Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Week Twenty-One - Starving for Love

I'd like to think I could write today's blog with as much passion as in my heart, but I'm not that talented. I am, however, moved with enough desire to try to express to you how God's everlasting, unconditional, yearning love is extended to all. Grasping even a portion of the depth of his love will change your life and feed your longing soul.

I've been reading Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. I don't think I've ever read a book with so much attention and detail into the heart of Christ and the depth of the Father's love. I do not doubt God's love for me. I rested in that truth when I found salvation, for only Jesus could satisfy my soul. And over the years, I have come to understand many facets of God's love and recognized his Spirit unearthing areas in my life where only His love could touch and heal. Today, as I write, I think of those who have not yet accepted God's love, who doubt or feel unworthy, or who need to venture deeper into his love.

Dane Ortlund wrote, "The world is starving for a yearning love, a love that remembers instead of forsakes. A love that isn't tied to our loveliness. A love that gets down underneath our messiness. A love that is bigger than the enveloping darkness we might be walking through even today. A love of which even the very best human romance is the faintest of whispers."

Is that the type of love you are starving for? A love that never forsakes? A love that truly understands and moves to embrace your brokenness? Well, my friend, this is exactly the love of God, and it is expressed through his word, exhibited by the sacrifice of Christ, and sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This deep and abiding love of God envelopes your starving heart in times of despair. It carries you to new heights and hides you within his Everlasting Arms. Your heart sings when the cloak of God's love covers your sin and comforts your needy soul. There is no reason to starve when the banquet table is laid out before you. Song of Solomon 2:4, "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love."

There's a beautiful hymn by Lucy Meyer based on Isaiah 55:1, 6 that goes,

Ho! every one that is thirsty in spirit,
Ho! every one that is weary and sad;
Come to the fountain, there's fullness in Jesus,
All that you're longing for: come and be glad!

Child of the world, are you tired of your bondage?
Weary of earth's joys, so false, so untrue?
Thirsting for God and His fullness of blessing?
List to the promise, a message for you!

Child of the kingdom, be filled with the Spirit!
Nothing but fullness thy longing can meet;
'Tis the enduement for life and for service;
Thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet.

"I will pour water on him that is thirsty,
I will pour floods upon the dry ground;
Open your hearts for the gifts I am bringing;
While you are seeking Me, I will be found."

Maybe it is time to stop starving and partake!  Dane Ortlund wrote, "Repent of your small thoughts of God's heart. Repent and let him love you."

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Week Twenty - Don't Poke the Bear

"Don't poke the bear," my mother would say when I antagonized my sister. It's an expression most often used as a warning to prevent someone from asking or doing something that might provoke a negative response or cause a fight. And we two girls fell easily into a fight.

When the Bible uses the word " provoke, " it means to stimulate or give rise to a potentially negative or positive reaction. Today, we're going to do a short study on this word, then I want to share one quote from Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund that prompted my exploration. By the way - this is a great read on the attribute of compassion.

The word provoke is used forty-one times in the Bible. Only two times is it used in a positive light - provoking others to love and good works. Thirty-one times the provoking is done by man toward God - man provoking God to anger or jealousy.

Why would I be interested in provoking God to anger?  Well, I'm not, but let me share with you what I read about God's mercy and this idea of provoking or poking the bear.

"'Slow to anger." The Hebrew phrase literally "long of nostrils." Picture an angry bull pawing the ground, breathing loudly, nostrils flared. That would be, so to speak, "short-nosed." But the Lord is long-nosed. He doesn't have his finger on the trigger. It takes much accumulated provoking to draw out his ire. Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being "provoked to anger" by his people. But not once are we told that God is "provoked to love" or "provoked to mercy." His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It's just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick...

Yahweh needs no provoking to love, only to anger. We need no provoking to anger, only to love."

Isn't that thought-provoking? We are like the bear, ready to fight at the slightest provocation, but our Lord is defined by mercy and longsuffering. He doesn't sit around looking for things that upset him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil." 

Unlike my sister and me, God isn't waiting for an opportunity to fight. He doesn't fall into anger at the slightest word or sideways glance. Mercy is the definition God gives of his name as he speaks to Moses in Exodus 34:6."And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."

Dear friend, this challenged me to look at my short-nosed-ness. Do I respond quickly in anger? Or do I have patience? Am I looking for a fight, or do I have an attitude of loving thoughts and grace? 

I also had to look at my idea of God. He is mercy. He is love. He does not willingly afflict or punish. It is his desire to grant goodness and patience. Do I see him that way? How much joy there is for us as we accept and rest in this attribute. And, what an example for us to follow.

Ask yourself. Which way are you? More easily provoked to love and mercy or a bear too easily poked to anger?

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."  James 1:19, 20

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Week Nineteen - Take a Break


Psalm 107:23-31 is a passage that, to me, describes ministry. God's servants are out there doing the work in great waters seeing the hand of God and His mighty wonders. And yet, even the works of God bring highs and lows, leaving them tossed about and at their wit's end. But then, as they cry, "Lord, I need a break," He calms the waves. Quietness returns for a while, and they enjoy a safe haven. The passage reads - 

"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deeps. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves there of. They mount up to the heaven, they do down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven."

What a precious thing to find a safe haven in times of storm. But not just any shelter will do. Acts 27:12 speaks of a haven, which was not commodious. We sometimes drift into non-commodious havens, places where we think we can get away from the storm, but where we find even more difficulty.

One such haven is self-pity. We anchor there because of hurts and pride, thinking no one will see us or know how we feel. As the tears fall and the groaning grinds on our spirits, we should recognize we have moored in a dangerous haven.

Psalm 6:6-7, "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief."

Another non-commodious haven is resignation to our plight, giving up, or believing ministry too hard. We grow weary of the battle. Staying in this haven brings hardness of heart and a loss of joy to ourselves and those we serve. We can't stay there forever.

Jeremiah 20:9 "I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay."

One most often frequented is the haven of anger. Moored alongside are resentment and poor judgment. Those who serve from anger find it colors every outcome, taints every victory, and becomes a fierce taskmaster.

James 1:20 "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."

These havens provide a form of sanctuary, but they take a heavy spiritual and emotional toll.

However, making it to a safe harbor produces distantly different results. Let's turn to Psalm 91:1-16 and see God's description of a safe harbor.  In God's haven --

We dwell under His shadow.  Verse 1 - "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

We have refuge and shelter. Verse 2 - "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust."

We have deliverance from Satan's traps and annoying calamities.  Verse 3 - "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence."

There is safety and comfort. Verse 4 - "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."

We have no fear. Verses 5-7 - "Thous shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday."

We have satisfaction and refuge.  Verse 8,9 - "Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation."

We have God's protection. Verses 10-13 - "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."

We have God's favor.  Verse 14 - "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name."

We have God's attention. Verse 15 - "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him."

We have God's blessing. Verse 16 - "With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation."

Now that's the sort of place where I want to take a break!

Proverbs 18:10 describes my favorite haven, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." I have sought and found refuge there through many times of storm.

If your life's sea is tossing to and fro or your ministry ship is taking on water, anchor your soul in God's haven. Take a break! You will find safe harbor and enjoy sweet fellowship with comfort, rest, and praise.

I've anchored my soul in the haven of rest,
I'll sail the wild seas no more.
The tempest may beat o'er the wild stormy deep,
In Jesus, I'm safe evermore.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Week Eighteen - Lamentations and Light

The book of Lamentations is woeful and full of Jeremiah's exhausted bereavement at God's judgment on Israel. He is so wearied with it all. But in chapter three, he reveals an antidote that can help us face similar intense trials. Let's take time to decipher it. Why not open your Bible to Lamentations 3 and follow along with me?

God's judgment on Israel brought personal affliction to Jeremiah. Men were persecuting him and laughing at him (vs. 1, 14). It left him feeling forsaken and in a dark place (vs. 2, 6). He feels trapped (vs. 5, 7, 9) and begins believing God must be against him as well. (vs. 3, 10,12). He is full of hurt and bitterness (vs. 4, 11, 13, 15, 16), feeling completely cut off, even from prayer (vs. 8, 19, 44).

Sounds depressing, doesn't it? But we've probably all been there at one time or another. Yet, amid Jeremiah's woeful lamentation, he reveals a way through and a secret about how to face enduring deep trials. Have a look with me.

In verses 18-21, he says, "And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope."

What? Thinking about his desperate circumstance brought him hope? Yes! Jeremiah doesn't deny things are bad. He is in a tough spot, but he shifts his focus. That word "recall" means "make to return to my heart." Instead of lamenting his situation, he begins thinking about the Lord and looking at his trial from a purposeful prospect that creates hope in his heart.

Look at what he recites. Remember the Lord. Trust in His goodness, His promises (vs. 22-33). And what are they? Mercy, in verse 22. Faithfulness, in verse 23. God's provision, in verse 24, and goodness, in verse 25. Jeremiah knows the consistent characteristics of God. He experienced them in the past and knew them to be still true. Long, heavy trials do not change God.

Now, he begins to speak into his situation. (Ephesians 5:19, 20 instructs us to do the same.) Be humble, he says in verse 20.  My soul---is humbled in me."  Wait on God, he tells himself in verse 26. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Jeremiah knows learning to wait is an appointed lesson from God.

Learning to bear heaviness is good for spiritual growth (vs. 27). "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." This too will pass (vs. 31). "For the Lord will not cast off for ever."

God will give compassion and mercy (vs. 32-33). "But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." It probably hurt God more than it hurt Jeremiah, yet God knows the importance of teaching His children to trust Him more fully and grow in faith. There is purpose in Jeremiah's trial, as with ours.

Jeremiah concludes with repentance and praise, "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto the God in the heaven." (Lamentations 3:40, 41).

What did he do next? "I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon" (Lamentations 3:55). Even though he felt very low, he prayed anyway. He chose to act by faith instead of drowning in his emotions. That is a good lesson for us.

Did he find help? Yes! God spoke to his need. "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee! Thou saidst, Fear not"(Lamentations 3:57).

You might think Jeremiah's plight changed overnight. That's what we would expect, but it didn't. His trial was not yet complete. But, by looking to the Lord, recognizing God's goodness, and confessing his dependence, he found the surest way to endure troublesome times and found Light at the end of the tunnel. 

We, too, may be lamenting our circumstances, but there is so much to learn from Jeremiah's situation. Let's begin by rehearsing God's truth to ourselves and holding onto the exceeding great and precious promises of God's word. Let's not forget the promises right here in Lamentations 3:22-23, It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."

God knows right where we are. He will bring us through much stronger and prepared to give Him the praise due to His name if we faithfully wait on Him - even in the dungeon.