Arms Wide Open

I am with you to protect and rescue you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 15:20 NLT)

God stoops. He bends down, listening to every word we whisper. He picks us up when we fall down. God on High gets down in the dirt, alongside us in our suffering and shame. He’s not deaf to our despair; He’s never out of ear-shot. Our God is not blind to our needs, “The Lord himself watches over you!” (Psalm 121:5 NLT). He never takes His eyes off His people, His prize. He sees our every struggle and flies across the skies to comfort us, He “rides the ancient skies above” (Psalm 68:33 NIV) watching over us. Our God comes to our aid whenever we need Him the most, “I am with you. I will rescue you and save you,” says the Lord” (Jeremiah 15:20 NCV). Our Lord God is responsive, He hears our every cry.  He’s here for us before we know it.

Our God never relaxes His hold on us, “your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:10 NIV). He never turns His back on His beloved, “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him” (Deuteronomy 33:12 Amplified). He stands with arms wide open when we run to Him. When we come to our Father empty-handed He beckons us to come close, open-handed. “You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing with favour” (Psalm 145:16 Amplified); He doesn’t reserve anything from those He loves. He gives, and He gives generously, “we all live off His generous bounty, gift after gift after gift” (John 1:16 MSG). We’re laden down with His love!

God gives, when we don’t deserve. If I slaved away my whole life long I still couldn’t earn any of it. We all know what we really deserve. We deserve to be His slaves. But God chooses to call us His kids, “so now you are not a slave; you are God’s child, and God will give you the blessing he promised, because you are his child” (Galatians 4:7 NCV). We deserve to die, but God gives us abundant life, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (John 10:10 Amplified). We deserve to be left out in the cold, but God gathers us close. We deserve to go to hell, but God promises us a place in Heaven. We deserve little more than crumbs, but God throws us a party and we feast at His table.

When we think of the words “unworthy” or “worthless” quite often someone comes to mind. Very rarely is that someone ourselves. Luke 7:36-50 tells a story about a harlot.  Read the passage to refresh your memory. A Pharisee invited Jesus around for food when the town harlot turned up uninvited. She “came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume” (Luke 7:38-39 MSG). Jesus withdrew her debt and forgave her freely. Simon the Pharisee was disgusted; he knew that this woman was unworthy. The thing that set her apart was that she knew it, whereas Simon didn’t. We should see our sin for what it really is. We shouldn’t try and mask the ugliness of our sin; we should see ourselves for who we really are.  There’s no doubt about it; we are unworthy. We just have to admit it. It’s then that God welcomes us with arms wide open.

Think upon these things…

Just think how He redeems the unworthy! I’ve scribbled down some of my thoughts. I suggest you do the same.  To get you started why don’t you have a wee read again, underlining everything that He’s done for us.  Then why don’t you carry it on… what has God done for you?  Write a list, just like I‘ve done below…

God on High

Gets down in the dirt,

He gets alongside us in our suffering.

Our God sees us in our struggle

And shares in our shame.

God on high

Bends His ear to hear our every cry,

He’s not hard of hearing

Or blind to our needs,

He’s responsive and willing.

Willing to redeem.

God on High

Redeems the unworthy.

He stoops, and He saves.

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The Way through the Wilderness

Come back, wandering children! I can heal your wanderlust!” (Jeremiah 3:22 MSG)

Bible-bones

Home in on Jeremiah 2:1-13 to find out where Israel went wrong.  How do you think this made God feel?

Israel once walked with God. They followed God, their Guide, obeying His every command. In Jeremiah 2 God took a trip down memory lane. He remembered how His people “followed Me through the desert” (Jeremiah 2:2 NIV). When God said “come follow“, they set off as soon as they could. They didn’t stray, they stuck with it. They paid attention to Divine Direction. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly…

But things took a turn for the worst. Israel abandoned their God, “this is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in Me, that they strayed so far from Me?” (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV). The nation who once walked with God wavered and wandered from the Way. They took their eyes off their Guide and set off on their own. They followed worthless idols, and lost their True Worth. “They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’” (Jeremiah 2:6 NIV).They set off by themselves, choosing to go down a different road.

God goes on, “has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols” (Jeremiah 2:11 NIV). Israel did a deal. They swapped their God, their Glory, for gold. God revealed the source of the sin. His people “have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV). They brought it on themselves; they forsook their Way and walked another road. “Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to You no more’?” (Jeremiah 2:31 NIV).They not only forsook the Way but they forgot it as well. They couldn’t remember how to get back to Him.

We can’t say we’re all that different, we too rebel. We ignore His direction and set off on our own. We’re too stubborn to ask for assistance. We lose our direction and go back to our old ways. It’s either His Way or the byway, and we choose the second choice. We walk where we want to, and do what we want to do, but then we hit a wall running. When we reach a dead-end we’re forced to think. It’s then that we realise we’ve made a mistake. We’ve wandered far from the Way. We’ve backslidden and bypassed His plan. We don’t know where to turn, but then we realise that there’s only one Way. Thank the Lord that when we repent He meets us where we’re at. He’s the Way through the wilderness. No matter where you are He’ll come to your rescue!

Ask yourself?

Have you wandered from the Way? Have you followed in the footsteps of Israel? If so, get back to Him. When you repent He comes running, He’ll meet you where you’re at.

A while ago I worked out that I’m prone to walking in my own ways. Thankfully for me when I lose my way He brings me back on track. I can’t get away from Him. Everywhere I go He’s there to meet me. He’s around every corner I turn. He goes before me. He’s behind me and beside me at the same time. He sees me through. Even when I’ve ran away He’s watching over me, walking alongside me. When I slip up He helps me to stand. He’s willing me to return to Him, “return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22 NIV).  This is what we have to do when we realise we’ve left the Way: get off the beaten-track and go back to God.

Heart-cry…

Father I understand that it’s Your Way or the byway, and I’m choosing the path you’ve mapped out for me.  I want to walk with You all the days of my life! Thank-you Father for never abandoning me even when I turn my back on You…

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Love is Indiscriminate

Jesus challenged legalistic religion in The Sermon on the Mount. This Revolutionary Man was the talk of the town, wherever Jesus went people crowded around Him, hanging onto His every word. These revolutionary words conflicted with what the Jewish religious leaders taught. This message was radical. It was unheard of. Jesus wasn’t willing to compromise, which lost Him some of His ‘following’. He spoke words that were uncomfortable to hear, out of love. To this day people still abandon Jesus and His message to love those they hate. We struggle to accept that Jesus said we should love, everyone. And yes, that includes our enemies.

The religious leaders shaped the Message into what they thought it should be, creating a distorted image of God.  The religious leaders turned God’s Word into a ‘rule book’, and as they followed it so closely, they confused the lines. The Pharisees had faith in ceremonial laws, misinterpreting the Truth, choosing to ‘rewrite’ their own translation. They abused their power and authority, teaching a religion that was as far from what God intended it to be as humanly possible.

We’re not to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Leviticus 24:20 NIV) as the religious leaders taught. The religious leaders taught the people to “hate your enemy”. In the wrong hands God’s Word can be used as a weapon, and this is a perfect example of that. Jesus spoke out against this, setting the rules straight. We can’t adopt the ‘he hit me first’ mentality. We shouldn’t try to keep score or get even. We’re to love everyone. Unconditionally and indiscriminately. Even against logic.

When I say the word ‘enemy’ I guess someone comes to mind? Let’s face it: we all have enemies, hate comes easy to us. This is why we have to ask God for the strength to love. Learning to love isn’t easily done, but it is possible, with a little help from a Friend… Jesus’ example can teach us a thing or two about loving our enemies. Just think, the enemies of the crowd were the Romans. The Jews hated Romans because they had authority over them. Jesus was asking them to love those who abused their authority when they were given half a chance.

Jesus embodies loving your enemies. Fast forward, to the crucifixion. Jesus is hanging, bleeding and dying, on the cross. And what does He do? He prays forgiveness, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34 MSG). Let’s just think about that. He prayed forgiveness on those who tortured Him, having no mercy. That’s what Love is, having no scale or span. Love loves. You can’t measure an endless act of forgiveness and grace, but you can embody it.

We’re called to live out of our love for God; it has nothing to do with religious observation. If there was ever a book on ‘how not to do it’ it would be on the spiritual life and death of the Pharisees.

Jesus punch-line was this: love is universal. Jesus calls us to love, this law overrides all others. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’ve done. Love doesn’t retaliate; it doesn’t war. It’s a hard Truth to accept, but it’s the Truth none the less. The Golden Rule, the Greatest Command, is to love. Without limits.

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