God Keeps Us

Bible-on-deskI once had a dear friend who loved “to keep Christmas.” As the season drew near she would begin preparing for it, cleaning house, rearranging things to make room for a display of her huge nativity collection, shopping for gifts, writing cards, setting her December schedule around activities with friends and at church. By the time December came, Patrice had everything in place, wrapped and done, so she could then tend to keeping Christmas in her favorite way: in private daily devotions to Jesus, special Scriptures and Advent calendar readings; in public church activities with family and friends. She did all this to rebuild in her heart anew each year the childlike sense of anticipation and wonder over Emmanuel, God with us. Patrice loved Jesus with all her heart, and “keeping Christmas” was one of her favorite ways of showing it. Before I knew her I’d never heard the word “keep” used this way, as a reference to how one carefully observes a thing of great importance, preparing for it, attending to it in every detail, giving it priority. To “keep Christmas” meant all that to her, and came to mean that to me. She might remark of someone, “They like Christmas, but they don’t really keep Christmas, you know.”

Against this backdrop, as I studied God’s covenant ways with his people, I noticed something: God uses the word keep in precisely the same way. The began to come on when I read 1 Samuel 2:9, where Hannah says of the Lord:

He keeps the feet of His godly ones… (NAS)

When I first read this I Immediately thought of Patrice and her devotion to observe Christmas. Could “keeps” have the same meaning here? I just had to know, so I looked it up in my trusty Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.

A Word Study: Shamar

The word “keeps” is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hedge around something in order to keep, guard, preserve, tend to or be attentive to (i.e. “keep a promise”). Hebrew scholar Spiros Zodhiates says this is an important Hebrew verb appearing 470 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is Genesis 2:15, where it refers to the tending or exercising of great care over the garden in Eden. Zodhiates comments, “In a religious vein, shamar expresses the careful attention which was paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws or to statutes. Abraham gave orders to his children to ‘keep’ the way of the Lord in Genesis 18:29.”*

When Hannah said, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones,” she was praising Him for watching over the path of His beloved children, ever at work to steer our footsteps into His best will, for our joy and for His glory. I believe the Spirit of the Lord is continually stirring in our hearts to know and do what the Lord wants (which Paul actually says in Philippians 2:13). However, the Lord does this so gently — without a hint of manipulation or encroaching on our freedom — that such guidance can go unnoticed by the inattentive child of God.

The Spirit is always trying to lead you. As one of God’s beloveds, He keeps you, watching personally over every contemplation of your heart and mind, hoping you will be attentive to His presence and guidance. He is ready to help you to what is right, good, and wise in all matters large and small.

“But,” you might say, “I haven’t been keeping devotion to God lately, and Hannah said that He keeps the feet of His ‘godly ones.’ I’m sure I don’t qualify as one of those right now.”

The fact is, you are one of His godly ones if you are in Christ! The Hebrew word underlying this phrase refers to those who are in covenant with God. So while yes, you should absolutely live in an upright and devoted manner with the Lord, your failure to do so doesn’t cause Him to shut down on His faithful devotion to guide you. After all, that would defeat His purpose — He always wants to guide you right back into His ways. Never forget that God’s faithfulness is based upon His character, not yours.

Jesus said to His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10 NASB)

Here is truth: God is always keeping the feet of His beloved children, watching over them.

Here is truth: God has given us free will to walk where we wish and choose whatever we want.

Here is truth: The one who believes in God’s guidance will be attentive to the Spirit within, and find that guidance always at hand. Keeping God’s ways and commands will keep us in His love. Abundant life is not guaranteed to all who wear the name “Christian”; It is the reward of the yielded, obedient child, who abides in the love of God.

This is the reciprocal covenant life we are offered through Jesus Christ: God tends to our lives with all diligence; we tend to His life with all diligence. This is where life abounds. Shamar is another word among many that has great meaning in the context of covenant relationship — which is exactly what we have with the Lord, through Jesus Christ. (Explained in detail in my new book, They Will All Know Me.) I think I shall add shamar to my Covenant Glossary.

On His side of the equation, God keeps our covenant relationship with all devotion. Let us “keep faith” with Him the same way Patrice kept Christmas.

*Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Editor Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.

Psalm 84 – God’s Dwelling Place

Bible-gardenPsalm 84 is the kind of psalm that makes me want to sit down and have a Bible study with a few people. It is chock-full of word pictures, any one of which invites the student to sit and ponder for a while, then be amazed at the goodness of God and a life shared with him. Let’s explore them! (Confession: I began writing this with the idea of covering briefly ALL the beautiful nuggets in Psalm 84 — but before I knew it, I had written a long blurb on just the first verse. So this “class” on Psalm 84 will have several sessions.

The writer begins:

“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts.”

“Dwelling places” is the Hebrew word “mishkan.” While studying Covenant, we learned this word was the same one God used when he commanded Moses to build a tabernacle. Here is an excerpt from our Covenant seminar:

Exodus 25:8:  “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  The Hebrew word used here is “mishkan” which means “to dwell in the midst of for the purpose of revealing.”  It’s like the difference between having a roomate (no intimacy) and a spouse (complete intimacy and revealing of oneself to one another).

God says, “I want to be your God.  I want to live among you!  I want to show myself to you, reveal myself to you.”

I love the fact that God wants to “dwell in the midst of” His people! As I often remark to my students, it could have been so very different! God could have arranged for our sin price to be paid, made it possible for us to go to heaven at our death and live eternally with him, then said, “See you when you get here!”  But NO, he arranged to live right inside of us, by giving us His Holy Spirit. He wanted to share life with his beloved children in Christ, NOW.

Back to Psalm 84 and the loveliness of the dwelling place of God. Surely you’ve run ahead of me to the fact that today, the dwelling place of God is YOU and ME. If you are in Christ, God lives in you and you are now his temple, his tabernacle; you are the place from where God lives and moves and has his being. (And that is by his choice, amazingly enough!) You are “the lovely place” where God lives.

Still, the heart wants to protest, “I’m not lovely, not really. I know what I am really like, all my weaknesses, bad thoughts, inconsistencies….” Or perhaps you leaped over that to the truth that you ARE lovely because of God’s righteousness and Spirit in you. That would be right, of course. But there is more.

In fact, the Hebrew word “mishkan” also means, and has been translated as “loved” or “beloved,” such as in the CWB (Complete Jewish Bible):

How deeply loved are your dwelling places, Adonai-Tzva’ot!

Which one is more right – to say God’s dwelling place is lovely, or that God’s dwelling place is beloved? My witness from the rest of scripture itself, is that both are true.

You see, the person who originally penned these words did not have God living inside of him. He had to travel three times a year to Jerusalem where God’s temple was, in order to worship Him. The original worshipper had to travel a distance to go up to the one place that God designed as his home on earth. The worshipper had to make some effort for God, had to put his daily life on hold, perhaps pack up his family and items needed to make a journey and walk to Jerusalem. It cost him money, time and effort. Yes, he was commanded to make this journey; yet for this worshipper, his heart was there. He loved to go to God’s temple! He loved God, he loved being invited, he loved the privilege of being God’s special tribe. So for him, it was true that God’s dwelling place was beloved in his heart. AND it was lovely to him.

So what is the most important take away from this truth? That God has made me lovely by choosing to live in me? Or that I am beloved, deeply loved of God? Or that wherever God is present, is lovely and worth my effort to go to, again and again? The answer is YES! to all. This is the many variegated beauty of God’s truth, facilitated by the Hebrew language. Layers of truth, each one profound, each one beautiful. Either way, it is just like Holy Spirit to bury a treasure of truth in a place like this for centuries, until those of us who are called “beloved” in the New Covenant of Christ could discover it.

How lovely to be where God lives, and how beloved is that place!

Why I Read Psalms and Proverbs Every Day

I want to share a sample of the rich food I receive each morning from reading five Psalms and one Proverb. For instance, on the 24th of the month, I read Psalm 116 through Psalm 120, and Proverbs 24. On that day, I am reminded of the following things about God and myself:

Psalm 116:
God hears my voice and my prayers. He has “inclined his ear” to listen to me.
The Lord is gracious, righteous, and compassionate, preserving the simple — like me — from the troubles I tend to get myself into.
The Lord will restore my soul back to a restful state after my mistakes or the actions of others have hurt me or caused me to stumble.
The right response to God’s faithful care is to keep crying out to him in my need, to express my thankfulness, and to keep my promises to him. My community should see how I rely upon him, and I should praise Him publicly.
Bible-garden

Psalm 117: (the shortest psalm in the Bible, at 2 verses!)
We should praise The Lord — along with every nation — because His lovingkindness is great, and His truth will endure forever.

Psalm 118:
I should give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, because his lovingkindness has no end…. it is EVERLASTING.
When I am in distress and call out to the Lord, he will answer me and rescue me, because he is “for me.” Therefore, I need not live in fear. The name of the Lord will protect me from those who would destroy me.

The Lord is my strength, and the song that I sing! Joyful sounds come from the place where I live because of his faithful care and saving actions.
The Lord will discipline me, even strongly, if I need it. (Other Bible verses tell me that the Lord only disciples those he loves and considers true children).
Giving thanks to God opens the gateway to his presence.
The Lord made this day, and it is right for me to rejoice and be glad in it.

The Lord has given us light (that saves us from all darkness).
There is a sacrificial animal to be placed on the altar in my place. (I deserve to die for my sins, but I won’t have to.)

Psalm 119 (the longest psalm in the Bible, at 176 verses!)
Those who live according to God’s ways and who seek God with all their heart, are blessed.
I need to cry out for God to help me become established in his ways. It is good to pray, “Open my eyes!” and “Teach me!” and “Give me understanding!” and “Teach me discernment and knowledge!”
We keep ourselves pure by living according to God’s words. His words are perfect counselors to us.
We avoid sinning against God by treasuring his words…  meditating on them and storing them in the heart.
Real freedom comes from walking in God’s ways.
The earth is full of the Lord’s lovingkindness! He is good, and does good things.
Affliction can be a good teacher.

If God allows affliction to be in my life, it is an act of faithfulness on his part.
When God judges something, His decision is the right thing.
Sometimes we feel like saying to God, “Why do I have to wait on you so long for comfort, and for your justice to be done to those who hurt me, used me, lied about me?”

God teaches us, and His words “are sweeter than honey.” They make us wise.
His words light the way for us, so we don’t need to walk in darkness or ignorance.
When we value God’s commands enough to live by them, we naturally come to hate evil and wrong ways of living.

God always turns his face to look upon those who love His name, and He has mercy on them.
It is good to pray for the Lord to direct my footsteps, and that no sin would rule over me.

If I put God’s promises to the test, it is likely I will end up loving those promises.
The Lord is near, and His compassion is great.
Great peace have those who love God’s laws; they never stumble in life.
All of our ways are known to The Lord.
Sometimes a good prayer is, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Please come get me.”

Psalm 120
When I call out to God in distress, he answers me!

Psalms reveals the heart of God, while Proverbs provides wisdom for daily living. Take a look:

Proverbs 24

Do not envy wicked people. Do not fret because of them; their hope and light will be snuffed out.
A house (i.e., a LIFE) is built through wisdom, understanding and knowledge, which becomes full of beauty and value.
Possessing knowledge and wisdom makes a man strong and powerful.
You can claim innocence before men about a matter, but God knows the heart.
Wisdom is sweet to the soul, and leads to hopeful future that won’t fail.
Even if a righteous man falls or gets knocked down seven times, he always gets back up. The wicked, however, will be overcome by trouble.
Do not be happy when your enemy falls, or the Lord will disapprove and turn his anger away from him.
Fear the Lord and the king, and don’t join in with rebellious people — because the Lord and the king will bring sudden destruction to bad people.
Judge fairly, without partiality. If you declare a guilty person innocent you will be hated, but if you convict the guilty you will delight others, and be blessed.
Do not bring false accusations against your neighbor, or deceive anyone with your lips.
Do not ever say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me, I’ll pay him back!”
The fields of lazy people are full of weeds and decay, and such a person will live a life of poverty.

What a rich feast of truth to carry into the day!

Ron taught me this practice when I first came to love God in 1979, and it has never grown old or failed to strengthen and bless my spirit. The 24th day of the month has the largest number of verses because of Psalm 119, but most days it takes 15 minutes or less to read the daily Psalms and Proverbs. They make a great devotional! Every day is different in emphasis, but altogether within the course of a month, I am reinforced in vital truths about God, myself, the world I live in, how to handle relationships, how to pray, how to talk to God, and many other things. I thank God for His Word, and invite you to try this for the coming month!

Seeds of Light

In recent days of studying my daily Psalms, two verses about light have captured my attention and given me joy. First, Psalm 97:11:

Light is sown like seed for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.  (NAS)

The image that comes with this is that of the Lord planting seeds in my garden — i.e., my life — of light and gladness (joy) when I walk in his ways. To say that seeds are being planted is different than saying He just bestows light, because a seed is something you plant today to enjoy on another day in the future. Thus, when I walk in his ways I can expect a crop of light and joy to bloom in my life in the days to come.

The next verse is Psalm 112:4:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. (NIV)

Again, this tells me that as I walk in the ways of God (only by the help of the Holy Spirit, of course — as I always say, “my choice, His power”) there will never be darkness for me. Even in darkness, I will have light.

What is that darkness look like? It is experienced in many ways; some of which are uncertainty — fear — hopelessness — anxiety — being clueless — aloneness — a drawing into sin.

My take-away from these verses is that I don’t have to figure out how to overcome darkness. If I simply choose my way of being according to God’s righteous ways, he makes sure that the darkness will never overcome me.

In short, if we walk with the Light, we will always have light.

Treasure Hunting in the Prophets

Are you one of those reluctant to read the Old Testament prophet books like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and those pesky little guys like Obadiah and Nahum? Many are, which is the reason I wrote a Bible Study course called “Finding the Heart of God in Every Book of the Bible.” I wanted to entice readers to search for the treasure in every book, namely understanding the heart of God.

Jeremiah had the unfortunate job of warning Judah about the impending overthrow of Jerusalem and exile that was coming because of Israel’s sins against their covenant with God. Most pigeonhole Jeremiah in the “book of judgment” category, but that is a mistake. That opinion is what you get if you only know Jeremiah’s message by sermon osmosis, rumor or drive-by reading. When you read the fine print of Jeremiah, here is what you learn about God:

  • That God suffered hundreds of years before he finally said “Enough!” He was not quick to become angry and judge.
  • Even after the decision to judge his people, his messages warning people of the impending judgment (WAY ahead of it coming) was laced with pleading that if they would change even now, he would relent and not bring the judgment their behavior called for.
  • That when the Lord confirmed his people would be forcibly removed from the Promised Land and taken captive into exile, he said, “But leave marks on the road so you can find your way home again, for I WILL BRING YOU BACK.” He was planning their restoration even in the midst of being forced to punish them.
  • That though God punished his people for violating their covenant to possess their Promised Land, he did not abandon them. Repeatedly he says, “I will be with you… I will go with you… I will watch over you and even bless you in the land of exile if you trust in me and not other gods.” It becomes clear that even while God exercised judgment, He never abandoned the relationship! They lost their promised land, their blessed place, not their connection to God.
  • Even while warning of His judgment nations like Egypt (Chapter 46) where many of his exiles went, God promises that while he brings judgment against the ungodly government and nation, he would keep his people safe: “Jacob [i.e., my people], do not fear, nor be dismayed. I am going to save you and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Jacob (my people) shall return and be undisturbed and secure. Do not fear, for I am with you, and you will be okay while I make an end of that nation.”

Dear people of God, Read the Word! Know your God!

Tonia