The Shepherd and the Cast Sheep

And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them,
because they were distressed and helpless
like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:36

Sheep are helpless animals, and not very bright – and it is sheep that we are likened to. We should be eternally thankful that it is Jesus who is our Shepherd.

sheep-blackface-web

In Psalm 23 we hear David proclaim that “The LORD is my Shepherd…” and in that statement I can almost hear little boys boasting back and forth. “Your think your shepherd is good. Well get this – the LORD is MY Shepherd!”

But let’s go back to the verse above. When Jesus sees the people as “helpless,” the word is more accurately rendered “cast down.” And that’s a sheep herding term. For a sheep to be cast is for it to be stuck on its back. All that wool, matted and probably stuck in the brush. Reminds me of the image of Linus from the Peanuts cartoon strip, laying on the ice in his snowsuit. Stuck.

For the sheep, being cast is certain death. Unless… Unless there is a shepherd who will right her. And that is how Jesus sees the people. Stuck. Helpless. Facing certain death. Unless… Unless they have a Shepherd who will save them.

Thinking of that verse, and the phrase “cast down” reminded of another verse:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42:5

Now when I think of my soul being ‘cast down’ I see the image of the sheep on its back. Frightened. Alone. Hopeless.

And like the psalmist I remind myself that I have a Shepherd, and He will set me on my feet again. It is the LORD who is my Shepherd! I have hope in Him, and I shall again praise Him.

Is your soul cast down this day? Your Shepherd is looking for you and He WILL find you and set you back on your feet.

The Prepositional Savior

According to www.Dictionary.com, prepostions are words that “typically express a spatial, temporal, or other relationship.”

Sometimes when I read, I see what I want to see instead of what is there, and when I read that definition, I saw “spriritual” instead of “spatial.” Too funny. The good news is that “spiritual” can still fit in the “other relationship” category, though.

My point, however, is that we have a prepositional Savior. Jesus is in a spatial and a temporal relationship with us, as well as in a spiritual relationship with us. 

St. Patrick, in the poem known as his “Breastplate,” puts it this way:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Watch the video below for a beautiful expression of His prepositional presence with us.

Christ Above Me

Pierced for His Bride

When you buy a Hebrew slave, he will serve six years. The seventh year he goes free, for nothing. If he came in single he leaves single. If he came in married he leaves with his wife. If the master gives him a wife and she gave him sons and daughters, the wife and children stay with the master and he leaves by himself. But suppose the slave should say, ‘I love my master and my wife and children—I don’t want my freedom,’ then his master is to bring him before God and to a door or doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, a sign that he is a slave for life.
Exodus 21:2-6

heart-hands-sunset

Slavery in the Old Testament was not the same as we commonly think about it in our modern world. It was more of an indentured servanthood. The slave served the master, but only for a set period of time. And the master had the responsibility of providing for the slave. But we aren’t talking about slavery today.

We are talking about what happens when the time of slavery is over.

If a man was married when he became a slave, his family came into the relationship with him. And when the appointed time came, he was released, and took his family with him. However, there were times when a slave was given a wife by the master, and in that case, when the appointed time came and he was released, he could not take his family with him.

The servant could choose to stay, though, and keep his family. But in order to do that, he had to submit to having his ear stretched out against a wooden doorpost and pierced with an awl. There was blood on the doorpost, and he bore the mark of the piercing the rest of his life – a sign of his love and devotion.

Once again we see the rituals prescribed in the Torah as a foreshadowing of what we now know of our Savior. Clearly it was His body, and not just His ear, stretched out on a wooden cross and pierced. That wood was stained with His precious blood and He will eternally bear the marks of that piercing.

But consider this: It was for His bride that He endured the piercing. For you and for me. Throughout endless ages Jesus will bear the marks of the crucifixion as signs of His unfailing love and scandalous devotion for His bride, the ones given to Him by His Father.

I think now, when I see a man with his ear pierced, my heart will swell with wonder as I am reminded of what Jesus did for me. I love finding Him in the pages of the Old Testament.

What’s In the Father’s Heart?

heart_with_ribbon_400_clr_1667I’m in love with the Hebrew alphabet. Or, as they would say, the alef-bet. Each of the 22 letters represents a picture, which in turn represents one or more concepts. And when you look at the actual Biblical Hebrew words themselves, the pictures reveal precious gems often lost in translation.

Let’s start at the beginning, with alef and bet, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

1-alef-small

Alef

2-vet-small

Bet

Alef is the picture of an ox or bull, and is used symbolically to mean strength, leader, or first.

Bet is the picture of a tent or a house, and is often used symbolically to represent the household or family.

And when we put those two letters together we get ab or av, which means father. And here’s the picture: The father is the strength of the home.

So let’s look at the whole word with the letters alef and bet together. Hebrew is written from right to left instead of what we are used to, which is left to right.

FATHER: the strength of the home

Hey

Hey

The next letter that we want to look at is hey. It’s word picture is a window, and often means to behold, or reveal.

We are going to put hey, the window that reveals, right in the middle, or heart, of “father.” And when we do, we see the father’s heart revealed.

What do you think we see when we look into the father’s heart? The Hebrew word is ahav.

alef-hey-bet-love

LOVE: the father’s heart revealed

It is LOVE! Love is what you find when the father’s heart is revealed.

And when we think about our Heavenly Father, the meaning becomes even more profound. The Father’s heart toward you is love. When you look in His heart, that’s what you find.

Zodhiates says, “Ahav is often used to describe the unspeakable love and tender mercies of God in the covenant relationship with His people.”

Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to God, your God. God, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished, personal treasure.

God wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. God stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 (MSG)

Look at your Father and see Him as strong and protecting, and look at His heart. Peer through the window of the Word and see the steadfast love that works all your circumstances for good because you are His, the love that won’t let you go as it conforms you to the image of His Son.


Word picture definition: “Hebrew Word Pictures” by Frank T. Seekins, 2012

Christmas Present

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:1-2

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son,
and she will call His name Emmanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.
When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,
before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son,
and they shall call His name Emmanuel,”
which translated means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23

“… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. ”
Matthew 28:20

I can think of no greater gift to give you this year than the word “with.” We use it unsparingly, every day, with hardly a thought to its rich spiritual implication. Read the verses above again, pausing to consider each “with.”

For those of us who have been pregnant, the term “with child” holds special meaning. We understand a completely different depth of “with” than those who have not shared that experience. We know the awareness of a separate life inside of us, growing, moving. We are filled with an incredible wonder at the creation of life, and of being chosen to share in it. We become very sensitive to every little change, every indication that there really is another life deep within us. And we become very intimately attached to it and identified with it – “with child” is different than “with” anything or anybody else.

But apart from an isolated nine months here and there throughout our lives, “with” is primarily relegated to external, physical relationships. However, as in many other cases, there is a slang usage of the word that hints of a deeper meaning. For example, when we say, “I’m with you on that,” we are implying that we understand the other person, and even perhaps identify with them.

Before time began, from the farthest recesses of eternity past, before anything or anyone had been created, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit shared the wonder and completeness of fellowship, being at once One and with and within each other. While we can never fully comprehend what that means, we do know it was (and is) by far the most intimate, most complete, most satisfying relationship possible.

In God’s astounding plan of redemption, He has chosen to include us in this “with” relationship. First, He chose to be with Mary, indwelling her in a very physical way, and through her to become “Emmanuel, God with us. ”He understood and identified with His creation in the most intimate way possible – God became man.

Because He chose to be “with us” in the flesh, we can be “with Him” in the Spirit. While we certainly do not become deity, in some mysterious fashion we are included now in the circle of fellowship He shares within Himself. We are in Him and He is in us.

This Christmas, whether you are with friends and family or not, know this: Emmanuel, God with us, is the greatest gift of all. His present to you is His presence – with you for all time and eternity. May being with Him be your richest blessing. Merry Christmas!

Lord God,
The Incarnation… what a mystery! How could You, the One Who is transcendent – beyond, above, outside time and space… Creator God, God Almighty – become Your creation? But perhaps an even greater mystery than “how?” is “why?” Why would You lay aside the glory and honor of Your eternal position for the humiliation and degradation of physical life as a man? It is indeed a mystery – one that in this life I will never understand. But I do understand this… You came because You wanted to. You came to give me life — abundant, joyous, eternal life. You came as an expression of Your love, Your unfailing, never-ending, all-sufficient, glorious love for me. And that is why I celebrate Christmas – not for the gifts, not for the time off from work, not for the sake of tradition, not for the music and lights and emotions, but because You loved me enough to be with me. And I am eternally grateful.

Bosom Buddies

In English, the meaning of many words is found by examining the roots that are present in it. For example, the suffix -logy,  from the word logos, means “the study of.” And geo  refers to the earth. Geology, then is the study of the earth, or of earthly things.

A similar thing happens in Hebrew with root words, though because it is an image-oriented language, it works a little differently.

Let’s start with the root word chov, which means bosom. Chov is made up of two letters, chet, which can mean an inner chamber, and bet, which refers to the house, or what is inside. Therefore, chov, or bosom, means what is in the house. And because the house is a personal place (as opposed to the market place, or a field, or a mountain), it implies the personal things that are in the inner chamber.

In ancient times, the bosom referred to the top part of the garment that hung over the girdle or belt. It was here that men would put their precious possessions when they traveled, to keep them safe. Sometimes they even carried a small child there, for protection.

Also, when they reclined at the table for a communal meal, One man’s head would be in front of another man’s chest area, or in his bosom. If you were “in the bosom” of the host, that was the most honored place.

You may recall the phrase “Abraham’s bosom” from Scripture, a place of honor and safety and rest.

So bosom is a root word. One of the words it imparts meaning to is the Hebrew word for companion, or close friend: cha-ver’. This is what it looks like:

Literally, cha-ver’ is “a bosom person,” someone who is precious to you, someone you cherish and to whom you reveal your closest secrets. In times past, we would have called them our bosom buddy. Today, maybe our BFF.

Do you have a bosom buddy, a cha-ver’ – someone who is close to your heart, who is as dear to you as life itself? If so, you are indeed truly blessed.

 

Shalom

Over the years I’ve totally enjoyed digging into New Testament Greek, and doing word studies is one of my favorite devotional activities. But I’ve always shied away from Hebrew. It has seemed so much more difficult, shrouded in mystery, unfathomable. So I’ve limped along with dictionary definitions and transliterations…

In recent months I’ve been asking God to kindle in my heart a deeper love for His Word, and His answer to that prayer, in part, has been the discovery of “Hebrew word pictures.” The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (alef-bet) are each representative of a picture, which leads to a concept. And it is the combination of those pictures that brings the words of Scripture to life.

Today I want to explore the Hebrew word for peace, shalom. This is what it looks like in Hebrew — and it is read from right to left, not left to right as we are used to.

Using the word pictures, the meaning becomes “Destroy the authority that establishes chaos.

As I thought about that, I realized that in my life, a lack of peace is characterized by uncertainty, confusion, disorder… in a word: chaos. In John 14:27, Jesus says this:

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.

Jesus destroys the authority that establishes chaos in our lives and replaces it with the calm assurance of His sovereignty, His control, His authority, His lovingkindness.

Let’s look at a few other verses and I’ll leave it to you to lay this definition over them.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Psalm 122:6

For a child will be born to us,
a son will be given to us;
And the government
will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

“There is no peace for the wicked,”
says the LORD.
Isaiah 48:22

In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For You alone, O LORD,

make me to dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.
—————————————
Word picture definition: “Hebrew Word Pictures” by Frank T. Seekins, 2012
Shalom graphic: Wikipedia

 

Black Friday

My daughter has been after me for years to go Black Friday shopping with her, and I finally, against my better judgment, gave in. So I’m thinking the stores open at 5 AM, so to be generous, we could be there by 4:00. Silly me. Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sales began at 10PM on Thursday night, and we had to be there by 7:30 in order to scope everything out and get into position. 7:30? Really?

So I dutifully took up my post across from the Bissel Vacuum Cleaners and waited. And waited. And. waited. some. more. And I have to confess that by 9:40, even I was getting testy with people who thought they could just stop in front of those of us who had been patiently waiting for hours. I was surprised at how easy it was to abandon grace and clutch at legalism, especially when I was “legally” right.

But I was totally unprepared for what happened when 10:00 came and the plastic wrap around the stack of vacuum cleaners was cut. Chaos. Mayhem. Pushing and shoving and shouting.  I did get the Bissel for my daughter, but at what price?

There was another Black Friday, long before Wal-Mart was a twinkle in Sam Walton’s eye. A Black Friday when the Son of God died on a cross to pay for the sins of men so clearly displayed on this Black Friday and on every other day. Our world still needs a Savior to rescue us from the greed and pride and desperation that rises from our hearts.

But that’s not the only spiritual application. One of the explanations of the term, “Black Friday” is that it is the day the tide turns for retailers, that they begin to see a profit, or be “in the black.” Prior to that point, everything they earn goes to pay for their privilege of being in business.

For us as Christians, that Black Friday when Jesus died on the cross also moves us from owing an overwhelming debt to “being in the black.” Jesus paid the debt we owed and freed us from its chains. He has freely given us everything we need for life and godliness.

I am grateful for my Black Friday shopping experience because it brought me face to face with my desperate need to constantly apply the Gospel to my heart every day. But I am even more grateful that Jesus endured His Black Friday for me. And for you.

Is This All There Is?

When was the last time you had the rug pulled out from under you? In the midst of the disorienting chaos, did you wonder, “Is this all there is?” Or did you manage to grab hold of the assurance that there really is something more than what we can see at work in our lives?

An engineer was walking through a construction site and stopped a laborer and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m moving these boards from this pile to that pile over there.”

A little further on, he saw a saw a mason and asked him what he was doing. The mason replied, “I’m getting ready to pour some concrete.”

Then he came upon a carpenter who was building a frame for the concrete to be poured into, and he asked him the same thing. But the carpenter replied, “I’m building a cathedral where thousands of voices will sing the praises of God.”

The carpenter had a greater vision than the other two workmen. He could see beyond the here and now.

In John 9, we see Jesus and the boys talking about a man born blind. The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents. Jesus answered that neither of those things caused his blindness, but that it happened so the works of God might be displayed in him.

Perhaps there is something in your life that has you wondering why it happened. Without looking at our circumstances through the lens of what we know about God, it would be easy to despair. Or to Get. Very. Angry.

But when we look through the lens of God’s love and His goodness, that He is always for us, that He always has a plan and is faithful, then we can look beyond the here and now, and see that this is not all there is.

The building site did not look at all like a spectacular cathedral, and your life may not look very spectacular, either. But somehow, in ways that we may never understand, all that is happening is working together to bring glory to God.

That doesn’t mean that we should dance a jig in the face of adversity, or refuse to grieve loss, or laugh when people sin against us… But it does mean that as you face every trial in your life, you can walk in the calm assurance of knowing that this is not all there is.

What area of your life needs to be looked at through the “God lens?”

Got Your Buckler?

Psalm 91:4

He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
“Thy faithfulness is my shield and buckler…” To paraphrase one of my favorite modern theologians: “Right, Lord. …What’s a buckler?” 

A buckler is that small hand shield you see in the image above. According to Wikipedia, it has several purposes, all of which seem to have spiritual applications. Let’s look at them:

Hand protection: The primary use of the buckler was to protect the sword hand. — We know from Ephesians 6:17 that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, The Word of God has no meaning if it is not tied to His faithfulness, His truth, the reality that He is who He says He is, and He does what He says He will do. It is that faithfulness which protects the hand wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Deflector: The buckler’s lightness and curved center made it excellent for deflecting attacking blades. Such a deflection would leave the attacker open for a rapid counter-attack. — It is holding His faithfulness out in front of us that deflects the attack of the enemy.

Blinder: The light blades used in conjunction with the buckler depended on rapid movements, which meant that a single second was an important advantage. The wielder of the buckler could use the buckler to shield his sword-hand’s position from view, keeping his opponent from guessing his next strike. — When we neglect to call to mind God’s faithfulness to us personally, we are an open book to the enemy. He knows our habits, and preys on our natural tendencies. But when we are positioning the sword of the Spirit, which is His Word, behind His faithfulness to us, we can strike blows the enemy does not expect.

“Metal fist”: A buckler could be used to directly attack an opponent by punching with either its flat face or its rim. — God’s faithfulness to us is in iteslf a powerful blow to the enemy and His lies.

Binder: The buckler could be used to bind an opponent’s sword hand and weapon as well as their buckler against their body. The buckler was also very useful in grappling, where it allowed an opponent’s arms to be easily wrapped up and controlled. — God’s faithfulness binds the enemy’s hands.

Sight light: In France, a type of buckler was created that had a small door in it. In the small door was a hole that the soldier would put a candle in to provide light — God’s faithfulness throws light on the schemes of the enemy.

We are in a battle. Don’t forget your buckler!