Hebrews: Hold On

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“Do you want goldfish?” Joy’s mommy asked her. “Yeah!” she answered enthusiastically. “I’ll give you some if you take two more bites of spaghetti.” She quickly shoveled in two forkfuls and beamed at her mother with noodles hanging out of her mouth. Some might consider that bribery, but in our house, we call that toddler negotiation. If you do this, I’ll do that.

When the author of Hebrews used the word “if” it’s wasn’t arbitration as if God is negotiating with us. ”If” as it’s used here is a statement of fact. “We are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6b). That doesn’t mean if we hold on to our faith, then God will save us. It means we prove the genuineness of our profession of faith if we hold fast to the courage and hope we claim to possess.

I just rewrote that last statement because I originally said, “if we hold fast to Jesus with courage and hope.” The Holy Spirit stopped me. “Look at that verse again. What do those words mean?” Courage in this verse means boldness, confidence, and public openness of speech. With that in mind, look back at the end of this verse, “. . . courage and the hope of which we boast.”  A “profession of faith” is a public statement – not that we “chose Jesus,” but that we are confident that He will do what He promised – to save us now and eternally.

As an example, he referenced the Israelites who rebelled against Him by questioning His faithfulness. Quoting from Psalm 95, he said that they “hardened their hearts . . . during the time of testing in the desert.” They whined and complained and doubted God every time they come up against a challenge. They asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Why? Because “they have not known my ways.” They doubted God because they didn’t know Him.

As believers, we should grow in our faith. Our confidence in Jesus should become deeper, not more shallow. If we begin to doubt Him and question His faithfulness we should reconsider the genuineness of our profession and whether or not we really know Him.

Because “if” you know Him, Beloved, you will love and trust Him. All the way to the end.

Do You Want to Know God?

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*Steel-toe boot warning*

I have the utmost respect for school teachers. I wanted to be a teacher years ago, but I don’t believe I could do it today – not in the current educational climate. Besides disrespectful students, a lack of support from parents, and shamefully low pay, teachers are being forced to teach political rhetoric that is not helpful for a child’s intellectual growth and success. Schools are turning out students who don’t know what they need to survive and thrive in the real world.

Hosea prophesied the word of the Lord to the northern kingdom of Israel prior to and during their fall to the Assyrians. They had always been ruled by wicked kings and it showed. The Lord charged them with faithlessness, lovelessness, disregard for God, cursing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, and bloodshed. He said they “stumble day and night” (4:5).  The reason for their sin and instability? “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6). What is it they didn’t know? God. The Creator of the Universe. The one who called out their forefather Abraham, who declared that they were His people and He would be their God. The one who led them out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It’s not that He didn’t provide evidence of Himself. They didn’t know Him because they didn’t want to know Him.

The Lord said they had “rejected knowledge” and “ignored the law of your God.” (v.6). It was a conscious and deliberate decision on their part. A friend joking accused me of ignoring her when she pulled beside me in traffic one day. But I wasn’t ignoring her because I didn’t see her. We only reject and ignore what we are aware exists.  

If we don’t know God it’s nobody’s fault but our own. We are responsible for our lack of knowledge. Paul said “men are without excuse” when they ignore and reject God. He has made Himself known in His creation (Romans 1:19-20), in His Word (2 Peter 1:20-21), and in His Son (John 17:6). So my steel-toe question is – How much effort are you making to know God? Are you rejecting and ignoring all the means by which He has revealed Himself?  Let me put it another way – How important is knowing God to you?  Beloved, don’t get tripped up by a lack of knowledge.

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

Can You Really Know God?

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Several years ago, during a deep, dark season, God asked me a question: “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I replied. “Who else could You be?” He answered, “Yes, I am God. Yet there is so much more to Me than you realize. I want you to know Me, then tell others about Me.” Know God? How can I know the Indescribable? God is far too big to fit into my finite little mind. But He had spoken to me, and His words were very clear. The purpose of my life is to know God and to make Him known.

Not many days later, I came across a Scripture that has become my life verse: Jeremiah 29:13, which says “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” I knew that this would be a life-long search, and I knew it would not be truly complete until I stood before Him in heaven. But I had His promise in His own words – “I will be found by you…” (Jeremiah 29:14a). The beauty of this verse is that God promises that as we intentionally seek Him, He will make Himself available to us. Through the years I have come to know God in amazing and wonderful ways, yet I haven’t even scratched the surface of who He is.

Incredible, isn’t it? The God who created and rules the universe wants you and me to know Him. He has said so over and over in Scripture. But we won’t stumble over Him on our way to something else. To “seek” God means we actively invest in all the places and ways He reveals Himself. He gave us the Bible so we could know Him through His Words. Seeking God means reading and studying and meditating on and memorizing His Word. Oh, and obeying. Obedience opens the door to a greater revelation.  He sent His Son Jesus to reveal Himself to us. You will not find God apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Even the world that surrounds us was designed to draw us to Him (Romans 1:19-20).
Beloved God is not hiding from you. He wants you to know Him…so much so that He has invited you to pursue Him with the promise that you will find Him. I’m on that life-long journey – won’t you come with me?

A Real Love Story

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Hosea is a beautiful love story. God instructed His prophet Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, as an example to the people of Israel of how He took them out of their former life of wickedness and made them His own. As expected, she was unfaithful to Hosea, again a living example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The Lord declares that He will punish Israel, banishing her to the desert and revealing her wickedness. But He also promised to restore Israel. In the desert where He sent her, He will “speak tenderly to her” (2:14). In the same place where she knew only trouble, God promised that “she will sing as in the days of her youth” (2:15) He will restore their relationship and send her enemies away.

Here’s what I find so wonderful. God said that He would “betroth” or commit Himself to her forever in “righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, [and] in faithfulness” (2:19-20). Then He says “You will acknowledge the Lord” (2:20). At first, I thought that acknowledging the Lord was her part in the restoration. That she would have to acquiesce to Him. But the word used means “to know” and pictures a husband and wife in their most intimate moment. So the truth is – “acknowledging the Lord” it isn’t a demand God is making, it is a promise He is proclaiming. After the season of discipline, God will pour out His righteousness and justice and love and compassion and faithfulness, and He will lavish her with love. And she will know her beloved in the most intimate, unifying, and satisfying way. She will know Him because He loves her.

That is true for you Beloved. God calls you into a deeper knowledge of Him, not so you can fill your head with facts, but so that you can know – in the very deepest part of your heart – that He loves you. No matter your past, no matter your sin, no matter how far you’ve run or how long – God wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves you. Listen carefully and you will hear His tender voice in your ear. “I love you, Child, you are mine forever.”

God in the Darkness

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It was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like I am still there. My season of great darkness. To this day I don’t understand why, but the enemy came down on me with both feet. It was an emotional breakdown and it was spiritual oppression. It manifested physically in sleepless nights and body aches with no medical explanation. I could not stop the tears and the constant thoughts of self-destruction. I truly believed I was losing my mind. I had been writing for several years, and I threw all my notebooks in the fireplace because I didn’t think I would ever have normal, sane thoughts again. And I thought God had abandoned me. The enemy kept telling me so. One day my then 12 year old son came through the kitchen singing, “Jesus loves me,” but he stopped short of the chorus. I said, “please keep singing” but he said, “you finish it Mom, I’m going out to play.” But I couldn’t sing “Yes, Jesus loves me,” because I didn’t believe He did.
One morning in the very wee hours, I sat on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket with my Bible in my lap. The only thing I knew for sure was it I had any hope of survival, I had to stay connected to God, even if I wasn’t sure He wanted to stay connected to me. I was reading Exodus 3 and the story of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asked God’s name, I “heard” in my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You are God,” I answered, “who else could you be?” “Oh, there is so much more to me than you ever imagined. Know me.” I remembered a little book I had picked up for five bucks at a women’s retreat a few years before, that had a list of the names of God with Scripture references. I started at the first name and day-by-day worked my way through that list. God met me and revealed Himself to me every morning, name by name. I researched more names and for three years I studied until the fog dissipated and I could breath again. He saved my sanity and my life.
Now I know that He is El Emunah – the Faithful God and He is Yahweh Sali – the Lord my Rock and He is Yahweh Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle. But most of all I know that He is El Hayyay – God of my life. And He’s proven it over and over and over again.

The God I Know

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“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42).

Like most couples, my husband and I have some significant differences – like the way we drive.  I am a “straight-shot” driver – give me the most direct route with the fewest turns possible.  He likes to take -shall we say – alternate routes as he drives.  He is constantly trying to tell me his “better ways” to get from point A to point B, and I usually smile and go my own way. One of his shortcuts is a wide swing on a country road to avoid a city with heavy traffic.  I usually fought through the traffic because I wasn’t sure I could navigate his preferred route.  Until we moved a few months ago and we actually live right on this very road.  Now, because I travel this road all the time, I am confident I can navigate it successfully and I’ve found it really is a better way.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He changed her life and she ran to tell her neighbors that she had found the Christ.  They came to meet this man and heard His message in the two days He stayed in their town.  John says, “Because of His words many more became believers.” (v. 41).  They didn’t believe the woman’s claims about who Jesus was until they saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears.  Then they understood that Jesus was indeed God’s Anointed One – He was the better way.

In every life challenges and difficulties come and situations take us by surprise.  Health struggles, joblessness, relationship battles, loss and heartache happen and we’re left wondering where to turn.  My family is experiencing some of those right now and we are turning to God.  Why?  Because over the years, we have come to know Him through experience.  We’ve found Him to be able and faithful.  We’ve tried Him and are confident of His love and care.

Every challenge in life is an opportunity to discover who God is.  Sure, you read about Him in the Bible and you’ve heard other’s talk about what He’s done in their lives, but what do those stories mean for you?  Not much until you experience Him for yourself.   A recent health issue reminded me that God is my Healer.  In this present season, we are trusting in God as our Provider.  A dear friend recently experienced loss and now confidently claims God as her Comforter.  You can’t really know who God is until you have tried Him and found Him to be exactly what you need. Just as He said He would be.

Beloved, whatever your season, whatever the need – may I encourage you to try God?  I am certain you will find He is able and faithful.  Then you can say with confidence – “I believe because I have experienced Him for myself – I know He is everything He claims to be.”

Out of the Darkness and into Life

 

crying-eyes-wallpapers-31“I will exalt You, O Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths . . . O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O Lord, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:1-3

Memory is a powerful thing. It can bring us delight in the thoughts of a loved one, or joy in the remembrance of a special day. It can take me back to the innocent days of childhood or allow you to recall again the arms of your daddy carrying you up to bed. Memories can also cause grief and pain to resurface, people whose absence haunts us, or situations that come rushing back from dark times we’ve tried to forget. I experience one of those painful memories in, of all things, a computer game. It was a game I played for mind-numbing hours when sleep escaped me and anxiety overwhelmed me. It was one of the deepest, darkest seasons of my life.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went in a day or so. Many times they were connected to disappointments, frustrations and hormones (every woman reading this just nodded her head).   But they didn’t prove to be debilitating so I just rode them out like waves at the beach. Until a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet with a force I’ve never felt before. There was no riding this one out. There was no jumping back to my feet. There was no shaking it off, no bootstraps to pull myself up by, this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Night after night I lay in the bed trying to sleep, racked with body aches and mental anguish. When I did manage to drift off, as soon as my body relaxed, my muscles would jerk me awake from the tension I held all day. The cycle repeated itself hour after hour, night after night. I drudged through my days in a sleep-deprived stupor.

As bad as the nights were, the days were even worse. The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me. I cannot describe in words the mental torment I experienced, but anyone who has endured that kind of hell knows exactly what I mean. While I don’t condone it, I came to understand how people suffering from severe depression might welcome the relief of death. At one point I stood in my kitchen contemplating which knife would do the job the quickest when my son came in for a drink, and I realized I couldn’t do that to him. I never thought about suicide again.

I had been writing in notebooks for years, before blogs were ever the thing to do, thinking someday there might be something to my words. But in the midst of this season, I believed I would never get my mind back, never be able to write anything that made sense, and I threw years of writings in the fireplace and watched my words curl up in the flames and turn to ashes. I couldn’t bear to be constantly reminded of what I had lost and would never get back. Besides, I reasoned, I won’t be able to take them with me into the mental institution I saw as my future.

So how is it that I am here, ten years later, writing these words to you now, pursuing my dream to study as a seminary student and finding joy in my life again? How did I go from the deepest pit to standing here with the sun shining on my face? In a word – God.  Even from the beginning, I sensed that if I had even the smallest chance of survival, it would only be if I clung to God like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Somehow – no, not somehow, I know how – deep in my spirit I knew that God could rescue me. I knew that if I grabbed onto whatever I could of Him, I had a sliver of hope. The truth is, I wasn’t clinging to God because all along God had been holding on to me. The only solace I found was in my Bible, in the pages of the Psalms. They speak to every emotion man experiences, and they were the words I couldn’t find at three o’clock in the morning. I read the Psalms constantly, wrote them in my prayer journal, prayed them aloud and wrote my own. They were my lifeline to God. They were God’s gift to me.

And one more thing – one early morning as I was reading Psalm 19, I noticed how David called God “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (vs. 1-2). I sensed God speak to my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I said, “Who else could you be?” Again in my heart I heard “There’s so much more to me than you realize. Know me.” Those two words rang through my mind the entire day – “Know me.” I remembered a small book I had picked up several months earlier at a conference, Time Out: Planning a Personal Prayer Retreat, by Mary Kassian. It was published just for the retreat – I bought it for $5 – but it had listings of the names of God in Hebrew with scripture references. This book became my personal study manual as I poured over each of those names, looking up the Scriptures and writing each one out. I began to see God as I had never seen Him before. God was Yahweh Magen – the Lord my Shield, Yahweh Rophe – the Lord my Healer, El Emunah – the Faithful God, and the name that became most precious to me, El Hayyay – God of my life. Every name gave me renewed strength and hope and peace. In studying the names of God I felt like a parched, cracked desert suddenly graced with spring showers, drinking in liquid life.  That study continued for six years as I found more resources with more information. I began to study the original word terminologies in the Hebrew, a passion that has carried over in my studies and writing today. The God of the Bible literally saved my life. I will be sharing some of these names in a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. I pray you will find new facets of who God is and come to appreciate His multi-dimensional nature. I hope you will find a special name that becomes your personal, intimate connection to your Creator.

It was two very long years before I could sense a return to “normal” (whatever that is), and I still have bouts with depression from time-to-time. I learned later that I was experiencing a serious chemical imbalance that triggered the depressive episode. Medication is part of my self-care routine, but I always turn back to the Psalms and my studies of God’s names when I feel myself heading down into the pit again. I’ve learned through study and by experience that whatever I need – whether a Rescuer, Helper, Redeemer, Rock, Shield, Defender, Healer, or Comforter, God is always and forever El Shaddai – the Almighty Sufficient God. He is whatever I need.

El Hayyay – You are the God of my life, You saved me from my sins and you saved me from despair. You are Yahweh Shalom – the God of Peace, for only You could bring peace to my misery and pain. You will forever be Eli Maelekhi – God my King, and I will forever serve You. Amen.