed with turmoil or suffering, our perspective is often blurred and confused.

Psalm 77 describes a dark time in the life of the psalmist. During this time he wrestles with some strong feelings about God and asks seemingly  accusatory questions.

  • He asks where God is and if He (God) has rejected/abandoned him in verse 7- “Will the Lord reject forever?”
  • The psalmist goes on questioning, asking God if He cares about him and if He loves him in verse 7b and 8 “And will He never be favorable again? Has His loving-kindness ceased forever?”
  • He even questions the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises in verse 8b – “Has His promise come to an end forever?”
  • The psalmist continues his lament and asks God if He has forgotten to bless him or has forgotten about him in verse 9a – “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”
  • He asks if God is mad at him, verse 9b – “Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

The psalmist is so discouraged that he could not sleep (notice he blames God) and he could not even speak about it,You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” He asked God some of the same questions I have and perhaps you have asked at some time in your life.

What to Do in a Faith Funk?
The psalmist knew where to go, and was able to drag himself to that source even in the midst of his turmoil. The psalmist decides he will remember the truths he already knows about God. He makes a decision to “recount the wonders of God.”

“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember (recount)Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12

The psalmist did not look inward to himself, or outward to others, but interestingly enough he looked back at the great deeds of God for help. As he reviewed these deeds, he fanned the flame of his faith because he remembered how great, powerful and loving God is.

What Are the “Wonders?”
The word “wonders” as written by this psalmist comes from a root meaning something wonderful, admirable; extraordinary; astonishing and hard to grasp. It often refers to the wondrous acts of God’s redemption towards man. Words like miracles, marvelous things and mighty deeds are used to define “wonders.”

However, we should note that this word “wonders”  not only refers to God’s might deeds, but it can also refer to His counsel (Isaiah 9:5), and His interaction with man (Isaiah 29:14).

Wonder About the Wonders!
In Psalm 77:13-20, the psalmist details some of these wondrous works that God did for Israel as he delivered them from Egypt.

I like wonder at the wonders of God by scanning through the Bible and recounting the wonders of God. When I do this, I come away renewed in my faith. When read one right after the other it takes my breath away.

I stand in awe of God, who He is, and how intricately and complexly He wove His love and power through the history of His people to bring about the salvation of mankind. Then I remember that this God, I am reading about, is the same God who walks in a relationship with me through my faith today. This renews my faith. Keeping a ready reference of these wonders close by me has lifted my soul out of despondence and doubt many times.

Reminiscing
Here are few of my favorite wonders of God from the scriptures.

  • God spoke things into existence, Genesis 1-2.
    “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11:3
  • God made man in His image and gave him dominion over all the earth, Gen. 1:26.
  • God enabled a100 year old man and a 90 year old woman to give birth to the child from whom would descend the Messiah, the Son of God, Romans 4:19.
  • God divided the waters of the Red Sea and Israel walked across on dry land, Ex.14:21-22.
  • The Lord delivered 3 young men from a fiery death, in fact He walked within the fire with them, Daniel 3:23, 25.
  • God let fire fall from heaven in answer to a prophet’s prayer in order to show Israel that He is God and there is no other,1 Kings 18:30-39.
  • The Almighty God who creates and sustains all life became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth, John 1:14;Philippians 2:6-8.
  • In compassion, Jesus healed a leper, Mark 1:40-45.
  • Jesus raised a young girl from death, Mark 5:35-42.
  • Jesus calmed the storm and the sea, Matthew 8:23-27.
  • Jesus, God in the flesh, became the sacrifice for my sins so that I might become the righteousness of God, 1 Peter2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21.

Chronicle the Wonders
There are many “wonders” of God in the scriptures, as well as ones He has worked in your life. I encourage you to scan through the Bible and find the wonders of God.

  • Read them.
  • Meditate on them.
  • Paint pictures of them in your mind.
  • Journal about them.

Create a ready reference of them, then in times of discouragement, deep wrestling and doubt you can be restored by remembering the wonders of our great God!

Come and see the works of God, Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.
Psalm 66:5

God – A Keeper

The other day I was sorting through things in my home with the intent of “minimalizing.” As I sorted through things I realized that I “kept” or held onto things based on their value or their use, and also, if it held a special memory or emotional connection.

As I read my Bible during the days of my minimalizing project, the word “keep” continued to come into my focus. The word keep” is used numerous times in the scriptures, especially in the book of Psalms, and I am finding it has a different meaning than just holding onto something for its use, value or sentiment.

A Deeper Meaning
The word “keep” in the scriptures is used often to refer to an action of God on our behalf that is seemingly separate from our value or use.

There are several words in the Hebrew language for keep. We will consider three of them: shamar, tsaphan and natsar.  When we look at these words it is in a sense “splitting hairs” because they all have the same general meaning “to keep”, yet they differ slightly in shades of meaning. I guess if the Holy Spirit thought it necessary to use several different words to communicate the same thought then we should sit up and pay attention to what the Spirit is saying.

Tsaphan – Hide Me Away O God!
Tsaphan
 meaning “keep,” comes from a primitive root meaning to hide, to cover over implying hiding to protect; store away secretly; to keep hidden, as in hidden from harm. Psalm 31:19-20 brings out this meaning.

  • “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up (tsaphan) for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep (tsaphan) them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.”(NASB)

In Psalm 31 we see David trusted that God was “keeping” him from the harm of the conspiracies of men that were going on around about him.

We too can trust that God is sheltering us; He is keeping us- hiding us away in His secret shelter from the tongues of men, and protecting us from the danger of their gossipy words, angry or jealous talk, or outright evil intent. When we trust in God, He keeps us safe in the secret place of His presence. How special is!

Natsar- Faithfully Keep Watch Over Me!
Natsar
is translated “Keep” and comes from a primitive root meaning to guard with fidelity; to watch over with the emphasis on faithful watching over. It is also translated preserve; save.

This concept is illustrated in Isaiah 26:3.

  • “You keep (natsar) him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

God faithfully keeps our soul in peace and calm in the midst of difficulties as we trust in Him. Perhaps Paul was thinking of this scripture when he penned Phil 4:6-7, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Shamar – Put a Hedge Around Me!
Shamar means “keep”
and comes from a primitive root meaning to hedge about, in the sense of surrounding a thing for protection or containment. However, it is also translated: to observe, to keep watch over; to guard; to protect; to keep safe; to preserve and to treasure.

We see this word used in several psalms but I want to point out two of them: Psalm 140:4 and Psalm 12:7. Note David uses both shamar and natsar in these verses, enriching the idea of God as our Keeper.

  • Keep (shamar) me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve (natsar) me from violent men who have purposed to trip up my feet.” Ps. 140:4
  • “You, O Lord, will keep (shamar) them; You will preserve (natsar) him from this generation forever.” Ps. 12:7

As we know from the scriptures David was anointed king but was chased around the countryside by Saul who intended to kill him. Things were so bad that David hid in caves and even went over to the enemy and pretended to be out of his mind. In the midst of these difficulties David called upon God to keep him, to put a hedge of safety around him, and to faithfully watch over him to preserve him and deliver him.

God is the same in character and heart today as when He interacted with David. We too can ask God to put a hedge around us and to preserve us in the midst of our trials.

This Doesn’t Feel Like Safety and Security
Whether you “feel” like it or not- God is “keeping” You. It is a part of His character and heart in relationship with us. When God “keeps us” it does not mean that we are free from all trouble and pain, but rather that He preserves us, our spirit, and yes sometimes even our life in the midst of difficulty. So have faith and trust God as your Keeper.

Think about some well-known accounts of God “keeping” his people.

  • Daniel in the lions’ den: Daniel lived his faith in God before unbelieving men. He was punished barbarically by being thrown into a den of hungry lions. Where was God his keeper? Right there, closing the mouth of the lions! (Dan. 6)
  • What about Joseph? Where was God, the Keeper, when Joseph was falsely accused and thrown in a dungeon to rot? He was right there with Joseph blessing everything he did, waiting to bring things together at the right time to exalt Joseph and deliver Israel. (Gen. 37-50)

We could flip through the pages of scripture and find many such examples from Adam through to the Christians in the first century church.

What about you?
Your circumstances may be painful or messy; your emotions may be blinding you to the truth of God’s presence, but He is there surrounding you, faithfully guarding your soul and preserving you. God is your Keeper!

Take time out to think of all the ways God has been “keeping” you. Think of the many ways God has protected you and surrounded you with His grace and love, and then give to Him the praise that is due Him.

 

A Call to God From the Pit

There are times in our life when we feel like we are going down for the third time; when we feel like we are in a slippery bog, or sinking in a muddy pit. There are times we feel despaired and don’t even know what to think. We don’t feel inspired, motivated or particularly spiritual. We feel overwhelmed with our life circumstances or disappointed in ourselves.  We may be in direct conscious rebellion against God, or we may have been subtly drawn into a pit of self, of discouragement, or of worldliness.

You may think this can’t be me! I have a relationship with God. I am not supposed to feel this way. You are not alone. Prophets of God, kings and even His Son have felt this way!

Voices from the Pit
Jonah was outright rebellious to God. He refused to obey God’s command to call the Ninevites to repentance. He found himself in the pit of a big fish’s belly. He says in Jonah 2:1: “From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

Elijah, a prophet of God fell into despair and depression. This took place after he was a part of witnessing God bring fire from the sky to light a sacrifice in a spiritual contest with the worshipers of Baal. After this event Elijah collapsed in fear and depression. He literally asked God to take his life.

We read of his despair in 1 Kings 19:3-5, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. 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. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

King David felt this way numerous times in his life. Many of the psalms attest to David’s times of deep discouragement.

In Psalm 13, David was so discouraged he charged God with forgetting him. He cried out: “How long O Lord, will you forget about me…”.

In Psalm 42, David recognizes and admits that his soul is troubled and downcast within him. He feels forgotten by God, and as if he is mourning all the time. He is depressed, discouraged and overwhelmed by life.

“I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? … Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. “Psalm 42:9-10

Again in Psalm 55, we see David feeling full of anguish, fear and feeling like he just wants to run away from it all.

“My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest… Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice.  He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me…” Psalm 55: 4-6, 17-18

Even Jesus!
In the Garden of Gethsemane we see a very touching picture of Jesus wrestling with facing the burden of carrying the sins of the world and dying for them. The scriptures describe what he was feeling as anguish, distress, feeling like he was dying, and even so stressed he sweat drops of blood.  Jesus cried out to God in His time in the garden and on the cross as he bled out and died.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with Me.”  Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:36-39 HCSB

“Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:44

And in the final moments of Jesus’ life we hear the depth of the pain He felt from being separated from God.
“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni? that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-46

A Common Thread
We are all in the depths, the pit or the “slough of despond” at one time or numerous times in our lives. During those times it is important to be aware of two things: where you are and that God is near.  Self – awareness is important in our life. We may not figure it all out but to be in touch with what we are feeling is good. We, like the people in these passages of scripture, need to realize when we are in trouble, regardless of the cause, and speak out to God.

The common thread in these accounts is the believer’s innate movement toward God. Whether out of anguish, frustration, despair, or hope they cried out to God. And – He responded to them with power, mercy and love.

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But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6

Forget God!?

Forget God? “Impossible! Preposterous!” you say, especially about anyone who is actively involved in “walking with God.” Yet forgetting God is s very real phenomenon. I believe we forget God in ways that seem small to us and are barely noticeable on a daily basis. Think about it.

Forgetting God Is Real
In fact, the phenomenon of forgetting God is so real that we read passages in the scriptures in which God predicts that His people will forget Him, and passages in which God charges them with forgetting Him.

In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, before Israel entered the “promised land” God encourages the people to remember Him and not forget Him after they become settled into their new land and new way of life.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied,  be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

And we see a similar warning again in Deuteronomy 8:12-14:
“… Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

As Israel progressed in life, we clearly see that it is not only possible for a people in a covenant relationship to forget God but it is a reality. Listen to this very heart breaking statement from God in Jeremiah 2:32.
“Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten Me, days without number.”

The book of Judges documents the truth of a people in a covenant relationship with God who continually “forgot” God. Throughout the Old Testament we read of such warnings, statements of reality of them forgetting God, as well as ways that God encourages His people to remember Him. Some of these ways included: writing His command on their door posts; walking in the way with their children and telling of God’s great deeds; erecting stones of remembrance; celebrating feasts such as the Passover, and so on.

The Root of Forgetting God
There are many ways we forget God and many causes for our ungodly memory dysfunction. The psalmist in Psalms 78 reveals a major truth about this memory problem.
“That the generation to come might know…That they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Psalm 78:6-8 (NASB)

So what is at the root of the problem? We see some clues in verses 6 to 8, such as, the statement that they should put their confidence in God, which implies the generation before did not put their confidence in God but in something or someone else. We know Israel put their confidence in idols, in worldly practices of the nations around them, in pacts with other nations to protect them, and in their own wisdom.

Also, we see that they forgot the “works of God,” the great ways He delivered them and the mighty deeds He did on their behalf. It is further revealed that they forgot God’s law and how to obey it from the heart. They set their will up against God’s and so they are called a stubborn and rebellious generation.

The most revealing clue is in the phrase “a generations that did not prepare its heart.”

Prepare Your Heart
What does this phrase mean? It comes from a Hebrew term that means: to establish; to make provisions for; to make preparation for; to plan. In other words these people did not make provision to be faithful to God. They did not establish themselves in their relationship with God by planning to remain faithful to God.

Most of us have plans for our future. We make plans for our children. We plan to save money. We plan for our education,our vacation, our careers, our homes, our families, etc. We plan to be faithful to our spouse – even to the point of saying vows of love and faithfulness before others regarding our marriage relationship. Yet what about our relationship with God? What is my plan to remain faithful to God? What is your plan?

Note well: There is much to learn on this topic of “forgetting God.” Future blogs will add more to these thoughts. For now it is good to reflect on your memory of God, of His goodness and mighty deeds in His Word, as well as in your life.

What is your plan to remember God every day?
Think beyond your usual prayer and Bible reading!