Held and Holds

To hold is to have or keep (something) in your hand, arms, etc.; to put your arms around (someone): to embrace or hug (someone); and, to put or keep (something or someone) in a specified place or position.

Even during the times when He seems far away, our Father has always held us close. He holds us close now and He always will. There is no safer place to be than in His steady, loving hands. His grip is firm. We never have to fear that He will accidentally drop us. Relax. Rest. Read the verses below out loud and personalize them.

“The eternal God is your refuge and dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27a AMP).

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10 ESV).

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29 ESV).

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
(Ps. 139:9-12 NIV)

No matter the nature of our circumstances or our location – mentally, emotionally, physically, etc., God is holding us and always will. No one can take us out of His hand. We do not have to climb into His Hands or have to hang on to Him with our own efforts. As songwriter Albert B. Simpson wrote in the hymn, “The Everlasting Arms,”*
Underneath us, O how easy;
We have not to mount on high,
But to sink into His fulness,
And in trustful weakness lie.

Let go, fellow pilgrim. You are held by The Everlasting Arms.

*Public Domain

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God is Always with Us: The Reason We Have Hope

This blog post is an excerpt of Episode 2 of Season 8 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here.

We have just completed the third week of January 2023. How are you? Seriously. How are you?  Okay? Feeling great? Excited? Glad to hear it.  I join with you in giving thanks to God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, as stated in James 1:17. 

Tired? Weary? Uncertain? Confused? Frustrated? Scared? Heart broken? A combination of all or some of the above? Let’s talk to our gracious Savior and Lord, the One who loves us unwaveringly, is the God of all comfort, and who promises to renew our strength as we wait on Him. Great God, I ask that You strengthen your child. Let them feel Your comfort and Your peace. Let them know that You have not forgotten them. That You will keep Your promises. And Lord, please send the help that is needed. In Jesus’s Name. Amen. 

In the first episode of Season 8, we focused on hope and identified God as both the source of hope and our hope. We also reflected on two of the benefits of hope in God: hope in God anchors our souls and hope in God renews our strength.  In today’s episode, we will continue our focus on hope. I will use content from the blog post, “Leave,” that was published on the WORD … breathed blog, to guide our reflection. 

“Leave.” Although the word hope is not mentioned in the blog post, the post highlights the reason we always have hope, namely, God is always with us. God is always with us. I invite you to make this truth personal. God is always with me.  No matter what it feels like. God is always with me. No matter what it looks like. God is always with me. The post, “Leave,” was written in response to a writing prompt.

I read the prompt and His words sprung up in my spirit strong.
Wrapped themselves around my heart like a salve.
Pouring in oil and wine.

Moving me to tears with its firm assurance.
“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”
Never.
Not through the waters.
Not through the fire.
Not through the darkness that seems to hide My face.
Not through the betrayals.
Not through the leavings that come through endings
caused by physical death
or life choices.

Never.
Always there.
24/7.
Every day.
Every season.

Never.
Not one moment when I am not with you.
Not one second when I have even looked away.
Much more walked away.

Never will I leave you.
Not when you sin.
Not when you fail.
Not when you doubt.
Not when you pout,
resist my Spirit,
openly rebel.
Choose your own way instead of Mine.

Never will I leave you.
Never will I forsake you.
I keep My promises always.
So know that I will keep this one also.
As impossible as this may seem.
Especially when you think of all that has ended. 

Put you together in your mother’s womb.
And will bring you safely Home.
Never will I leave you.
Never.

God will never abandon us. That is the reason we have hope. This is a truth worth repeating. God. Will never abandon us. That is the reason we have hope.

I will share several verses from the NKJV of the Holy Bible that speak of God’s faithfulness, His immutability, and His holiness, some of His many qualities that give us reason to trust Him and hope in Him.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.

It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.
(Lamentations 3:22-26)

Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
(Psalm 90:2)

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;

Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.

But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.
(Psalms 102:25-27)

“No one is holy like the Lord,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
(1 Samuel 2:2)

“Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18).

In addition to the Scripture verses shared above, here are several verses from two hymns that highlight the truth that God is always with us, and He is faithful. The hymns are “Never Alone” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”  “Never Alone” was published in 1892 and the author is unknown (Public Domain). “O God Our Help in Ages Past” was written by Isaac Watts and published in 1719 (Public Domain). 

“Never Alone,”
I’ve seen the lightning flashing,
And heard the thunder roll,
I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing,
Trying to conquer my soul;
I’ve heard the voice of my Savior,
Telling me still to fight on,
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.

Refrain:
No, never alone,
No, never alone;
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.

When in affliction’s valley
I’m treading the road of care,
My Savior helps me to carry
My cross when heavy to bear,
Though all around me is darkness,
Earthly joys all flown;
My Savior whispers His promise,
“I never will leave thee alone.”

“O God Our Help in Ages Past”
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

As we engage in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life, may we speak the truth in love. May our words be seasoned with grace and, like the writer of Psalm 71:14, may we hope in God continually, and praise God yet more and more. 

Be Encouraged. You Belong to God.

Encourage – to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope (Merriam-Webster)

Encouragement. I have heard it said that too much of anything can be bad for you but I am convinced this adage does not apply to encouragement. There is so much in life that can attack our hope, weaken our determination, and decrease our confidence. As a result, encouragement is always needed. It is one “vitamin” on which we cannot overdose.

What encourages you, inspires you with courage, spirit or hope? How do you encourage yourself? Do you encourage yourself or do you lean more towards harsh self-criticism?

In the Biblical book of 1 Samuel, a distressing time in the life of David, the shepherd and psalmist who became the 2nd king of Israel, is documented. He was in danger of being stoned by his men who were bitter over the loss of their children in a raid. We are told that during this period of distress and potential danger, “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6 AMP).  Many times in Scripture, God is referred to as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (click here for examples). But not in this story. It is David’s personal relationship with God which is highlighted. He “encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (bold emphasis added). Indeed, there is encouragement and strengthening that come from a personal, intimate relationship with God. From knowing that we are His.

Here are reminders of this truth (that we are His) from His written Word:

“Acknowledge that Yahweh is God. He made us, and we are His— His people, the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3 HCSB).

“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:8 HCSB).

Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3 HCSB).

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:15 HCSB).

“You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 HCSB).

“But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:25-26 HCSB).

“But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 HCSB).

Whatever you are experiencing, whatever you face in this new month, or will face in this new year, you can, like David, encourage and strengthen yourself in the Lord your God. Knowledge deepens intimacy so commit to growing in accurate knowledge of the One to whom you belong.

Be encouraged. You belong to God. Remind yourself of this truth until it takes root in your spirit. You. Belong. To. God. And He has promised never to leave you or forsake you.

Hope

This blog post is an excerpt of Episode 1 of Season 8 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here. The focus of this first episode of season 8 is hope.

Perhaps it feels that you limped or crawled into 2023. Perhaps it seems for you the only words that accurately sum up 2022 are brutal, heartbreaking, devastating, disappointing, and the like. Perhaps from where you are standing or lying face down emotionally, mentally, or otherwise, the best thing about 2022 is that it is over. If either or all of these scenarios describe where you are, I can appreciate that the thought of having hope may seem to require more than you have. That it may seem risky, naïve, or even foolish to focus on hope as we face the unknown in the early days of a new year.

If this is where you are, fellow sojourner, I pray that the healing balm of Jehovah Rapha, the God of all comfort, sweeps over you and seeps into your every bruised or wounded place. Healing is more often a journey than an instantaneous occurrence but I pray that your healing begins or continues.  I pray that the following truth finds a resting place within you: because you are a child of God, because you are His, you may feel hopeless but you are never without hope. You have access to hope. I pray that this truth will take root within you and bloom, because hope matters.

Dr. Adam P. Stern, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (among other roles), in his article, “Hope: Why it matters,” shares several reasons why hope matters. He reports that hope is an essential component of our well-being, and its benefits extend across the life span. For example, it protects against depression and suicide, is linked with health, quality of life, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose for teenagers and, for older adults, hope protects against the dread of a chronic or life-threatening illness and can be an opportunity for adults to process seemingly insurmountable events.

Hope matters but what is hope?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hope as:
1: to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment
2: to expect with confidence :trust

Hope matters but of equal or greater importance, is the source or basis of our hope. Hope can be false and false hope can be detrimental, even deadly. So let us turn to the written word of God to see what He says about hope. 

Let us begin with what the Bible tells us about the source of true hope:

Psalm 71:5 (NKJV), “For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth.” Did you hear that? God is our hope. 

The truth that God is our hope is reiterated in Romans 15:13 (NLT), “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (emphasis added). God, the source of hope.

God, the source of hope, has given us His written word. And one of His reasons for doing so is stated in Romans 15:4 (NKJV), “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” “…that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV), “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Second Thessalonians 2:16-17 (ESV), “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

What benefits does hope provide for the Christian?

It is clear that Biblical hope is based on the character of God but what does hope in God provide for the christian? There are many benefits, but I will focus on two of the benefits hope in God provides His children:

  1. Hope anchors the soul. Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) states, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The hymn, “We have an Anchor” written by Priscilla J. Owens, beautifully and powerfully restates the truth of Hebrews 6:19-20.
  1. Hope in the Lord renews our strength. Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV) assures us, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

In his article, “What is Hope?” John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, notes, “… biblical hope is never based on what is possible with man. Biblical hope looks away from man to the promise of God. And when it does, it becomes the ‘full assurance of hope’ — the expectation of great things from God.”

But what do we do when we feel battered by life’s storms and our hope feels fragile? What do we do when hope seems absent or appears to be slipping away? We remind ourselves that God is our hope and He has promised never to leave us. We remind ourselves that He said He has a good plan for us, a plan to give us a future and a hope. We remind ourselves that even when we feel hopeless, because He is ever present, unchanging, and cannot lie, we have hope. 

We remind ourselves that we not only have hope because of our loving God, we are held by Hope. (Remember Psalm 71:5 (NKJV)?  “For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth.” God is our hope, so we are held and upheld by Hope.  

When it comes to human experiences on earth, we cannot be absolutely sure of the specifics of what lies ahead. We, however, can be sure of the Omnipotent, Omniscient God, who declares in Revelation 1:8 (AMP) “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega [the Beginning and the End],’ says the Lord God, ‘Who is [existing forever] and Who was [continually existing in the past] and Who is to come, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all].'”

In the article referenced earlier, John Piper encourages us to preach sermons to ourselves. He notes, “The best sermon you preach yourself this week may be only three words long: ‘Hope in God!'” We see an example of this practice in Psalm 42:5 (AMP). Speaking to himself, the psalmist asks questions of his soul, then tells himself what to do. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become restless and disturbed within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.” Take a moment to do the same.

Prayer: “Dear God, the source of hope, please fill us completely with joy and peace as we trust in You so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s Name. Amen” (paraphrase of Romans 15:13 NIV).

Facing the Unknown at the Beginning of the Year (and Any Other Time)

“One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8-9 NKJV)

Here at the beginning of 2023, as you face the unknown and consider your known resources, you may be asking questions similar to that posed by Andrew, “I do not know what lies ahead of me. Will what I have be enough? Will I be enough? 

First let us address the reality that we are all facing the unknown at the beginning of the new year (and do so at other times). With even the most detailed plans, life teaches us that we cannot plan for every possibility. We. Just. Cannot. That is the nature of life. The future is unknown to us, and the unknown can trigger apprehension, even anxiety.

Although it is true the future is unknown to us, the future, however, is not unknown to our God. Pause and let that truth sink in. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and loving. Bring your anxiety to Him and ask Him to help you trust and rely on Him. Take the time in these early days of the year to seek Him, not just for His provision but to establish or strengthen the habit of growing in your knowledge of Him. Instead of worrying about what you do not know, focus on growing in your knowledge of and intimacy with the One who is omniscient and is already in the future. 

Now let us turn our attention to the issue of resources. The story of Jesus feeding five thousand men, plus women and children that is the backdrop for Andrew’s question, provides comfort and assurance. It points to the truth that our limited resources (and no human resource is limitless) are not the sum total of all we have available to us. God is able to multiply whatever we give willingly to Him. It is not that He needs what we have but He allows us to partner with Him in meeting our needs. And of all that we can offer Him, the offering that honors and pleases Him most is the gift of ourselves.

We do not have to wonder about being enough for He is I AM. In addition, we are told a powerful, encouraging truth in Philippians 2:13, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (NLT). Let us begin the year from a position of surrender to Him, understanding that our surrender is not a one-and-done act but a daily, sometimes minute by minute process.

Child of God, do not let the unknown keep you from remembering what you can know beyond the shadow of any doubt:

God is with you (Isa. 41:10).

God is for you (Rom. 8:31).

God fights for you (Deut. 1:30) and teaches your hand to war. (Psa. 18:34).

You have divinely created weapons (2 Cor. 10:4)

You are never without hope because Jesus is your hope (Psa. 71:5).

His strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

He gives you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61:3).

His word is nourishment (Matt. 4:4). (Remember to consume adequate amounts daily).

The words Corrie ten Boom shared decades ago remain relevant for us today, “Never be afraid to trust the unknown future to a known God.” Also, as pastor, songwriter, and author, Steven Furtick stated in his message, “God’s Got Your Back”, “Do not let what you are walking into distract you from remembering who you are walking in with.” For added encouragement, I recommend the song, “Be Strong and Take Courage,” by Don Moen.

Please share this post if you found it helpful. Also, please share in the comments, Scripture verses and/or songs that have encouraged you during uncertain seasons. Blessings.

The Generosity of God: Immanuel

This blog post is an excerpt of Episode 7 of Season 7 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here.

We focus today on God’s greatest gift, the Incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus – the Eternal Word became flesh for us (John 1:14).

In his article, “What is the Incarnation?” David Mathis, Executive Editor of desiringGod.org, addresses this truth that The Word became flesh for us. He notes, “Flesh isn’t merely a reference to the human body but the entirety of what makes up humanity — body, mind, emotions, and will. Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15 teach that to save human beings Jesus had to be made like us ‘in every respect’ except our sin. In the incarnation, everything proper to humanity was united to the Son of God. The Son of God did not only become like man; he actually became truly and fully human … without ceasing to be God.” 

“And what a magnificent truth and fuel for worship this is. Jesus didn’t just become man because he could. This was no circus stunt, just for show. He became man, in the world of the ancient creed, ‘for us and for our salvation.’ The eternal Word became frail human flesh and blood to save us from our sin and to free us to marvel at and enjoy the unique union of divinity and humanity in his one spectacular person.”

“The incarnation is not only the way in which Jesus became Immanuel — God with us — but it’s an eternal testimony that he and his Father are unswervingly for us.” The last sentence in the quote bears repeating: “The incarnation is not only the way in which Jesus became Immanuel — God with us — but it’s an eternal testimony that he and his Father are unswervingly for us.”

The Incarnation was the fulfillment of the promise of redemption God made in the Garden of Eden after the fall of mankind, as recorded in (Genesis 3:15 NKJV), “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” This promise is repeated in various passages of Scripture such as Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (NKJV). 

And in Isaiah 9:6 and 7 (NKJV), 
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The promise of redemption was made and the promise of redemption was kept — in God’s time. Galatians 4:4-5 tells us, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (NKJV). 

God kept His promise and what Him doing so means for us, is clearly stated in Romans 8:31-32 (NKJV) and Colossians 1:13-14. First, Romans 8:31-32 (NKJV), “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  Next, Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV), “For He has rescued us and has drawn us to Himself from the dominion of darkness, and has transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption [because of His sacrifice, resulting in] the forgiveness of our sins [and the cancellation of sins’ penalty].”

As stated in previous episodes, appreciation for a gift is demonstrated not only through verbal expressions of heartfelt thanks but also by how the gift is utilized. So, how are we making use of this Gift, or in other words, what is our consistent response to the Son? To Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

If you have never received Jesus as Savior, that is your first step and the process of doing so is a simple prayer, something like this, “Dear Jesus, I accept that I am a sinner and cannot save myself. I believe that You are the Son of God who died on the cross for the sake of my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Please forgive my sins. I accept You as my Savior. Help me to live for You. In Your Name I pray. Amen.” 

For those of us who profess to be Christians, Christ followers, the Christmas story is a familiar story that, unfortunately, may no longer evoke wonder. I pray that from this Christmas we will contemplate its truths with new eyes and awe-struck hearts and minds. Because it is not just a story. It is The Story of the love of God for us. For you. For me. Our appropriate response is a life marked by love for God and others (Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34), by gratitude (Psa. 100:4; 1 Thess. 5:18), worship (Psa. 95:6; 96:9; John 4:24), surrender (Rom. 12:1; Gal. 2:20), trust (Prov. 3:5-6), and obedience (John 14:15; Jas. 1:22). 

Scents of Christmas

“Cranberry spice,” was the label on one candle. I envisioned the candle on the mantle of my fireplace and placed three in my cart. On another shelf the label on a red packet proclaimed, “Red Hot Cinnamon: Luxurious Simmering Potpourri.” I picked up the packet, the scent of cinnamon wafted up, I inhaled and imagined the scent filling my home.

Scents. They are such an inherent part of the Christmas season. Scented pinecones. Freshly baked bread. Natural Christmas trees. Pumpkin pie. What is your favorite scent?

I am thinking also of another scent that can permeate our lives this Christmas season as we engage in every activity, including standing in long lines to purchase groceries and gifts. The scent I am thinking of is prayer. In Psalm 141:2, David prayed, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering” (AMP).

Revelation chapter 5 paints a gripping scene in which the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who is also the Lamb, takes center place and is worshiped. He is worshiped by angels, and elders, and the living creatures, and every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea. In the midst of this awe-inspiring scene, our prayers are mentioned. Verse 8 states, “And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Christ), each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of fragrant incense, which are the prayers of the saints (God’s people)” (AMP, emphasis added). Our prayers are incense to the One who sits on the Throne and to the Lamb.

What would happen if this incense permeated our lives this Christmas? What if we prayed for each person on our Christmas card and/or gift list? Prayed as we purchased their gift and/or wrapped it? What if we prayed for the impatient person ahead of us in line? The frazzled cashier? The person who cuts us off in traffic? The postal worker or whomever delivers our mail this Christmas season? For those who are without whatever we are enjoying in a given moment — warmth, shelter, fellowship, a meal? What if we prayed for ourselves —that His peace will flood our hearts? That we will choose joy? That we quiet our souls in His presence? That we remain focused on Him who is both the Giver of every good and perfect gift and the Gift? What if we prayed this Christmas, perhaps as we have not prayed during previous Christmases?

The prayers mentioned above involve petitions, but I pray that our prayers also be prayers of worship, praise and thanksgiving. Prayers in which we do not make any requests; instead, we worship Him for who He is. Prayers in which we praise and thank Him for what He has done. And He has done so much, has He not? Prayers in which we praise Him for what He is doing and will do, knowing He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20, NKJV). Prayers in which we thank Him for loving us and we express our love to Him.

May our lives be scented with prayer this Christmas.

The Generosity of God: Faith

This blog post is an excerpt of Episode 6 of Season 7 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here.

In the previous episode, we focused on God’s gift of Creation. We reflected on the truth that His gift of creation is another way that God reveals Himself to us. We considered some of what the Bible tells us we observe about God from nature. For example, His wisdom and righteousness. And we were reminded through the words of Paul David Tripp, that “God has designed the world in which we live to be a gloryscope and to be mnemonic.” That “Physical things are meant to remind us of the grandeur and glory of the One who created all those things, set them in motion, and keeps them together by the awesome power of his will.” These words inspire worship, do they not? Praise His Name. 

In today’s episode, we turn our attention to God’s gift of faith. Faith is a gift from God? Yes. 

What is Faith?

The Biblical definition of faith documented in Hebrews 11:1 is, “Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses]” (AMP).

Hebrews 11:3 informs us that it is, “By faith [that is, with an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God] we understand that the worlds (universe, ages) were framed and created [formed, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose] by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (AMP).

In addition, Hebrews 11:6 clearly highlights the essential role of faith in our relationship with God, “But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him” (AMP).

Given that it is impossible to walk with God and please Him without faith, I am grateful that God did not leave the origins of faith to us. He did not leave us to create or drum up faith on our own. Faith is one of His gifts to us. Yes, there are practices that can strengthen, develop, and mature our faith but our faith begins with God. In Hebrews 12:2 (AMP), we are told that Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Other verses that reveal God as the originator of our faith include Romans 12:3 which declares that God has apportioned or given every man the measure of faith, and Romans 10:17 which tells us, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (KJV).

Pastor and bestselling author, Timothy Keller, notes, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” 

Pastor and author, A. W. Tozer, declared, “True faith rests upon the character of God and asks no further proof than the moral perfections of the One who cannot lie. It is enough that God said it, and if the statement should contradict every one of the five senses and all the conclusions of logic as well, still the believer continues to believe. ‘Let God be true, but every man a liar,’ is the language of true faith. Heaven approves such faith because it rises above mere proofs and rests in the bosom of God.”

French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, Blaise Pascal stated, “Faith is a sounder guide than reason.  Reason can go only so far, but faith has no limits.”

Oswald Chambers, evangelist, teacher and author of the daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest: “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” 

Pastor and author Max Lucado: “Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want.  It is the belief that God will do what is right.”

What Are You Doing With the Gift of Faith?

As stated in previous episodes, appreciation for a gift is demonstrated not only through verbal expressions of heartfelt thanks but also by how the gift is utilized. So, how are we utilizing this gift of faith?  

Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Faith and provides the record of how various individuals utilized this gift of faith. Here are several examples from verses 8 to 11:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called [by God], obeyed by going to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land, as in a strange land, living in tents [as nomads] with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was [waiting expectantly and confidently] looking forward to the city which has foundations, [an eternal, heavenly city] whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received the ability to conceive [a child], even [when she was long] past the normal age for it, because she considered Him who had given her the promise to be reliable and true [to His word]” (AMP).

We can be encouraged when we read about how ordinary people used their faith in God. I am asking myself, “Is my faith truly and consistently in God, the Giver, or is my faith otherwise placed? Faith in God is never misplaced because He is holy and cannot sin. The question we each must answer is, “How am I utilizing my faith?” 

God, through the apostle James, gives us truth that can serve as a mirror to help us answer the question in James 2:14-26 (AMP). I will not include the passage in its entirety but encourage each of us to read it prayerfully at some point.
“What is the benefit, my fellow believers, if someone claims to have faith but has no [good] works [as evidence]? Can that [kind of] faith save him? [No, a mere claim of faith is not sufficient—genuine faith produces good works.] If a brother or sister is without [adequate] clothing and lacks [enough] food for each day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace [with my blessing], [keep] warm and feed yourselves,’ but he does not give them the necessities for the body, what good does that do? So too, faith, if it does not have works [to back it up], is by itself dead [inoperative and ineffective].”

How are we using our faith? 

Author, pastor, and educator, Francis Chan, asserts, “True faith manifests itself through our actions.”

Founder and teacher of desiringGod.org, John Piper, states: “This teaching about faith being a gift of God raises many questions. God has answers for all of them, even if we don’t. Let us seek to put the teaching into practical biblical use, namely the humbling of our pride and the stimulation of our prayers. In other words, let us pray daily: ‘O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it, Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don’t let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do you get the glory as the great Giver. Amen.'”

God’s Timing and Answered Prayer

“The Kingdom purpose of God extends beyond our personal plans and desires. As such His answers to our prayers occur within that eternal context.” This powerful truth was shared by Bible teacher and author, Priscilla Shirer, in the Bible study, Faithful Abundant True.

One of the clearest demonstrations of this truth (for me) is in the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Here is a portion of this story as recorded in Luke 1: 5-13, 18 (NIV):
“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John…’ Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years‘” (italics added).

Zechariah’s response was based on unbelief. He had prayed for a son but, perhaps with the passage of time, had stopped believing that God would answer this prayer. Hear again his response to the angel Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Had he forgotten Abraham and Sarah?).  It seems that he had lost hope and was saying to Gabriel, “This is not possible. I will not get my hopes up only to be disappointed again.”

In this familiar account, I see God’s timing in answering Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s prayers for a child.  Their child’s purpose was to be the forerunner of Jesus, so he could only be born when it was time for the Messiah to come into the world. 

The truth shared by Priscilla Shirer that is mentioned above, bears repeating now (and every time our hope begins to shrivel) – “The Kingdom purpose of God extends beyond our personal plans and desires. As such His answers to our prayers occur within that eternal context.” More than Priscilla’s words, however, we have the Word of God and His character to depend on.
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
(Numbers 23:19 NKJV)

As Hebrews 10:35-38 encourages, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him‘” (NKJV; italics added).

Be encouraged. God will keep every promise He has made to you. Trust His timing. Rely on His strength.

The Generosity of God: Creation

This blog post is an excerpt of Episode 5 of Season 7 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here.

In the previous episode, we focused on God’s gift of Prayer. We reflected on the marvelous truth that God wants us to know Him and, in addition to His Word, The Holy Bible, God reveals Himself to us through prayer, that is, a conversation with Him that fosters intimacy with Him. We were challenged to make prayer a daily habit and were reminded through the words of pastor and author, Max Lucado, that “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” 

In today’s episode we will focus on God’s gift of creation, an act of generosity that is another way that God reveals Himself to us. Pause for a moment and think of something in nature that fills you with wonder, makes you smile – a sunrise, the ocean, a butterfly, a rose, mountains, bird song, a starry night, a full moon, a gentle, cooling breeze on a summer day. God has placed so much variety to things in nature. He did not have to but He is generous. For example, there are an estimated 18,500 to 20,000 species of butterflies and approximately 200 billion trillion stars in the universe.  How great is our God!

There are various Scripture verses that speak to us about creation. Let us start at the beginning, with an abridged version of the creation story from Genesis 1:1-27 (ESV):
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” … And it was so. And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Proverbs 3:19 (NKJV): “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens.”

Hebrews 11:3 (AMP): “By faith [that is, with an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God] we understand that the worlds (universe, ages) were framed and created [formed, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose] by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”

Psalm 19:1-2 (EXB) state, “The heavens ·declare [recount; narrate] the glory [the manifest presence] of God, and the ·skies [firmament; dome; Gen. 1:6] ·announce [speak out] ·what his hands have made [the works of his hands]. Day after day they ·tell the story [bubble/pour forth speech]; night after night they ·tell it again [declare knowledge].”

Romans 1:19-20 (ESV) tell us, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Let us hear this verse again and this time, let us personalize it. What can be known of God is plain to us, because God has shown it to us. For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So we are without excuse.

What does creation tell us about God?
In the article, What Creation Teaches Us about God – DTS Voice, Dr. Mark L. Bailey, of the Dallas Theological Seminary, highlights a sampling of what the Bible tells us we observe about God from nature:

• God’s wisdom. When Job objected to his trials, what did God use to silence him? The revelation of His wisdom seen through creation (Job 38:1–7).

• God’s righteousness. The psalmist wrote, “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge” (Ps. 50:6).

• God’s grace. Jesus reminded His listeners that God’s creative act of bringing rain demonstrates His grace to the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:44–45).

• God’s care. Jesus also pointed to creation to demonstrate God’s care, saying that not one sparrow falls outside of the Father’s knowledge (Matt. 6:28–32).

• God’s invisible attributes. In asserting—through inspiration of the Holy Spirit—that all humans stand accountable to God, Paul looked to creation, which reveals God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:18–20).

What Are You Doing With the Gift of Creation?
As stated in previous episodes, appreciation for a gift is demonstrated not only through verbal expressions of heartfelt thanks but also by how the gift is utilized. So, how are we utilizing this gift of creation? It is true that we are to be good stewards of creation but creation is not to be valued strictly for itself. To prevent misuse of a thing, its purpose must be understood. We must understand the purpose of creation. To aid our reflection on the purpose of creation, I will share excerpts from Paul David Tripp’s book, Awe: Why it matters for everything we think, say, and do.

“God created an awesome world. God intentionally loaded the world with amazing things to leave you astounded … And he intended you to be daily amazed” (p. 18). 

“Every created awe is meant to point you to the Creator. … Creation is awesome. God designed it to be awesome. And God designed you to take in creation’s awesome display … Every awesome thing in creation is designed to point you to the One who alone is worthy of capturing and controlling the awe of your searching and hungry heart… Created awe has a purpose; it is meant to point you to the where the awe of your heart should rest.

“God has designed the world in which we live to be a gloryscope. What does this term mean? Just as a telescope points you to stars and magnifies them for you to see their illuminating glory, so the earth focuses our eyes on God and magnifies his glory, so it can produce wonder in us. … Everything exists for a grand, vertical purpose … God fashioned his world in such a way that it would bring his glory into view” (p. 66).

“Because of our forgetfulness, God created the physical world to be mnemonic, to help us daily remember that we are not alone, that we are not at the center, that life is not primarily about us, and that there is a grander story than the little stories of our individual lives. Physical things are meant to remind us of the grandeur and glory of the One who created all those things, set them in motion, and keeps them together by the awesome power of his will” (pp. 67-68).

How do we utilize creation? Tripp states that as we encounter the physical world each day, we should be “blown away by the glory of God to which it points. But we are not.”  Most of us, he states, live as blind awe amnesiacs and are ignorant of our condition, which has significant consequences. But there is something we can do to initiate the process of change. We can pray. Let us do so now.

Heavenly Father, You are the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. As admonished through our brother Paul Tripp, we confess that although You made the physical world around us gloryscopic and mnemonic, too often we do not see and remember much of what the world points to. Heal our spiritual eyes so that we may see Your glory in Your gift of Creation daily. Heal our hearts so that we can properly remember what we see. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.