Five Minute Friday: Support

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

First, apologies to my writing buddies. I have neglected to interact with your comments and visit your sites for the last two weeks. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Second, we are slowly but surely sliding into Autumn. I can hardly contain my glee. Cooler temperatures, overcast skies, sweaters, boots, warm socks. I love it all.

Not chat party for me tonight. I put off exercising until late in the day due to yet another smoke invasion. (How I hope and pray that these fires die down soon). While the gang was tapping at the keys, I was yelling at my television, telling the lady leading the program that she’s a sadist and that no, I would not do another set of push-ups.

Kate asks us to: support.

Go.

Antéchomai: to hold before or against, hold back, withstand, endure; to keep one’s self directly opposite to any one, hold to him firmly, cleave to, paying heed to him

StudyLight

Remember, the New Testament wasn’t written in English, not even that of King James I of England (VI of Scotland; it’s complicated). It can be helpful to study the original language – Greek – in order to gain a deeper understanding of the text. One needn’t be a scholar; being able to read or pronounce the words in the ancient tongue is definite bonus points territory, but all that is required is access to the internet, the ability to use a search engine and a desire to learn.

So, an-tekh’-om-ahee.

We find this word in 1 Thessalonians 5:14,

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

– NKJV

Uphold the weak.

What does that look like? What does it mean to support the weak? And why is this a command given to us?

Maybe it has something to do with these verses, quoted in this space before, quoted so often in Christian culture,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

– NKJV

Jesus is our example. Through the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit makes us more like Him. As our Lord was humble, patient, kind, loving, all the things we think of as good, so, by grace, must we be. It’s a “go and do likewise” thing. We throw ourselves onto His lap and beg Him to carry us when we just can’t take another step. So we, receiving strength and grace from the Source of life itself, are then able to support our brothers and sisters who can’t take another step. We help them come to the feast table, the mercy seat. Then, when we ourselves are weak, our brothers and sisters help us. On and on it goes.

Sometimes this looks like dropping off a warm meal. Sometimes it’s listening while resisting the temptation to offer advice. Scrubbing floors, rubbing backs, babysitting, discussing Scripture, praying together, weeping with those who weep.

For we are all weak, are we not? In our frailty and the incompleteness of our sanctification, strength lasts but a short while. We are constantly, consistently having to return to the Lord, crying out for Him to breathe life into us once more.

It is our privilege to help each other do so.

Stop.

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Stumbling Servants

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve, even in the chaotic and frustrating moments, because it is a privilege and a pleasure to do as Jesus did. It is an honor to be a vessel for His truth, grace and love.

Took an unplanned break last week. I joined my church family in a large community service project and just ran out of time and energy to sit and let the words flow.

There were some tough spots. I butted heads with people I love. It’s a rough-and-tumble and often dysfunctional family, this one that Christ has bought and created by the shedding of His blood. We’ve got sharp edges and soft spots and somehow always manage to ram our sharpness into another’s softness. Our ideas and ways of doing things don’t always align. Sometimes we get derailed in disagreement, forgetting what the goal really is.

That goal? To serve God by serving others. No strings attached.

This little family of faith to which I belong has had a bumpy year. We could have easily imploded over this event. Instead, as I reflect on the last month, I see a quiet, gentle work of God. We are in no way, shape or form perfect people. Far, far from it. But He used us. He prodded here and pushed there to move us beyond the sticking place. We learned some much-needed lessons. We pressed into some difficult conversations. In the end, we worked as a team – maybe a team that doesn’t always win the game, but a team that makes the plays.

Truth is: The people with whom I worship with week after week can frustrate me like no other. But isn’t that how it is with family? They drive you up the wall, but you love them. You don’t always understand the choices they make. You give them side-eye sometimes. But that love is never in question.

We know that God says we are His children. So I wonder if He looked upon us – sweaty and stumbling and maybe a little crabby – with the kind of expression that crosses a father’s face as he watches his toddler learn a new skill. It’s messy. It’s hard. But when that toddler finally makes progress, hair flying every which way and hands covered with peanut butter – the father beams.

There’s always those little spots in our minds, those unevangelized places, that don’t grasp and rest in the kind of love God has for us. We can recite the verses and say the right things. But there’s a part of us that remains scared. What if I don’t do this right? Holiness, sanctification, submission, obedience – all commanded, all Christ-enabled. Perfectionism? Not so much.

Meditate on this verse with me –

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

While we were still sinners.

The people with whom we, church folk, interacted at that event did not speak, behave or dress the ways we thought they should. They haven’t always made wise choices. They may have had addictions or come from chaotic, broken backgrounds.

Guess what?

They’re just like us.

Jesus didn’t require us to clean up our acts before He offered help.

Again, holiness gets a big “yes and thumbs up” from God. He doesn’t save us so that we can keep on doing whatever we want. We don’t get to bend the definition of sin or remove certain cherished activities from the category. That’s cheap grace. What Christ did for us certainly wasn’t cheap. It cost Him everything. Nor does He save us so that we can spend the rest of our lives under the tyranny of perfectionism. The Bible is full of stories of regular people who loved God but messed up – and God remained steady in His love for them.

Just like us.

We cannot hoard this treasure. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the broken – God loves them, just as He loves us. We don’t need to fear them. We need to listen to them, then tell them. Tell them of the God who made the stars, of the atom-splitting choice in a garden, of sin and struggle, of grace and resurrection.

Then we need to turn around and remind ourselves of these things.

Onward, stumbling servants. Get back up when you skin your knees. Resist the urge to retaliate with someone slaps your face. Seek forgiveness when you need and grant it when asked. Beg God for wisdom. Beg Him to make you gentle. Lace up your boots, gird your loins, roll up your sleeves.

We may not do it perfectly, but the work awaits.

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The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Conclusion

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

I almost quit.

It’s true.

I never expected to spend half the year blogging through Zephaniah. It’s three chapters! Around week 18, I realized that what began as a project for my own edification had turned into a chore. I’m not sure exactly when or how or why it happened. I began to dread Monday mornings and the stack of books and the research. The joy leaked out bit by bit until none was left.

That is where the discipline part of writing comes in. Having published one book and gearing up to begin the process of publication for a second, I know there are days when it’s all about gritting your teeth and slamming the keys. Writing can be so fulfilling, so fun. It can also be the longest, slowest slog.

I am glad I stuck with it, because God, as usual, is fascinating in His timing. We have lived in the hopeful passages for the entirety of the Advent season. I didn’t plan that. I had no plan when I began this, no set end date (though I never imagined I’d be closing this out six months and two weeks after starting). In His mystery, He moved me, the writer, and you, the reader, to see the grace and light in a book that many ignore. He opened our eyes to the real and deep consequences of sin, but didn’t leave us drowning there in the muck. He took us through the whole process of punishment and forgiveness and restoration, ending on the distant strains of kingdom music just as our mouths began to fill with Christmas songs.

How like Him.

How very like Him.

Every book of the Bible tells the whole story, but cannot be fully understood apart from the others. We’ll never make sense of that. All we can do is strive to live in the middle, resisting the urge to pick out the things we like and toss the rest. Every narrative, poem, allegory, oracle and letter contains the arc of sin and salvation, fall and uplift. Every line is rich, yet not fully grasped as a treasure without the others.

It is my earnest desire that you step away from this series with a solid foundation in how to study the Bible. Your interpretations may be different from mine. That’s okay. What matters is that you now know how to approach that big book. You’ve been exposed to commentaries, word searches and songs. You’ve read articles and answered questions. You know now that there is no “just Jesus and me” Christianity; that you need the input of other believers, both in your “real life” and from within the long tradition of the faith, to help you learn and live. Most importantly, you know now that you are, in fact, smart enough to study the Bible and that you do, in fact, have time to do so.

Yet my heart beats with a desire greater still than this. I hope that you come away with love. Love for the Bible, yes, but love for the God of the Bible. Maybe you didn’t know a thing about Him before reading this. Maybe you’ve known Him for years but have drifted away. Or maybe everything is perfectly fine. Wherever you are in relation to the Lord, I hope that your soul reverberates with, “I love You, too.”

God loved us long before we ever loved Him. He has said over and over, through every splash of ink in sacred writ and down through the ages. “I love you, child. I love you.”

May we love Him, too.

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For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: the Mighty One (3:16-17)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The LORD your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

– Zephaniah 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Here we are, finally. These beautiful words that have been our focus for 24 weeks.

I have good news: These are true words.

I have bad news: These words are often misunderstood.

What it Means

I realize that I have very nearly beaten you to death with the word “context,” but it never ceases to be important. Many, myself included, have been guilty of using Zephaniah 3:17 in a way its author never intended and its original audience wouldn’t have understood. Consider:

Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17). (1)

As well as:

…with exceeding great joy, not to be conceived of, or expressed; as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride: this will be the time of the open marriage of the Lamb with the Jewish church; and there will be strong expressions of joy on this occasion; Christ will rejoice over them to do them good; and there will be such singular instances of his goodness to them as will abundantly show the joy he will have in them… (2)

And:

He is a Mighty One, Who will save [Israel] from the enemy. … He will conceal your transgressions with His love…He will cover your sins with His love. (3)

This isn’t about God singing to you.

I know. Harsh.

We’ve learned so much about context and prophecy and layers. Don’t get upset and walk away now. Of course the metaphor can be extended and you can know that God takes delight in you. We simply must acknowledge that Zephaniah remains a Jewish man writing a Jewish book in a Jewish setting. God doesn’t dismiss non-Jews, but we are not His primary concern in these verses.

Don’t Miss It

How does verse 16 begin? “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem.”To the Holy City. To the people who rightfully dwell there by virtue of having been given the Promised Land. The suffering is over. The centuries of back-and-forth have ended. The promise-keeping God does just that, keeps His promise.

…why is God so joyful? This passage of Zephaniah speaks of a future time when God has ended His judgment upon Israel. All of their enemies have been destroyed, and Israel is entering a time of safety and blessing (verses 8, 15, 19). Zephaniah is speaking of the future millennial kingdom when the Messiah (Jesus) will reign with His people in Jerusalem (Isaiah 9:7; Revelation 20:1–6). (4)

He rejoices over His people as they rejoice over Him. He pours out His love. Bonds of eternal, unbroken affection are renewed. Restored.

Jeremiah echoes the theme:

“Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’”

– 32:36-41 (NKJV)

The entire focus of the Bible is God. Not us. He does what He wants because what He wants is best and right and good. So the fact that He takes some time to enjoy the Jewish believers? It doesn’t diminish we non-Jewish believers in any way. In fact, we should (and I believe we will) celebrate. We, the Bride, will watch as Israel, the Wife, parties with her Husband. For just the briefest of moments, we will stand on the edges and watch the reunion. And then, wonder of wonders, we will be ushered in, invited to take our places as the family of God truly becomes one.

Imagine the singing.

Quiet, You

…God holds them next to His heart like a loving mother holds a baby; He quiets them with His love, and He even sings to them! This image of the “motherhood of God” assures forgiven sinners that God is with them, that He loves them, and they have nothing to fear. (5)

This is something that every Christian can take to the bank: God loves us. He loved us even when we didn’t know Him, when we were blind and stupid and wretched (Romans 5:6). He loves us when we choose to be blind and stupid and wretched even though we know better (Romans 7:15-25). We can race to the throne of grace at any moment (Hebrews 4:16). When we are born again into His family, we can call Him Abba – Daddy (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:7).

Does it really matter if the music that Zephaniah writes of was composed for a specific moment in time and for a specific people? The point of the passage is not the song but the love. Our souls can be quiet, assured of His grace. We can hold up trembling hands to Him and know that He will pull us close.

Wait a Minute

So does God not sing over us as a mother does when she rocks her baby to sleep?

Never base your entire theological framework on a question that can’t be answered. Personally, I won’t be shocked if we do find out one day that God sang to each of us, a song that we understood in our spirits but could never fully comprehend. That would be quite like Him. All we can know for sure is that this is not what Zephaniah meant and that we are commanded to sing to God. We don’t need to wonder about whether He’s singing in return – that puts the focus on us and we are very much not the focus.

Reflection

  1. As we drawn near the end of our study, do you understand and embrace the importance of context?
  2. Does it bother you that Zephaniah 3:17 doesn’t mean what most people think it means? Why or why not?
  3. Read Jeremiah 33. Does it excite you to know that you will see the restoration of Israel?
  4. Read Ephesians 2. What verses stand out to you? How do they confirm God’s love?
  5. Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to open your eyes to His love.

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Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(2) John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible

(3) Zephaniah 3 Commentary, Rashi

(4) Got Questions (note: not the best resource, but I like how this answer was phrased)

(5) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 160.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.