Three Questions and Three Answers

Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?  –Luke 24:26

Michael Card, a Christian musician and author, has some amazing thoughts about the crucifixion.  This very articulate writer has 37 albums, 27 books, and over 19 #1 hits.  And yet his goal in life has always been to “simply and quietly teach the Bible.”  I love his writing; it’s powerful in his unique, close relationship with our Lord.  He wrote the delightful book, Joy in the Journey, from which the following quotes came as he explained his song-writing process for one piece in particular.  These words are profound, in my opinion.

The trappings of the crucifixion had always puzzled me.  Why was it necessary that a close friend betray Jesus?  Why the crown of thorns, that grim tribute to humor?  Why the cross–wasn’t there some other way for him to die?  I had been playing with those three questions, trying to make them sound lyrical, in other words trying to make them sound pretty.  But they aren’t pretty questions.

I had finished three verses of a song incorporating the questions.  I had planned to write one chorus which would answer all three.  That proved to be as impossible as the questions themselves.  So I did the only thing a committed seeker of the Truth could do:  I gave up and put them away in a drawer!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  –Hebrews 12:2

Weeks after I gave up and put away my three song verses, I was awakened in the night with three separate choruses going through my mind, something that had never happened before and has never happened since.  To my trilogy of vain, cynical questions the Lord gave three unexpected answers:

Why did it have to be a friend?  Because only a friend comes close enough to cause such pain.

Why the thorny crown?  Because  in this life, the only kind of crown the world would give such a Lover is a crown of thorns.

Why did it have to be a cross?  Because the cross is the place for a thief.  And Jesus had come to steal the world’s heart away.

Now each time I listen to the song, I hear two separate voices:  my own pessimistic voice asking the meaningless why questions, and another gentler Voice speaking the wonderful answers.  –Michael Card

 

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Selah

There’s a word in the Hebrew Bible that is unknown.  Nobody knows what it means or really how it should be pronounced.  It occurs usually at the end of a verse, but not always.  In some places it comes in the middle of a sentence or verse.  See Psalms 55:19 and 57:3; and Habakkuk 3:3, 9, and 13.  There are many speculations about what it might mean.  Since the Psalms were set to music, it may be a musical or literary term.  Here are some of the ideas about its meaning:

  • “stop and listen”
  • “pause and think”
  • a break in the song
  • a change in rhythm, melody or instrumentation
  • “amen”
  • “forever”
  • “hang” (as in measuring an item’s weight)
  • “always”
  • a change of thought or theme
  • “lift up,” “exalt,” “cast up”
  • “loud,” “fortissimo” (cymbals please!)
  • voices hushed; musical interlude

It’s been used in modern applications, too, from Rastafarian to U2.  I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, but I know what it means to me.

Selah.  Stop.  Think. Listen.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week as I’ve come across special verses and quotes (in any book) that are meaningful to me.  Usually I grab my notebook and write them down quickly and move on.  But God is saying “Selah” — stop and think about what you just read.  Listen to Me.  Wait.  Hang with Me a few more minutes.  Rest.  Selah.

Let’s do that this Easter week.  Let’s stop and think; wait and listen, be quiet, be still, and exalt Him.

Someone suggested this very useful idea:  spend a few moments each day just being still and quiet before God.  No thoughts (she said, when they come just flick them away like little boats down a river).  No prayers.  No reading.  Just be still.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  “Here I am Lord.”

When He speaks it may be in the form of an invitation.  If you are thinking, “I should be doing this,” or “I shouldn’t have said that,” just flick those thoughts away.  God’s voice will come in the way of an invitation — “Come away with Me and relax,” or “Don’t be afraid,” or perhaps a friend’s face will appear in your mind and you’ll know how to join God in loving them in some way.  We don’t initiate these invitations; God does.  And sometimes we hear nothing from Him at all; that’s OK too.  But it’s worth it to stop and sit quietly before Him, especially if you’re trying to make a decision or stressed about something.

Selah.  Stop.  Rest.  Relax.  Wait.  Be still.  Exalt.  Listen.  Pause.  Think.  Selah!

Trust

I have found a Christian author that seems to articulate so much that I have been thinking about lately.  He’s really focused on God as our sovereign ruler and King, ever present and powerful.  Here is an excerpt, including two scriptures and a quote from another author, followed by a prayer:

Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed Him as His counselor?  Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way?  Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding?  — Isaiah 40:13-14 (NIV)

Who instructed God?  Whom did He consult?  think of what we’ve learned about the design of the human body–the amazing intricacy and efficiency of a single cell, the sheer magnitude of the connecting fibers between nerve cells in the brain.  Who could have served as the Lord’s consultant on a design task like that?  Could you or I?

It’s an absurd question, isn’t it?  Yet we continually want to be God’s adviser in His providential workings.  We continually want to tell Him how certain circumstances should be changed.  Or worse, we question God’s wisdom when we can’t understand what He’s doing.

How fathomless the depths of God’s resources, wisdom and knowledge!  How unsearchable His decisions, and how mysterious His methods!  For who has ever understood the thoughts of the Lord, or has ever been His adviser?  Glory to Him forever!  — Romans 11:33-36 (Charles B. Williams Translation)

To this end may the following words from J. L. Dagg encourage us:

It should fill us with joy that infinite wisdom guides the affairs of the world.  Many of its events are shrouded in darkness and mystery, and inextricable confusion sometimes seems to reign.  Often wickedness prevails, and God seems to have forgotten the creatures that He has made.  Our own path through life is dark and devious, and beset with difficulties and dangers.  How full of consolation is the doctrine that infinite wisdom directs every event, brings…light out of darkness, and, to those who love God, causes all things, whatever be their present aspect and apparent tendency, to work together for good.  — Dagg, Manual of Theology, pg. 91.

So with joy and consolation let us stand in awe of the infinite wisdom of God manifested in creation, providence, and redemption.  But let’s do more.  One of the marks of a God-fearing person is to trust in the Lord:  “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”  (Psalm 147:11).  To hope in His unfailing love is to trust Him.  As we stand in awe, let us trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He is doing.

O infinite God!  Who has understood Your mind or instructed You as Your counselor?  Before the universe was created it existed in all its intricate complexity in Your vast mind.  Even the tiny cells in our bodies testify to the sheer brilliance of Your creative genius.  But while we marvel at Your creation, we confess that we often wonder at Your providence.  Help us to learn that You ways truly are higher than our ways, and that You are always working for our good despite the many things we don’t understand.  May we fear You by trusting You.  And may we ever praise You through Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Amen –Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God, pg. 94-95

Are any of you struggling with life events right now?  Do you wonder how things could go so “wrong?”  If you are trusting Jesus for salvation, you need not fear.  God is sovereign and working all things together for good (Romans 8:28-29).  We don’t have to try to control, manipulate, worry, be anxious or force anything to happen.  It all comes together in His time and way, completely beyond our understanding, or weak efforts to control.  Wait and trust; watch and see what God will do!  Listen for His voice of calm, wisdom, instruction and assurance; trust Him, rather than trusting yourself.

Joy!

My Word of the Year is JOY!  I’ve been looking at this word several times in the past and now it is here.  Not that life is suddenly filled with great joy, as though everything has finally come together for me.  It hasn’t, and I don’t think it ever does in this life.  Sometimes I get discouraged, though, thinking that joy is unattainable and hopeless.  But that’s only when I’m confusing “joy” with “happiness.”  I heard long ago that “happiness depends on happenings,” and that’s why it comes and goes.  Frederick Buechner said:

Happiness comes when things are going our way, which makes it only a forerunner to the unhappiness that inevitably follows when things stop going our way…Joy, on the other hand, does not come because something is happening or not happening, but every once in a while rises up out of simply being alive, or being a part of the…fathomless richness of the world that God has made.  —Secrets in the Dark, pg. 241

For example, your team wins the championship one year and you’re ecstatic, but the next year you’re vowing never to watch them play again.  Some people base their happiness/depression on political parties or on the stock market.  Joy, on the other hand, is based on God’s presence and promises and doesn’t have to come and go; it’s always available, even beneath the momentary (or even long-lasting) sadness or disappointment.

I read something interesting last week:

The very word parable comes from two Greek words.  Para- is a prefix that refers to something alongside something else.  For instance, paralegals work alongside lawyers as helpers.  And ballo means “to throw or to hurt.”  So parable means something that is thrown alongside of something else.  In order to illustrate a truth He is teaching, Jesus throws a parable alongside of it.  — R. C. Sproul, What Do Jesus’ Parables Mean?, pg. 7

Last year’s Word, “Cast“, is being beautifully explained here (ballo:  to throw, hurl or cast).  Perhaps we should think of Joy has something the Lord casts alongside us in every situation–a reminder that He’s still on the throne, that no matter the pain or sadness, eternal truths and promises prevail.  You face death but He casts alongside you a reminder of eternal life.  You feel lonelier than ever before and He casts alongside the surety of His constant presence.  Your team loses and He casts alongside the evidence of what is really lasting, and matters more.  Joy!  This year I’m watching for the JOY that God casts alongside my path in all situations.  By the way, when He casts that Joy, it spills out ahead of us, revealing a sure and solid hope for the future.

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  –Hebrews 12:2

Word Review

This year will be the tenth year I’ve chosen a “Word of the Year.”  This has meant so much to me; it’s been hugely impactful in my life every year.  I thought before announcing my new word I would give a review of all the previous ones.  It’s almost like God gave them to me in a sequential order, with each one building upon the previous one.  Often, I would see several of my words in a single passage (as you’ll see below).

2009 — Hold

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  –Hebrews 10:23

He is before all things; in Him all things hold together.  –Col. 1:17

2010 — Way

For the ways of the Lord are right.  –Hosea 14:9

You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of Your presence.  –Acts 2:28

2011 — Trust

Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  –John 14:1

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  –Hebrews 10:23-24

2012 – Refuge

In Thee O LORD, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!  Incline thy ear to me, rescue me speedily!  Be thou a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!  –Psalm 31:1-2

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.  –Psalm 118:8-9

2013 – Journey

When our days there were ended, we departed and went on a journey.  –Acts Acts 21:4

The angel of the Lord came a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.  –1 Kings 19:7

2014 – Presence

But now, by giving Himself completely at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in His presence.  –Colossians 1:22

Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your hand will lay hold of me. –Psalm 119:7-9

2015 – Pain

I know all about their pain.  And now I have come down to help them.  –Exodus 3:7-8

He took our suffering on Him and felt our pain for us.  –Isaiah 53:4

2016 – Worship

I was caught up at once in deep worship.  –Revelation 4:2

The best preparation for worship is not rehearsal, but surrender.  –A. W. Tozer

2017 – Cast

Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.  –1 Peter 5:7

The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him, who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.  –Rev. 4:10-11

Truly these words have been a huge help to me in my life.  God speaks personally through words, images, messages, situations, difficulties.  It’s been really powerful to see each of these words work in my life.  The lessons from them have been progressive. I had to hold onto Him more deeply before I could understand His ways; then I was in a position to start trusting Him more once I understood Him better.  I found myself in a safe refuge of protection but the next thing you know, I was on a journey of more discovery.  I sought to be more aware of His presence, especially in times of emotional and physical pain.  The result was that I began to worship Him in all situations as I learned to cast all anxieties and concerns upon Him.  The next post will reveal my new word for 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God is Real–Part Five

How do I know God is real?  It simple: I’ve experienced Him in amazing ways.  Today’s example is pretty zany and funny.  I was in the Dominican Republic with my friend, Mindy, to introduce her to her sponsored child (I had already met him on a previous trip, and Mindy had become his sponsor).  We were headed to the Haitian border the next day but on this particular day we were returning from a trip by van into the country.  During a rest stop I went to get back on the bus, not knowing that they were hosing it down on the opposite side.  With a great whoosh! all the mud, grease and grime came flying up from under the van and splattered all over my khaki pants.  They were blackened from the grease and mud.

In the morning, after my shower, I said to Mindy, “I’m going to wear the same pants that got splattered yesterday, because I’ll just get them dirty again today,” and put them on.  She said, “Those aren’t the same pants; they’re perfectly clean.”  I looked down and she was right.  She didn’t believe they were the same pants, and we argued while I let her look through my luggage because I didn’t have any other khakis.  But they were now spotless.  She exclaimed, “Jesus did the laundry while we were sleeping!”  Now, I know that seems ridiculous, but think about it:  as we discussed, we were heading to child development centers to visit precious Compassion kids near the Haitian border.  Perhaps it was important that we appear clean and spotless, representing our Lord, and also give honor to the children, by giving them our best.  That was the only reason we could think of for the little “miracle” that day.  Our God is real!  But the next story is going to be amazing–watch for it on Friday!

For previous posts in my “God is Real” series, click below:

God is Real–Part One (a baby that nearly didn’t make it to birth)

God is Real–Part Two (a specific healing, and one that was not a healing)

God is Real–Part Three (a hurtful e-mail)

God is Real–Part Four (pain)

God is Real–Part Four

How do I know God is real? I’ve experienced Him in extraordinary ways; it’s as simple as that. To read what I’ve written in previous posts of this series, click here:

God is Real–Part One (a baby that nearly didn’t make it to birth)

God is Real–Part Two (a specific healing, and one that was not a healing)

God is Real–Part Three (a hurtful e-mail)

God is Real–Part Five (a zany miracle)

Here is another example of my experience with God, proving Himself real to me.  Years ago I had a skiing accident and tore my ACL.  It was repaired and I recovered well, with the help of physical therapy.  Then, several years later (perhaps 20 years ago now) I went to a couple’s home for a farewell party and their dog came running out to greet us.  Since it was heading towards my bad knee I twisted to avoid it.  Just like that, my knee gave out, for the first (and only) time since surgery.  I couldn’t walk on it and was soon in surgery for an arthroscopic procedure to see what was injured.  The ACL was broken loose and balled up in the center, so the doctor removed it through the tiny incision.  I was supposed to undergo physical therapy for a few weeks, recover from the surgery, and then have the ACL repaired.  For a while I was getting better, and no longer needed to use crutches.  But after about six weeks I realized I was getting worse again and eventually had to use crutches again, due to the pain.  Surgery was not possible until we could discover what was going on with the knee.  After bone scans, a spinal tap and more physical therapy, it was decided that my knee had developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).  As I understand it, it’s a nerve related disease with no apparent reason for the pain (it is now known as “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome).  It has to do with messages being relayed by the nerves back and forth from the brain.  We decided against knee surgery to repair the ACL and, in fact, my knee was very stable, surgery didn’t seem necessary, and it was not recommended with this new problem of pain.

Now fast forward a few years.  They had said that “RSD” could develop anywhere in my body, and when I needed surgery in both shoulders for bone spurs, they were reluctant to do the procedure, and put it off as long as possible, for fear that RSD would develop.  But the pain was getting worse and we eventually decided to do one shoulder; the result was great.  We waited six months; I healed up from the surgery and had no RSD causing further problems, so we decided to do the other shoulder.  However, as soon as I began to recover from the second surgery, I became aware of the fact that “RSD” was now in several areas–both knees, my neck, and both shoulders.  I couldn’t reach for items in the kitchen cabinets without deep pain; it hurt to open a door or even carry a purse.  I could hardly function in normal ways.  One night, I prayed to God, “I can’t handle this.  You’re the only One that can heal me, and I ask you to heal me.  I can’t function.”

Lo and behold, when I awoke in the morning the pain was gone, 100%, even in my knee.  I knew I didn’t need to take the Tylenol that I has been taking each morning.  There was NO pain.  I didn’t take anything for over a month.  And then the pain returned, but only in the knee.  Why?  I believe He allowed the pain to return in one area in order to remind me that everyone has some kind of pain.  Think about it:  you do somewhere–relational, financial, spiritual, or in some other area.  Somebody you love has died, or will die soon.  Some relationship is not quite what you’d hoped it would be.  Parenting is hard.  Jobs are difficult.  You’re frustrated with politics or the church or your community.  Everyone has pain.

I’ll never forget the fact that God healed me overnight, and that it lasted a full month.  I’ll never forget that others around me are hurting, too.  I’ll never go running to another doctor to see if he or she can heal my knee; I already know that God is the One who can heal it, and He will if He chooses.  Previous to this I had gone to many different doctors and was receiving suggestions coming from lots of people about how to find healing.  I no longer need to run around to every doctor and clinic.  I’m OK with the pain; I can live with it and be thankful every day that it isn’t my back, or a more serious condition.  I use a great knee brace when standing for any length of time.

Do I ever go to doctors any more?  Of course, but I’m no longer looking for answers to this knee problem.  Why doesn’t God heal every disease and pain for good?  I don’t know.  He will when we arrive in Heaven, assuming we have trusted Him with our lives and salvation.  But I do know, for certain, that He’s real.  I’ve experienced His instantaneous healing more than once.  A month without pain was heavenly, literally; how much better will the real place be!