Mercy Pursues You

I’m not the only one with good ideas. Obviously.

It’s one thing I love about Bible study. When we open the Word, insights come flying of the page, and your insights will probably look different than mine. The same message will apply differently depending on the given day, moment, season, or struggle in life, along with the sure and certain message that transcends time and space – that hits home for the hearer in the First Century and is exactly the same for the hearer 2000+ years later.

I am convinced that one gigantic benefit of the Body of Christ is the gift of connection and insight. When we gather to be vulnerable and share what we hear from the Word for our own lives, we also reach across the table in a way we cannot completely understand to touch the life and offer insight for the person in study with us.

Last Fall, one of the women in our Bible studies at I Love My Shepherd shared with me a simple insight, passed along from her pastor to her years before, to those of us in the Word that day –

Mercy pursues.

Open your Bible to Psalm 23:6 –

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (ESV)

The Greek root word for follow here is radaph. It can mean to follow, to pursue, to chase, or even in certain circumstances, to persecute. Context helps translators choose which are most usable in Biblical translation. Look at the character of God, according to the Psalm as a whole:

He shepherds.

He leads.

He disciplines. 

He comforts.

He prepares.

And it is in His nature to pursue, as well as follow.

How many of you have had a situation in life that you can point to and say, “Mercy pursued me? He was after my heart, my mind, my soul, all of me.”

God is patient. He is loving and kind.

He is also jealous for His children. He sent Hosea to chase after Gomer. He sent the spies into Jericho for Rahab, among other things. He handed His mother to John from the cross. He found Saul on the road to Damascus.

He has a plan. He has a great big awesome plan that involves Mercy in your life, with a capital M.

Sometimes He sits and lets us do our thing. Sometimes we wonder what in the world He’s doing, where in the world He is. Sometimes we wonder if He’s even listening, but He has a plan. He is active, when we cannot see Him. He is active when we cannot feel Him.

His plan is for our good, for mercy to come in, for loving-kindness to infiltrate, and He knows just the right time. His plans are always best and oh so worth the wait.

In all of this He is always, always pursuing us; never for a moment are we not on His mind and in His heart.

Some days, friends, I need to know that I’m worthy of pursuit. Because God calls me Child, He also calls me pursued. When I look to other people to seek after me, to honor me, and deem me worthy… I can look around and find His mercy, which was the only thing that ever mattered all along.

So, what do I do with this insight? I shared it with my friend, Melissa, and we created a reminder. This Summer we’ll be coming out with the Mercy Pursues line on the I Love My Shepherd Products with a Message page.

Someone needs to know Mercy pursues them, so let’s tell them.

Here’s a downloadable Facebook Cover, which is also a sneak peek at our new line. Orange suns, grey and white goodness – clean and simple.

Free downloadable Facebook cover

 

Christ Jesus pursues me.

Christ Jesus pursues you.

Today, know that Goodness and Mercy is after you, because you are worth chasing after. Radaph

Mercy pursues.

 

Silencing my own white noise


The world is noisy.

I like noise for the most part. I like energy and life running around me. Small children wailing means they are fighting to be heard, protests for injustice are right up my alley, and concerts with giant speakers and loud praise do not offend me in the least. What I don’t like is white noise. I don’t like prittle prattle, grumbling, and listening to the sound of my own voice for too long. My children know that 18 (out of 75) is a completely reasonable TV volume setting and not a notch higher. I don’t need to hear Star Wars for the 100+ time blasting at full volume. My phone alarm is barely audible, and Dave once bought one of those gurgling rock fountains at a yard sale and I wanted to throw it out the window. He took it to his office instead. Marriage saved. Have you been there?

So much of the noise in our world is meaningless. It sounds harsh of me, even judgmental, but please hear me differently: we can only take so much.

So many opinions to behold, so much FoxNews v. CNN babble, so much buy our stuff, you’re only cool if you, aren’t you hungry…eat this, do this, look like this.

God talks about trying to get our attention in the middle of all this in Isaiah 65. This passage may be familiar to some of you, from when we studied He Calls Me Rebel in our Live video. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2 from another vantage point- What to do with all the white noise?

Isaiah 65:1-2 –

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
    I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;

God doesn’t just seek us. He fights for us. He’s jumping up and down with the neon signs of creation and the miracle of life and the gift of restoration, while we give all of our attention to fuzzy tv screens and more white noise.

He says, “Here am I, Here am I.”

How often do we miss Him in the day to day of life because of all the other voices we are filtering through?

And then there is the internal white noise. This stuff is worse, in my opinion. The internal shame voice of “Not enough”, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough. I think I repeat it over and over again and you might be tired of me saying it, but I am convinced we have to say it until our internal selves get it. That voice is not of God. That is the voice of the Devil telling you lies. The Father of lies, Himself, berating you for never living up, never reaching out, never saying it right.

In the same vent, there is the internal voice of selfishness – I need, I want, I deserve; of greed – they have more, I need more, how do I get more; of discontent – my life’s so mediocre, I’m not like them, why isn’t God intervening?

Even the church has it’s own white noise, external and internal voices that put aside the Truth of the Word, prefer rules over mercy, and make hierarchies for grace. There are a million distractions from the objective of loving our God and loving our neighbor, justice and love going out, and bringing the message of restoration to the world.

BE QUIET, voices!

The beautiful thing is that God addresses this battle, this battle against powers and principalities that looks a lot like static and distraction all around.

First, look up Ephesians 6:10-18 in your Bibles. I’ll highlight verses 10-13 below –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Put on the whole armor. Strap it on. It’s all richly supplied by God. We have a different wardrobe from the world. We have a different vantage point through that Helmet of Salvation. We are given tools that block out the white noise, that provide a filter. Let’s use them! List below for me the tools that you have been given, these free gifts for every day, found in Ephesians 6:14-18.

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Now, believing that Scripture interprets Scripture, look at Exodus 14:14 to find some wisdom in this battle, from above –

“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Be QUIET, voices! Be quiet…me.

We strap on the armor and He does the work. We still our hearts and turn to Him in prayer, ready to listen to His song of Truth and Saving Grace. We hold the Sword of the Spirit, the Word. We ingest it with the pages open and He fills us with all knowledge and understanding and trust. We stand still with our shield. The junk from the world bounces off our shield and into nothingness. It has no part in this Child of God, Redeemed and Made Holy.

I think I have forever thought that I needed to strap on the armor and go charging forth. It’s partly my personality, but I don’t think I’m alone either. The idea of strapping on armor makes most of us think we have this huge responsibility to undertake.

Isaiah felt the same way. Read Isaiah 6:4-7 –

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

I’m unclean. I can’t battle. I’m world-weary. I’m incapable.

White noise, my friend. White noise.

Our task is to stand and let the coal touch our lips. Our sins are atoned for, our imperfections, our weaknesses are God’s greatest glories when we stand ready for His touch.

You need only be silent. You need only be still.

White noise, you just met your worst enemy. I call Him Savior.

Thank you, Lord, for Your great faithfulness, for always, always being ready on our behalf. Calm my troubled spirit when the world reaches in. Refresh my soul with Your Word. Be in every day, every moment, and every heartbeat. In Jesus we pray, Amen. 

 

Exploration:

Chose one tool given to us by God as a gift of His grace, that we strap on daily in the Spirit, from the list in Ephesians 6:10-18. How does this tool serve you in your daily life, with you family, in your marriage, with friends, or in the church, or your community? Help us see some examples of the Armor of God at work in real life.

Who do you have in your life that helps you to filter out the noise, whether internal or external, and helps you discern Truth from untruth?

Earthquakes, prayers, and prophecy


I have been through two earthquakes in my life. They were tiny, but there is something unsettling about the earth shaking beneath your feet. As a child, when the first one happened, I was shocked and unsure. I had nightmares for weeks. If the Earth could shake, what else could happen? This time it was little, but would another one come and swallow my family up? My poor parents comforted my fears brought on by an overactive imagination with incredible patience.

The next one happened shortly after Dave and I were married. I was an adult. Things should be better, right? But that earthquake stuck with me for weeks, months even. It opened questions long left tucked away. If the ground itself moved while we went about our business, how unstable was life?

Yesterday we had the Rock standing strong, today we have mountains quaking. Open your Bibles if you have them to Isaiah 64:1-5 to see where they meet.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?

Did you notice the irony? These Israelites are asking for an earthquake. They want the mountains to tremble if it means God would come to meet with them. What I called instability, what created fear in my heart and soul, these people were desperate for, because it represented the mighty act of a God that they thought was all but lost.

So they prayed. These verses and those that follow are a prayer of confession. Repentance and reconnection with a God they loved and longed for. In His absence, or rather in the lifting of His closeness, they found themselves parched, thirsty, and incomplete.

“We long for Your presence, Lord!” is their song. “We need You, Lord. We looked away. Forgive us in Your great mercy, we cry out. Make the mountains shake with Your power and might and Here-ness.”

And God answers. He answers prayers with just that –

He comes here.

Jesus Christ came down from on High to be present with His people. The mountains quaked at His death. They quaked at His resurrection.

The proof is in the pudding, folks. Glance at Matthew 27:50-52 –

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised…

Now check out Matthew 28:1-2 –

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Yes! Jesus does just that. He causes the earth to shake, the foundations to tremble because He, friends, is the True Foundation. He is the only thing we really have to stand on.

Want to see another earthquake? Just one more? Turn the pages of Scripture to Acts 4:24-31. I’ll insert just verse 31 below for want of space –

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Prayer does crazy things. God does crazy things. His power is not of this world and when we pray, stuff happens, namely, loving tender care in relationship with a loving tender God. The earth may not shake when we pray, it could, but even when it doesn’t, earth shaking things happen in our own life because we are molded and shaped by His Spirit instead of our own will.

He is ALIVE. His Spirit works! I would rather lean on that any day than the floor underneath me that fades like fall leaves.

And so we pray…

Lord, make my earth quake with Your presence. Let not my heart trust in anything but You and You alone. We call upon You. We confess our trust in the things of this world, in the foundations of this temporal place that passes away. We look to You, Lord, and the forgiveness You offer. We thank You for Your Grace and Mercy and work in our lives daily, for seeking us out and bringing us to You, Lord. Thank you for Your Faithfulness every day. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen. 

 

Exploration:

Have you ever been through a small or large natural disaster? What was your experience?

What comfort does it give, knowing that God sent His Spirit into your life and you will never be without His presence?

Do you have an example of when Jesus shook your life up, metaphorically (or really!), and you drew closer to Him because of it? Your example may be just the witness that someone else needs, so if you are willing please share in the comment section of the blog.

Politics, history class, cruddy elections, Alpha and Omega

Thank you to those who serve and keep us safe! This photo courtesy of pexels.com. Thank you, pexels!

History is our friend Karl’s passion. You get him started and he could pretty much go on forever, recounting vengeful and valiant leaders, epic battles, and the contribution of those left unmentioned in the texts of history books. Karl’s version of history is my favorite. It’s passionate, but purposeful. Everything he shares is spirited and he makes you hungry to know more, hear more, learn more. Better than that, in almost every circumstance, he makes you hungry for God. Karl teaches at a state university, so I’m sure his classroom looks a little bit different, but in private conversation and in teaching at church, Karl is on fire with a message. He lays out history in a way that makes you stand in awe of a God who holds all of it in His hands, from the beginning to the messy middle to His faithfulness in each day we have yet to travel.

Isaiah shares a similar message with just as much zeal in Isaiah 44:6-8. Let’s open our Bibles and read that text –

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any.”

The First…and the Last.

And everything in between.

God sat on His throne and created humankind. He created every flower and every tree. He set the planets in motion. Countries and constitutions sprang up, kingdoms and territories came to be, and God was God over all of it. Wars are fought, lives lost, and His faithfulness continues. New nations form, cultures live and grow, languages develop. Disasters come upon the Earth, dictators oppress, and God’s heart breaks. But He sees the bigger plan unfolding. To us, it’s like the slow unrolling of a tapestry. To Him, it’s the blink of an eye, in all eternity.

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.

Humankind makes gods out of idols and build temples made by human hands. We chase wealth and power and success. We destroy one another to be the best, be the biggest, be the greatest, when we were never intended for those purposes. And all through it, there are the faithful ones. God leads His people from ancient times (v. 7), appointed for His purposes, setting them apart for Kingdom work. The wheels of the clock turn, time marches on. The Word goes out, the message never changes.

“…besides me there is no god.” 

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.

God alone sits on the throne. We think we have all this power and authority. We think the next election will make or break mankind. It may break a nation, but it will not break us. It will not break His message, His Spirit, His Word. Through the sands of time the Word continues to go out, leading people to Him in the dark and in the light, in the triumph and in the defeat, in the famine and in the plenty.

We are simply witnesses.

We are called to declare His purposes in all of it. Like our friend Karl, may our message always be of the hidden things, the works done faithfully, rarely written in textbooks. When we witness from the vantage point of believers in a faithful God, nothing is lost in the drama, every bit of the tumult and the turmoil has a purpose. As cheesy as it sounds, it really is His story anyway.

Listen to the promise of the final words of Isaiah 44:8 again –

“There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Look up the following verses and rest in the promise of this God, our Rock.

Psalm 18:2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my     deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 31:3

Psalm 62:6-7

Luke 6:47-48

I don’t want to know any other gods, Lord. I want to follow You. I don’t want to trust in anything else, Lord. I want to follow You. I want to see you in every piece of history, every trial and every glory. Be my Rock. Be my Fortress. Be my Defender, and let me never look to another person, thing, idea, or place to provide that for me. Only You, Lord. Only You. 

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.


Exploration:

What parts of history come to mind when you think of God sustaining His people?

When thinking of history how is it helpful to be reminded that God is faithful and watching over His children? What parts give you the most angst?

The book of Revelation really has a lot to say on this subject. Check out the following three verses for further reflection that He really is the first and the last and all the stuff in the middle too.

Rev. 1:8

Rev. 1:17-18

Rev. 21:6-7

Rev. 22:13

Why do you think the book of Revelation returns to this concept again and again?

The gut punch of left alone

Alone. As a mom of four kids, therapist, and pastor’s wife, I love me some alone time. Give me a cup of coffee and a good book, a glass of wine and a fire in my backyard, or a bathtub and a cup of earl grey, and it’s like a tiny window of heaven. Alone time is a precious resource around here. You don’t take it for granted. But I also know what it means to feel truly alone, as in left alone…and there’s a big difference.

Have you had that moment? That moment when it feels like everyone has walked away. Maybe a loss leaves you wondering who will fill the gap, who else will share your secrets. Maybe you have been left by a loved one, a father, a mother, a husband, a brother – someone who walked out the door leaving you behind with the tears, the shock, and the anger. Or maybe you have been left standing to face the bully of life on your own, and when you looked around, not a single person stayed to fight alongside you.

Whether in little or in the big moments of life, we have all experienced the stomach drop of left alone.

My therapist is fond of saying, “There are two sides to every coin.” Today, let’s return to Isaiah 62:12, our passage from yesterday, and remind ourselves of the titles bestowed on us by Christ, once again. There is so much in this snippet of Scripture:

And they shall be called The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
    A City Not Forsaken.

One side of the coin is being sought out, being chosen and loved, someone running after us. The other side of the coin here is that to know what Not Forsaken looks like, we need to experience left alone.

Words associated with the word forsaken in the dictionary include – abandoned, deserted, to disown, renounce, refuse, or discard.

This is so often the world’s message to us – you aren’t worth the time or energy, you aren’t important enough, you are insignificant. This is never, never, God’s message to us.

Flip the coin…

Sought out means not forsaken, not abandoned, not disowned, not renounced, not refused, and never, never discarded.

Look up the following verses and hear God’s message of Not Forsaken –

Deuteronomy 31:8

1 Chronicles 28:20

2 Corinthians 4:9-10 …persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Hebrews 13:5-6

We may undergo trial. There may be good days and bad days and rotten days and complacent days and joy-filled days and everything in between, but there will never be forsaken days.

You, my friend, are Not Forsaken. It is your name, placed on you by God Himself. Notice the capital letters in the Isaiah text. Sought Out, Not Forsaken. He will be with you each day, in the wonderful and the hard. Cling to that. Let it seep into your soul.

Not Forsaken.

Father, we thank you that You sought us out and that You bring us to You, that You treasure us enough to make promises and follow through, especially when the world goes it’s own way. Charge us to be faithful, Lord. Help us to live in Your promises and find the value and worth of each day in You and You alone. Thank you for Jesus, who makes us new and holy and free. Forgive us when we forsake You, and lead us ever back to Your mercy and grace. We stand on Not Forsaken in You, today. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. 

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Exploration:

Martin Luther and other commentators apply this verse also to the Church on earth. The Church being God’s people here and now, and across time. How has God sought out His people in history? What historical moments come to mind when you consider that the Church is not forsaken? What promise of the future is there for the Church in Not Forsaken and Sought Out?

The first verse of the hymn The Church’s One Foundation speaks directly to this topic of Sought Out. Sing this message to yourself or with your family today and be reminded of His Faithfulness.

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. (public domain)

http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/644