February 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 80: Divine Leader

Divine Leader

"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." (Deuteronomy 8:2 NIV)

I had to go somewhere the other day I'd never been before. I'd never even heard of the street my destination was on. And I was under a time constraint, so I was nervous about finding the place and getting my tightly-scheduled teenager where she needed to go after I picked her up from where she was.

I had the Google British-accent direction lady on standby, telling me where to turn in how many feet, but I didn't trust her. I wasn't sure she really knew what she was talking about. I wasn't confident she actually knew where I was and where I needed to get to.

At the end of Moses' tenure as the earthly leader of the nation of Israel, we find the people of God also needing to go someplace they've never been before...and with someone new guiding them on. Moses knows they're nervous about the change of command. He knows they don't know where they're going. He knows they're worried about the enemies they'll face on the way.

And so he comforts them with this perfect pep talk: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV).

The Lord goes before you. He'll be with you. Don't be afraid.

Moses doesn't review his own resume, and he doesn't tout the credentials of Joshua, his (godly, able, trustworthy) successor. He knows a human leader can only be in one place at a time...either up ahead or with his charges or bringing up the rear. 

Instead, Moses reassures the people he loves with the package deal of God's presence: before, beside, and behind.

Our omnipresent, everywhere-at-once Divine Leader can be—and is—miles down the road, waiting for us at our destination AND at our side on the journey AND covering our backs from harm we cannot see. 

Wherever you're going today—a job you have to do, a decision you have to make, a relationship you need to feed, a hurt you need to heal, a dream you need to pursue—know that your Divine Leader is already before you waiting for you at your destination. Press into His presence beside you while you're getting there. Take comfort in His protection behind you. And then walk on in courage and confidence.

"You are my strength and comfort,
You are my steady hand.
You are my firm foundation,
The rock on which I stand.
Your ways are always higher,
Your plans are always good.
There's not a place where I'll go
You've not already stood.
I will trust in You."

("Trust in You," Lauren Daigle, 

February 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 79: Jealous


"Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)

I mentioned a couple days ago how it thrills me to come across something in the Bible I feel like I've never seen before, and it happened again with today's name.

The representation of God as a jealous God strikes me as something I've known for awhile. But that His actual name is "Jealous"? This feels like brand-new information. Clearly, "Jealous" was going to be a stop on our journey, but first I needed to deal with some potentially hesitant reactions to this name.

God cannot be anything that is not good. So even if we normally have a negative connection to jealousy, if God is it, it must—at least in relation to Him—be good.

I also had to deal with the realization that I could not, if pressed, articulate the difference between jealousy and envy. According to the website Diffen,* envy is wanting what someone else has, whereas jealousy is being afraid that what you already have will be taken away by someone else.

Of course, fear plays no part in who God is. Patheos** clarifies that the Hebrew word used to describe God's jealousy is "qana," which means "jealous only for God." 

God is righteously jealous for us because He does not want to lose what is rightfully His. This jealousy is not born out of some errant possessive nature, but out of God's love for us and His desire for our best. He longs for us, and so He is jealous of anything or anyone that might take us away from Him

This is such incredible truth: God so fiercely guards our relationship with Him that His very name is Jealous. 

And what name does He give us—His treasured possession? Hear it in the inspired words of the prophet Isaiah (43:1):

"Now this is what the Lord says—the One who created you, and the One who formed you—'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.'"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

February 16, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 78: Judge


"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25b NIV)

Once upon a time, there was a young woman fresh out of college, living 500 miles from home, working at her first real job. While she was driving to work one morning, she made an innocent but foolish mistake. No one was hurt, and it was a crime of ignorance, not of intent, but it landed her in a courtroom in front of a judge who waited for her plea of guilt or innocence.

Dear NOG friends, I told my parents the other day that by the end of this series, I will have told every story of mine there is to tell. Now you've read the beginning of this one. Clearly, there is much more to it, but we have many days ahead of us; for today, suffice it to say that I know what it's like to stand before a judge who has my life (or what felt like it) in his hands.

Mercifully, the judge in my case looked at me with understanding and gently offered a just and fair way out of the mess I'd inadvertently gotten myself into.

God, the Judge of all the earth, is the Chief Justice of the supreme court of the universe. In fact, He's the only one on the bench. His decision-making power is unchecked, unmitigated, and unending. But so are His patience, grace, and wisdom.

This Judge looks at the innocent and the guilty and the confused and the hapless and the repeat offenders and sees them all through eyes of love and compassion. Then He renders a verdict that somehow manages to be right, complete, merciful, and effective all at the same time. 

Aristotle wrote, "The Law is Reason free from Passion." But our omnipotent Judge upholds His own law with purposeful passion. And all His reasons are love.

February 15, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 77: Keeper


"The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." (Psalm 121:7,8 NIV)

We've already visited God as the Covenant Keeper on our journey, but today we have a chance to view Him as our Keeper from a different vantage point. 

"Keeper" reinforces several other names of God we've previously unwrapped: Stronghold, Fortress, Hiding Place. But what I learned the other day about the word "keep" illuminated this role of God in a new way.

In the past, I'd only ever thought of "keep" as a verb, and it does function in this capacity when we refer to God as our Keeper. According to BibleStudyTools.com, though, "keep" can also be a noun. In ancient times, the center tower of a castle was called the "keep" and was a place of shelter and protection during an enemy attack.

The "keep." 

My husband and I sometimes (half) joke about the items we'd grab in a hurry if we ever had to rush out of our house and seek shelter somewhere else. My personal Bible study workbooks are consistently on the list (which always starts with our children, of course). When our older daughter was pursuing her Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential her senior year in high school, we added the black, four-inch ring binder that essentially contained all her work toward that very valuable certificate to the list. My younger daughter's pointe shoes would also probably be on it. You might say these are the treasures we'd take to our "keep."

Beloved, you—YOU—are what God has in His "keep." You are on His list. You are His treasure (Deuteronomy 7:6). You are what He values and prizes. You are what He cherishes and defends. 
You are what He wants to keep.

How I pray your heart and mind are wooed toward the Keeper by the truth of what you mean to Him. Keep close to Him today, for in His care and keeping is the surest and best place to be. 

February 14, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 76: Love


"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16b NIV)

If the Bible is God's story of who He is, what He's done, and what He's going to do, its subtitle could easily be "Love." In fact, I think we could spend 365 days just exploring this one facet of who The Great I AM is. 

That God is love underlies everything else He is, as conveyed by just a few of His many names. 

*He is El Elyon...Most High in love.
*He the Covenant Keeper...keeping his promise of love to thousands of generations.
*He is Yahweh-Tsidkenu...God Who Makes Us Righteous With Himself for the simple and yet profound reason that He loves us.
*He is Emmanuel...the God who came to be with us because of love.
*He is the Word...and the word He speaks first and foremost is love.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one from St. Therese of Lisieux: "It isn't enough to love. We must prove it."

God proved and proves His love over and over. 
The question I need to ask myself is, "How will I prove love today?" 

How will I prove love today?

Here is where God's way of doing things is so radical and redemptive: I prove my love for God not to earn His love for me but in response to it. I prove my love for God not to get something from Him but because of what He has already given me.

"This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other" (1 John 4:10,11 MSG).

God's love story goes well beyond "once upon a time." Its ending will really be just the beginning. And "happily ever after"? We can't even imagine.

February 13, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 75: Dwelling Place

Dwelling Place

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." (Psalm 90:1,2 NIV)

"Dwell" is one of those words you don't hear a lot in ordinary conversation.

"I dwell in a blue farmhouse"? Probably not.

But the word is so rich in meaning that it seems entirely appropriate used in conjunction with our extraordinary God.

The Old Testament Hebrew words translated "to dwell" or "dwell" mean "to sit" or "to remain" and convey the idea of a permanent stay. And oh, how I love the way these meanings are reflected in the light of Psalm 90: "throughout all generations" and "from everlasting to everlasting."

Dwelling makes me think more of being than of doing and more of security and steadiness than of an address or structure. God is our dwelling place because with Him, our hearts are truly at home.

But how do we actually "dwell" with God? I'd love to know your thought on this, but here's what I've got so far, based on what I know about dwelling in my own home:
  • We spend time with Him. (It's hard to dwell in my home if I'm never there.)
  • We confess to Him where we've missed the mark. (This is the house equivalent of wiping my dirty shoes on the mat at the door.)
  • We show our real selves to him. (I'm very much my "real self" at home...sometimes to my teenage daughter's chagrin.)
  • We feel at peace with Him. 
Nothing I could write about that last point comes close to the gorgeous blessing God delivered through the prophet Isaiah. Dwell on this promise, sweet friends...

"My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest...how blessed you will be." (Isaiah 32:18, 20a NIV)

February 12, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 74: Cornerstone


"From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg...I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph." (Zechariah 10:4a, 6a NIV) 

There are a couple things that really charge me up when I'm doing Bible study, and both of them happened 
when I was searching out today's key verse

The first is coming upon messianic prophecy. I love that we do not have to wait until Emmanuel shows up in a barn in Bethlehem to get to know Him and to be awestruck by who He is. As Sally Lloyd-Jones beautifully conveys in the subtitle of "The Jesus Storybook Bible," the whole of Scripture "whispers His name." But some verses shout it, and today's verse is one of them: "from Judah will come the cornerstone." The Cornerstone. Rejected and cast aside by many, the Messiah is nonetheless the crucial building block of faith and of any sound spiritual house.

The other thing that really feeds my Bible study fire is stumbling across a portion of Scripture I feel like I've never seen before. (Full disclosure: here I am not talking about a verse like Ezra 2:3, for example. Maybe I should get excited about the descendants of Parosh, but I'm just not that dedicated.) Not only is Christ referred to as the Cornerstone, He is also called the "tent peg." The tent peg! How have I missed this for so long? What a fabulous new way to look at Jesus! If you've ever been tent camping, you'll easily understand the significance of this imagery: no matter how secure a tent looks when it's set up on a still, sunny day, when the rains pour down and the winds howl in the middle of the night, those pegs in the corners, driven deep into solid ground, are what will keep that lightweight structure in place. 

Jesus: Cornerstone of our spiritual house, peg of our spiritual tent...and Lord of all.

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus' name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Christ alone, Cornerstone.
Weak made strong in the Savior's love.
Through the storm,
He is Lord,
Lord of all."

("Cornerstone," Hillsong Worship, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izrk-erhDdk, original lyrics from "The Solid Rock" by Edward Mote.)

February 11, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 73: Spirit of Wisdom

Spirit of Wisdom

"The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." (Isaiah 11:2 NIV)

Wisdom is a recurring theme throughout all of God's Word, and several books of the Bible are specifically referred to as "wisdom literature." (The exact number of books in this collection varies from three to seven, depending on the source you're consulting, but Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes seem to make the cut with every source, and Psalms and Song of Songs are often included on the list, too.)

Getting a handle on wisdom, though, can be tricky...which should come as no surprise given that settling on a definition of wisdom in the first place is a rather slippery task.

I've always looked at wisdom in tandem with knowledge. To my simple way of thinking, knowledge is information and wisdom is application. Knowledge is what you know, and wisdom is what you do with what you know. Knowledge is having facts in your mind; wisdom is having the discernment to know when and how to apply those facts with your mouth, hands, and feet. Or, from another angle, knowledge is knowing what to say, and wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it. (See, in particular, conversations with spouses and teenagers.)

Of this we can be certain, though: "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures" (Proverbs 24:3,4 NIV).

I love to think about the kinds of "rare and beautiful treasures" a house built by wisdom would be filled with: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, for starters. It is no coincidence that these are the fruit of the Spirit, and they are beautiful indeed. I only pray that in your home and in mine, these treasures might not be too rare...that rather than being occasional guests in our spiritual houses, love and its companions might be regular inhabitants who move in and take up residence and never leave.

February 10, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 72: Builder


"Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything." (Hebrews 3:4 NIV)

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

I've been captivated by this quote from C.S. Lewis ever since I ran across it a few years ago. When God brought it back onto my radar the other day, I knew exactly which of His names I wanted to pair it with. I find it to be a fascinating expansion of this verse from Psalm 127:1: "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain."

I don't want my labor to be in vain. I don't want it to be for nothing. I want it to count. I want it to make a lasting difference. I want to cooperate with God in laying a firm foundation for myself and my family.

So, build me into a living house, O Master Builder. Rearrange me. Knock down walls that aren't really holding anything up. Rip off wallpaper that's outlived its beauty. Come and live in me. Make Yourself at home. Make Yourself my home.

February 9, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 71: Shelter


"I cry to You, Lord; I say, 'You are my shelter, my portion in the land of the living.'" 
(Psalm 142:5 CSB) 

One line from the beautiful old hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" kept running through my mind while I was thinking about this name of God: "Our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal Home."

Our Shelter "from." Praise God He often does shelter us from storms...many we don't even know about.

But I also believe God shelters us IN storms. Which puts us in good company.

El Shaddai—God Almighty—did not choose to spare Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace...but He did shelter them in it.

The Sovereign God did not choose to spare Daniel from the lion's den...but He did shelter him in it.

El Elyon—God Most High—did not choose to spare Paul and Silas from being sent to prison...but He did shelter them in it.

When the storms of temporary life in an imperfect world rage around us and within us, we can run to the Shelter of the Most High—and there find our belief in who He is and what He can do built up in a way it would not be if we were sheltered from the storm entirely. 

And the next time God chooses to shelter us "in" something and not "from" it? We can weather those winds and rains with a storm-strengthened version of our faith.

"Under the shadow of Thy throne still may we dwell secure; 
sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our defense is sure."

("O God, Our Help in Ages Past; words by Isacc Watts, music by William Croft; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvEx86oP5Wg, beginning at the 44-second mark.)

February 8, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 70: Portion


"God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26b NIV)

Today's mile marker on our Names of God journey reads "Day 70." The number seven often represents completion in the Bible, and while I trust we still have many marvelous miles to go before this series is complete, today feels like a good time to share a little background I'd love for you to know going forward.

Several kind encouragers have asked if I have all 365 days and names already finished. Spoiler alert: I don't. I have a year's worth of names chosen, but I am essentially writing the daily posts as they come up. For a while, I thought, "If I could just get one day at home when I didn't have to go anywhere, I could write NOGs like crazy and build up a stockpile." I did get a day at home (thank you, Polar Vortex), but did not amass a stockpile. So I've come to look at this project as my own "manna in the wilderness" experience: my Portion gives me just enough insight and leading about His names for one day at a time. As He has every right to do. And as He did with His people after they had come out of Egypt and He warned them to collect only enough food for each person for each day as it came. 

Our Portion is God of the daily details—"in the morning you will be filled with bread"—and God of the eternal big picture: "Then you will know that I am the LORD your God" (Exodus 16:12). 

All of that was a long way of introducing a specific example of God's supply for this journey...one I'm sharing for the express purpose of encouraging you, dear friends, as you seek to trust in Yahweh as your Portion.

I'd already decided on "Way-Maker" for Day 68. On the morning of Day 67, I sat down at my computer to start working on the next day's post, which I intended to build around the story of God parting the Red Sea. I turned on my monitor and pulled up the online streaming of our local radio station for background music...and stared at the name of the song listed as "currently playing": "Split the Sea," by Hannah Kerr.

"Split the Sea." SPLIT. THE. SEA.

I've heard it said that a coincidence is God working anonymously. And He surely does that. But He also often works in plain sight, His provisional power on full, faith-feeding display. 

He is our Portion forever. He is our Portion for today.

February 7, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 69: Guide


"For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end." (Psalm 48:14 NIV)

When God's chosen people first set out on their journey of freedom away from the Egyptians, Yahweh provided divine GPS via a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 

Sometimes I long for God's leading today to be as obvious and unmistakable as those pillars. Yet what He provides now is so much better, because that ancient guidance was for a specific group of people at a specific time, whereas His present guidance is for all people, at any time.

Over the course of my life, I've collected a few stepping stones to help me try to figure out if my Guide is leading me down a certain path. This is not some express highway of decision-making, but maybe it will provide a little sure footing for your journey, too.

A ~ Ask God what He thinks. This is otherwise known as prayer, and I know it's an obvious stone to start with, but you might be surprised at the number of journeys I've started off on in my life without consulting God first.

B ~ Be aware of holy nudges. These are those little Holy Spirit twinges in your mind or that emotional sore tooth that keeps pinging, either steering you further down a path or halting you before you take another step.

C ~ Carefully consider God's Word on the matter. The antiquity of Scripture does not diminish its present authority or applicability. 

D ~ Draw from the wisdom of careful counselors. Mature friends of faith, trustworthy clergy members, teachers of truth...God can use all these human pillars to lead us along.

E ~ Expect God's confirmation. Our loving Guide wants us to know His will. It's not as if He's clutching it to Himself, shrouding it from us and hoping we won't guess what it is. Earnestly seek His direction—and then wait in confident expectation that He will give it.

"Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before" (Joshua 3:4 NIV).

February 6, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 68: Way-Maker


"'Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horseman.'" (Exodus 14:15b, 16, 18)

There's no way.

How many times have I said this in the face of a seemingly impossible situation? 

Certainly the newly freed Israelite captives must have had that thought when they were looking ahead of them at the expanse of Red Sea and over their shoulders at the advancing Egyptian army. 

There was no way. 

And, in fact, there wasn't a way...until the Way-Maker made one. 

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see examples of God making a way where there is no way. We might wonder why He so often chooses to work drastically. He could, after all, have led his people out of Egypt along an easy, clear-cut path to freedom. He could have plucked Joseph out of the cistern his brothers threw him into and sent him merrily along back to his father. He could have healed Lazarus' sickness long before it ever landed him in a (temporary) grave.

But just think how many wandering souls across all generations have looked at the example of God parting the Red Sea and have found their own faith and hope and courage emboldened by it. This would not have been the case if the path had been smooth and obvious. There would not have been such a story to tell.

The Way-Maker wants us to be in awe of Him and what He can do not because He's on some kind of egotistic power-trip but because He knows reverence for Him keeps us correctly connected to the Source of true power. 

The next time I fall into thinking, "There's no way," I need to remember the Way-Maker and reframe my thoughts: "I may not be able to see the way right now, but I can look to the One I know is making it."
"In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. (Exodus 15:13 NIV)

February 5, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 67: Stronghold


"He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge." (Psalm 144:2 NIV)

Oh, friends, I'm so excited to share this name of God with you, because it took some unraveling for me to make sense of what seemed like a contradiction about it. 

God is referred to as our stronghold—a very good thing—more than a half-dozen times on the pages of Scripture. But I struggled with this particular name because, in Bible studies I've done in the past, strongholds have been presented as bad things. 

In general terms, a stronghold is a place of refuge, a fortress—and God surely is that. But if we run to a shelter that is not God and make it our source of security, it can become a stronghold. In her Breaking Free study, Beth Moore defines a stronghold (lowercase "s") as "anything not of God that is mastering me." 

Clearly (blessedly), this is another example of how something apart from God can harm us while when it is with God, it can help us. God's Word beautifully backs this up, lamenting earthly strongholds and lauding God our Stronghold. 

  • "Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” (Psalm 52:7 NIV)
  • "The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble." (Psalm 37:39 NIV)
  • "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV)
  • "The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1 NIV)

Earthly strongholds promise us security but then trap us so that we are bound up in and by whatever is holding us: a job, a relationship, a habit, a "comfort," a goal. God does not want us to have strongholds, but He does want to be our Stronghold.

Earthly strongholds confine us, while our eternal Stronghold frees us. Earthly strongholds rule us as tyrants, while our eternal Stronghold protects us as a gentle shepherd. And earthy strongholds, left unchecked, ultimately destroy us, while our eternal Stronghold delivers us—to Himself.

February 4, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 66: God of Compassion

God of Compassion

"The Lord said, 'I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering." (Exodus 3:7 NIV)

As I study God's names and search for representative Scriptures, I usually consult several different translations and paraphrases to help me gain a better understanding of a particular name.

Some Scriptures demonstrate the consistency of God's great love letter: a key word will be the same across the board from a dozen different sources. 

Other Scriptures illustrate the rich complexity of God's inspired message. Such is the case with today's key verse. When I originally read this in the New International Version, I was struck by the fact that God was "concerned" about His people's suffering. (And here it is important to note that God was not concerned because He didn't know what to do about that suffering: He was concerned because He is a tenderhearted God whose great heart hurts when we hurt.) 

Other renderings of this verse, though, guide us toward slightly different understandings of God's reaction to the cries of the Israelite slaves...a reaction we can fully expect Him to have to our cries. 

God "understood" (CEB). 
God "took notice" (CSB).
God "acknowledged them" (CJB).
God "knew" (ESV).
God "had respect unto them" (KJV).
God "knew their condition" (RSV).
God "took heed of them" (TMBA).
God "had concern for them, that is, he loved them" (YLT).

I believe these varied translations more fully illuminate God's perspective toward suffering. He cares about it, and He is moved by it. And, as this beautiful contemporary hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty reminds us, He then sends us out to demonstrate His concern, His respect, His understanding to the world around us. God shows His compassion to us; we show it to others. By any interpretation, this is one of the sweetest songs we'll ever sing.

"What boundless love,
What fathomless grace
You have shown us, O God of compassion!
Each day we live
An offering of praise
As we show to the world Your compassion."

("Compassion Hymn," Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMR85VnEluM.)

February 3, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 65: God Who Hears

God Who Hears

"The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob." (Exodus 2:23, 24 NIV)

At various times, in my roles as wife and mom, I've asked my family, "Did you hear what I said?" 

You understand, of course, that I am not asking my (greatly cherished) husband and children, "Was the sound of my voice received by your auditory receptors?" Rather, I am asking, "Did your brain comprehend what my voice said and, more importantly, will you be acting upon it?"

Thank goodness the God who hears is also the God who acts. 

God heard Ishmael crying after he and his mother, Hagar, were sent away from Abraham and Sarah...and assured Hagar that God would make her son into a great nation (Genesis 21).

God heard the groaning of the Israelite slaves...and called Moses to be the unlikely spokesperson of His rescue plan (Exodus 2).

God heard David's cry from the pit...and gave him a firm place to stand and a new song to sing (Psalm 40).

And God heard the groans of the prisoners condemned to death (that's you and me and all people, my friends)...and prepared to send the One who would proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners (Psalm 103, Isaiah 61).

I so appreciate the winsome way Sally Lloyd-Jones portrays the God who hears in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing:
"Do you sometimes think you can't bother God? That maybe he's too busy to hear from you? that what you're asking is too small to trouble him with? Jesus said God wants us to come to him, like a child comes to her daddy. When we're afraid. When we're worried. If we're happy. If we're sad. However we feel. Some people think God doesn't like to be troubled with us asking him things all the time. But do you know the way to trouble him? By not coming at all."
(Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, "Are We Troubling God?")

February 2, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 64: God Who Is With Us

God Who Is With Us

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you." (Genesis 28:15 NIV)

God left no doubt about his "with-us-ness" when He sent His best beloved to earth in the flesh in the person of Emmanuel—"God with us." And even when Emmanuel shed His earthly body and returned to heaven, God remained (and remains) with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Helper and Counselor. 

But God has always confirmed His presence with the people He created. Again and again, His story records that reality in the present—"I am with you"—and the promise of it in the future: "I will be with you."
  • "Do not be afraid, for I am with you." (Genesis 26:24 NIV)
  • "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go." (Genesis 28:15 NIV)
  • "'They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 1:19 NIV)
  • "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you." (Genesis 31:3 NIV)
  • "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5 NIV)
  • "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Isaiah 43:3)
Apart from God's own voice, spoken though His Word, I can think of no better way to "speak" about this name than through this sacred song. The lyrics were written just days prior to a tragedy that took the lives of a young couple, leaving their baby an orphan. Music was then swiftly composed to accompany the lyrics, and the piece was used at the couple's funeral. May you see in the lyrics and hear in the music the truth that God—Father, Son, Spirit...here on earth now and someday in heaven forever—is with you.

"I am with you, says the Savior,
Even to the age's end.
Never leaving, nor forsaking,
I'm your ever-present Friend.
Fear not, loved one; hear My comfort;
None can pluck you from My hand.
Trust me, loved one; I am constant:
None can change what I have planned."

("I Am With You," words by Chris Anderson, music by Greg Habegger, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4daszftJU1U.)

February 1, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 63: Sovereign Lord

Sovereign Lord

"The Sovereign Lord will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone's eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The Lord himself has spoken." (Isaiah 25:8 GNT) 

"Sovereign" is one of those words that, as a lifelong church kid (which I'm truly grateful to have been), I "knew" but could not, if asked, actually define—other than, "Sovereign means...well, you know...it means...um, sovereign." (Helpful.) But this particular name of God appears so often on the pages of Scripture, I finally had to buckle down and get a grip on it.

Thankfully, other names of God we've already visited on our journey illuminate and exemplify God's sovereignty:

The Sovereign Lord is also El Shaddai: God Almighty.
The Sovereign Lord is also El Elyon: Lord Most High.
The Sovereign Lord is also Adonai: Lord and Master.
The Sovereign Lord is also Alpha and Omega: the Beginning and the End.

Easton's Bible Dictionary defines God's sovereignty as "his absolute right to do all things according to his own good pleasure." And Isaiah 46:8-10a portion of Scripture that, to me, seems to feature God speaking of His own sovereignty—echoes that definition: "Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'"

If God's sovereignty were not matched by His mercy, goodness, and compassion, such a definition and declaration would be utterly terrifying (to say nothing of coming across as rather haughty, if it were anyone other than God talking about Himself). But because God is only holy and never haughty and because He always carries out His sovereignty within the context of His tender love for us, we can unreservedly declare with the Psalmist, "I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I, whom you have redeemed" (Psalm 71:16,23).

January 31, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 62: Very Great Reward

Very Great Reward

"The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.'" (Genesis 15:1 NIV)

Both my daughters teach dance, and lately my younger daughter has been facing some discipline challenges with one of her chattier classes. She recently decided to try out a sticker chart to allow each dancer the opportunity to individually make appropriate behavior choices and to then eventually earn a reward for those accumulated good decisions.

Our divine Teacher is well beyond sticker charts, but He does present Himself to us as our Very Great Reward. He Himself is the reward, and out of Himself, He also gives us rewards.

He rewards those who keep his decrees (Psalm 19:9-11).
He rewards our work (2 Chronicles 15:7).
He rewards wisdom (Proverbs 9:12).
He rewards confidence in Him (Hebrews 10:35).

God's Word tells us He rewards in a variety of ways, including with children, vindication, righteousness, good things...and with the grandest prize of all: "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:23).

That, surely, is something to dance about.

January 30, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 61: Breath of Life

Breath of Life

"Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person." 
(Genesis 2:7 NLT)

As soon as I added this name of God to my master list, I knew which story I wanted to use to illustrate it. This is not my story; it belongs to one of my precious Bible study sisters, and I'm sharing it here with her permission and blessing.

Her name is Tricia, but her beloved grandfather always pronounced her name so that it sounded more like "Thrhesha." She never understood why, thinking maybe it had something to do with his hearing...or the fact that he seldom wore his false teeth.

A few years ago, Tricia was doing a Bible study on the Patriarchs and came across the story of Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham. She learned that the Hebrew letter "he" (transliterated into English as "ha") was added to Abram's name to change it to Abraham. The Hebrew "he" is a breathing-out sound, so in essence, the Breath of Life breathed Himself into Abram to transform him into Abraham. 

Tricia then came to a question in the study that asked what her name would be if God breathed into it as He had into Abram. When Tricia wrote it out, she read, "T-R-I-H-E-C-I-A." And when she spoke it out loud, she heard once again her name as her grandfather had pronounced it all those years ago...sweet confirmation that God had indeed breathed His life into her.

Dear friends, the Breath of Life has breathed Himself into you, too. As you're inhaling and exhaling today, let the significance of that fill you up. You are not an accident. You are not a fluke. You are the on-purpose, for-a-purpose creation of God Most High. And when you breathe in the Spirit of God through faith, you, like Abram-turned-Abraham, will never be the same again.

January 29, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 60: Deliverer


"But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay." (Psalm 70:5 NIV)

To know God as our Deliverer is to know Him as Savior and Rescuer and Protector. He sees our peril, reaches down, plucks us out of harm's way, and sets us in safety.

But when I was thinking about this name of God, my mind also went down a little side road, to my paternal grandfather. My dad's dad was a mail carrier for more than 30 years, beginning after he served in the Navy during World War II and ending when he retired from the United States Postal Service, to much acclaim and affection.

My grandpa made his deliveries faithfully, with an understanding that the letters and packages he was delivering had value to those who had sent them and to those who would be receiving them. He took care of his parcels, because he understood their worth and importance. He was a good and faithful public servant.

God our Deliverer knows our worth and importance and value better than anyone. He is the One who sends us to this earth to live the mortal lives He wills for us, and it is back to Himself He want us to return, via the way of faith, to live the eternal heavenly lives He wills for us. And so He takes care of us. He is mindful of us. He handles us gently. He protects us.

He sends us to the world for a little while and then delivers us back to Himself forever. And when we arrive in His heavenly presence, we can aspire to no greater accolade than to hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

"My Deliverer is coming, my Deliverer is standing by.
My Deliverer is coming, my Deliverer is standing by. 
He will never break His promise though the stars should break faith with the sky. 
My Deliverer is coming, my Deliverer is standing by."

"My Deliverer," by Rich Mullins, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8-NxI_IWd0

January 28, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 59: Spirit of God

Spirit of God

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1,2 NIV)

Hovering. I love this captivating word. It makes me think of waiting...not placidly or apathetically, but like a restrained force on the verge of exploding. Which leads me to a related word that's easily one of the Top 5 Words I Ever Learned In Women's Bible study: dunamis

Dunamis is a Greek word meaning power or ability, and if it reminds you of the word "dynamite," you're exactly on the right track. It carries the idea of contained energy, of something holding back before being released.

Some mornings, I pray, "Holy Spirit, explode your dunamis power over and in my family." I like to think of my husband and daughters, at work or at school, suddenly feeling a little jolt of God's power surging through them.

Sweet NOG friends, the Spirit of God is hovering over and in you, ready to unleash His dunamis power on your behalf. Ask Him to do it, then wait in hopeful expectation of what He'll do with you, in you, and for you. When He does, I believe you'll think the same thing Genesis 1:31 in The Message Bible paraphrase tells us God thought when He stood back and surveyed His six days of creative handiwork, His hovering Spirit having exploded its energy (but not used it up...NEVER used up): "it was so good, so very good."

January 27, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 58: The Beginning

The Beginning

"'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.'" (Revelation 22:13 NIV)

The word "beginning" carries so much hope and anticipation with it. 

God the Son describes Himself as "the Beginning" in today's focal verse, but we also meet God the Father on the pages of Scripture literally "in the beginning" (Genesis 1:1). There, He's poised to do the work of creation...a task He's undertaking for the simple (and yet profound, in a mind-stretching kind of way) reason that He wants to. He creates because He is creative, but He does not need to create. He wants to create, but not because anything about Him or His existence is lacking. The One with Whom everything good has its start and end creates just for His pleasure. He wants to create us because He wants us.

My Bible study
 sisters and I were talking about beginnings last week...specifically about beginning something without "inquiring of the Lord" first (see Joshua 9:14). I've done this in the past—launched into something without asking God His opinion on the matter—and it's never turned out very well. If you're at the starting line of some new journey, maybe you'll want to learn from my mistakes and "inquire of the Lord" first. Is this something He wants you to begin? Is He in it? Ask Him about it in prayer, look for guidance in His Word, glean wisdom from faithful friends, and then be on the lookout for God's "yes" or "no" or "wait." 

He is the Beginning. He is the End. And He is every place worth going in between.

January 26, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 57: Truth


"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.' " 
(John 14:6 NLT)

Jesus the Truth is the counterbalance for every lie the enemy weighs us down with. But Jesus doesn't just tip the scales so that they're even: He obliterates the scales entirely so that, when all is said and done, only justice and mercy and righteousness and goodness and love will carry any eternal weight at all.

The enemy whispers lies, but Jesus declares the truth.
The enemy lurks in darkness, but Jesus shines in light.
The enemy deceives cunningly, but Jesus guides faithfully.
The enemy brings death, but Jesus gives life.
The enemy is evil, but Jesus is holy.
The enemy tempts us, but Jesus delivers us.
The enemy torments, but Jesus reigns in peace.

In her study The Armor of God, author and Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer defines truth as "God's opinion on any matter." And American poet Carl Sandburg famously said, "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on."

More than 2,000 years ago, a baby named Truth was God's opinion that the world should be saved—and its scales tipped irrevocably in favor of grace.