I is for In

in

“In” is such an itty-bitty word.
We use it hundreds of times a day without thinking.

“In” was a key word in Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.
“Abide in me
and
I will abide in you.”
John 15:4

We are in Jesus
and Jesus is in us.

When Jesus prayed for all of us in John 17, He said,
“…that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me
and I am in you…
…that they may be one as we are one
I in them
and you in me.”

God is in Jesus
and Jesus is in God
and Jesus is in us
and we are in Jesus.

Paul used the phrase “in Christ” over 160 times in his letters.
It’s an important little word.
Nevertheless, it’s a hard concept to get the mind around.

Here’s some help from Bible commentator William Barclay:

When Paul spoke of the Christian being “in Christ”, he meant that the Christian lives “in Christ” as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes a Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.”

We often hear that the life of faith begins
when we invite Jesus in —
into our hearts, into our lives.

But it sounds to me like Jesus is inviting us in —
into His life, into His power, into His presence.

Maybe it’s both.
Jesus is in me.
I am in Jesus.

May we always and everywhere be conscious of His encircling presence.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “I” is IN.

in christ

H is for Help

I like it when complex theology
is boiled down
to simple truth.

According to author Elizabeth Goudge,
there are three necessary prayers
and they have three words each:
Lord, have mercy.
Thee I adore.
Into Thy hands.

Still not basic enough?

According to author Anne Lamott,
there are three essential prayers
and they are three words:
Help.
Thanks.
Wow.

help

Of these three prayers,
I tend to use one most often.
Help.

As a parent, I loved hearing the words “Thanks mom!”
On occasion I even got a “Wow!” — usually when baking cookies.
But the thing that got my attention quickest
and caused my heart to beat hardest
and made me run fastest
was when my child yelled,
“Help!”

The Psalm writers seemed to use that prayer a lot, too.

“Arise to help me.” Ps. 59:4
“I am worn out calling for help.” Ps. 69:3
“Come quickly, Lord, to help me.” Ps. 70:1
“I cried out to God for help.” Ps. 77:1
“Help me, Lord my God, according to your unfailing love.” Ps. 109:26

The Psalm writers also seemed to get answers to that prayer.

“You are my help and deliverer.” Ps. 70:5
“You, Lord, have helped me.” Ps. 86:17
“The Lord is my helper.” Ps. 118:7
“My help comes from the Lord.” Ps. 121:2
“I would have died unless the Lord had helped me.” Ps. 94:17

Wow, am I ever thankful we have a Father who runs
when He hears His children call for help.
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.”
Ps. 46:1

The great theologians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, put it this way:
“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?”

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with H is HELP.

G is for Go

Of course, “God” is the obvious choice for favorite word in the Bible.
But God is a broad topic,
way beyond my ability to condense into a meager blog post.
So I’m going to go with “go”.

go-button

The last directive Jesus gave the disciples before He ascended was,
Go and make disciples of all nations.” Matt. 28:19

Notice that He didn’t say,
“Gather in groups and wait for the nations to come to you.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about that word, “come”.
It’s a good word. One of my favorites.
But it needs a partner.
We come. And then we go.

We come to Jesus with
our hopes and fears,
our requests and praises,
our failures and victories.
We come to join with the Body of Christ
to encourage and exhort,
to learn and unite,
to stimulate each other to love and good deeds.

We come, but then we go.
And then we come again.
And then we go again.
It’s like a dance.

Faithful Jewish worshipers had to walk up a steep incline as they approached Jerusalem for feasts and festivals. There were special songs assigned to this pilgrimage called “The Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134). It would be like people from all over town walking up Oak Street, singing together on their way to church. (Can we please try that sometime?)

They came up to worship, but they knew after a few days they would have to walk back down and live out their faith in the every-day. The ebb and flow between coming and going gave balance to their lives.

Some of us need to remember to come — come to worship (even online worship!), come to Bible study, come to serve and do our part in the body of Christ.

Some of us need to remember to go — go into our small circles of the world, go with God’s word burning in our hearts, go see if someone we know wants to learn to be a disciple.

Let’s dance.

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”
Psalm 121:8

come and go

Next: Remembering Boppy

F is for Free

Back in 2016 I wrote this:

I drove across town for a free cup of coffee. A new convenience store opened up and they are offering free coffee for a few days, along with lots of other promotions such as $1 worth of free gas, which is about three tablespoons. I figure if I drive a few miles to get the free coffee but use the squirt of free gas, I’m still ahead. I simply cannot turn down anything free. Except puppies and kittens.

Last week I extolled the word “eat” and savored the fact that God said to Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…” (Gen. 2:16) Free to eat!

But there’s a “but”. Verse 17 goes on to say, “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Freedom often works like that.

There is plenty of room for a wide variety of expression and purposeful action — in-between the guardrails of God’s wise boundaries. In Psalm 119:45, David reveled in the freedom of walking in wide spaces while at the same time celebrating the commandments that limited his liberty to do whatever he pleased.

Paul had to set the churches in Galatia straight on this.

“You were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)

Did you see that “but”? It’s a big one.

One more time:
“My friends, you were chosen to be free.
So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want.
Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.”
(Contemporary English Version)

We are supposed to use our freedom to do the loving thing for others,
which may mean setting aside our individual desires for a season.
We are free to choose to yield our rights.
We are free to be selfless.

I don’t love doing Bible study on Zoom, or worshiping with a video on Facebook, or not hugging my grands. I don’t enjoy wearing a face mask at the grocery store, or postponing our family reunion, or singing Happy Birthday on FaceTime. I’m sad that I can’t gather with my church family on Sunday mornings. I grieve the loss of grad parties and weddings, Tommy Bartlett’s Water Show and baseball.

I miss going wherever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want.

This pandemic is limiting me like never before.
I don’t like these constraints.
I want my freedom back.
But.

What if the most loving thing I can do right now is to set aside what I want?
What if I serve you best right now by yielding my rights?
What if this is opportunity, not oppression?

serve

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “F” is FREE.

E is for Eat

I’m sorry.
There are lots of other good “E” words in the Bible.
But this quarantine life seems to revolve around food.
I don’t know how many batches of sweet rolls I’ve made.
There are several jars of sourdough in my refrigerator.
I’ve tried recipes that have been collecting in boxes for years.
PB and I are watching cooking shows, while we eat our meals.
There’s truth in the phrase “comfort food.”

Late night retro Diner Eat neon sign

The Bible has a surprising amount to say about eating,
from Genesis to Isaiah to Luke to Revelation.

One of the first things the Creator told Adam was, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…” (Gen. 2:16) Of course, there was more to that statement, but “free to eat” might have been all Adam heard. Granted, there weren’t any Snicker bars or Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies hanging from the trees, but God’s words “free to eat” must have been music to Adam’s ears. It might be my new favorite Bible verse. Although food played a role in the downfall of humankind, it wasn’t food’s fault.

Isaiah picked up the theme. “Come, you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Listen to me and eat what is good…” (Isaiah 55:1-2) What an invitation! Water, wine, milk, food — it’s all free! Did you notice the steps to this spiritual feast?
1) Come. 2) Listen to God. 3) Eat what is good.
In other words:
1) Show up. 2) Pay attention. 3) Don’t settle for hot dogs when He’s offering prime rib.

Food played big in the gospels. Jesus was always eating with people and even put on a sit-down dinner for 5,000. When Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He asked, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41) Don’t you love that?! Jesus had to prove He wasn’t some kind of ethereal ghost. He calmed his disciples’ troubled, doubt-filled minds by eating a piece of broiled fish before their very eyes. As they watched Him swallow and carefully observed his stomach, the truth was verified. His real body had come back to life! A filet of cod wouldn’t be my first choice post-resurrection, but eating real food convinced His friends that He was a real Savior.

Hands down, my favorite scripture about eating is in Revelation 3:20. “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat (dine, sup) with him, and he with me.”

Jesus Christ wants to eat with me.

Supper (deipnon in Greek) was the main meal of the day. This was the meal at which a man sat and talked for long, for now there was time, for work was ended… it is not a mere courtesy visit, paid in the passing, which Jesus Christ offers to us. He desires to come in and to sit long with us, and to wait as long as we wish him to wait.” (Barclay)

This verse perfectly sums up the first five letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet.

  • Aleph — the God-Man, one arm reaching to heaven, one arm reaching to earth — Jesus stands as the bridge between God and man.
  • Bet — the house that He stands outside of is my heart and He seeks entry.
  • Gimel — the figure in motion, coming to give the good gift of His redemptive presence.
  • Dalet — the door He courteously, yet persistently, knocks on, waiting for me to respond.
  • HeBehold! The Master comes in! He eats with me and I eat with Him! Heart to heart fellowship with the King of Kings! He lingers long at the table and joy fills the house!

This old earth is just a glimpse of what’s coming.
The New Earth will be a place of feasting, my friends!
We will eat on into eternity!
“On this mountain
the Lord Almighty

will prepare a feast
of rich food for all peoples,

a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats
and the finest of wines.”

Isaiah 25:6

feast

We will feast in the house of Zion.
We will sing with our hearts restored.
He has done great things, we will say together.
We will feast and weep no more.
“We Will Feast in the House of Zion”, Sandra McCracken

Next: The Hungry Song

C is for Come

C is for COME.

“Come” is a word of invitation.
“We bid you to come and celebrate.”
“Hey, wanna come over?”

“Come” is a command.
“Come over here right now, young man.”
“Come and get it!”

“Come” is an action word.
“I’m coming!”
“Come along with us!”

God the Father is forever the gracious host.
Hear His invitation:

“Come now, and let us reason together.” Isa. 1:18
” Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” Isa. 55:1
“Come, follow me.” Matt. 4:19
“Come to me all you who are weary.” Matt. 11:28
“Come away with me to a quiet place.” Mark 6:31
“‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.'” John 1:39
“‘Come and have breakfast,’ Jesus said to them.” John 21:12

come

The Father’s hospitality is seen in the very beginning, in Eden, where He provided a perfect place for the flourishing of humankind. Adam and Eve were the first guests in God’s wonderland called earth. The serpent crashed the party, introducing evil and discord. Ever since, the call has gone out to all the image-bearers: Come.

The Father’s hospitality will be seen in the very end, where He will provide a new heaven and a new earth for whoever RSVPs to the invitation. “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Rev. 22:17

To that I say, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with C is COME.

Next: Sing Along

B is for But

The Bible is chock full of terrific words.
Wonderful words like love, joy, and peace abound in the scriptures.
(Abound is a pretty good word too.)

There are long words in the Bible, like Mahershalalhashbaz (Isa. 8:1).
(What were his parents thinking?)

There are short words in the Bible, like Ur (Gen. 15:7).
“Where do you live?” “Ur.” (Confused look.)

There are impressive sounding words in the Bible,
like sanctification, justification and propitiation.

There are precious words like Savior, heaven, grace and redeemed.
I could go on and on.

I have a hands-down favorite word in the Good Book.
(My Bible study buddies know what I’m about to say.)
It’s easy to overlook this humble three letter word.
Here it is. Are you ready?
But.

Don’t be fooled by this well-worn word, this scant syllable, this inconsequential conjunction. It packs a wallop when it’s perfectly placed. “But” is the pivot point in so many sentences, and so many lives. I have circled every “but” in my Bible.

“That is what you were. But you were washed…” (1 Cor. 6:11)
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:20)
“We were objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God made us alive in Christ.” (Eph. 2:4)
“I am suffering like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained…” (2 Tim. 2:9)

Those are big buts, but I think the best buts in the Bible are found in the Psalms.

How long will you hide your face from me?
But I trust in your unfailing love. (Ps. 13)

My life is consumed by anguish…
But I trust in you. (Ps. 31)

The arrogant are attacking me, O God…
But you, O Lord, are compassionate and gracious. (Ps. 86)

If you kept a record of sins, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130)

but

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with B is BUT.

A is for All

Since I’m milking this whole alphabet theme for all it’s worth, I thought I’d take it one step further. I’m going to share some of my favorite words (in English) in the Bible.

Here are the rules:
1) Go alphabetically, but leave out k, q, x, and z, to keep in step with the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. Besides, there are no words in the Bible that start with X, except for King Xerxes, and he was not a favorite.
2) Use only small words, four letters or less.
3) Change the rules when necessary.

A is for ALL

The Bible is full of absolute words: all, every, always, never, only, whosoever. None of God’s promises contain words like sometimes, maybe, usually, probably, on the off-chance, once-in-a-while. He is not a now-and-then, half-and-half God. He proved He is “all in” when He sent His Son as a sacrifice to rescue us. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)

Just think how differently the Holy Scriptures would sound if the word “all” was exchanged for less comprehensive words.
And we know that in SOME things God works for the good…  (Rom. 8:28)
I PROBABLY won’t leave you or forsake you…..  (Heb. 13:5)
I will be with you SOMETIMES, MAYBE to the end of the age…..  (Matt. 28:20)
My God will meet A FEW of your needs ONCE-IN-A-WHILE…. (Phil. 4:19)

Instead, we get promises like this: “And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in EVERY good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

When PB and I stood before our family and friends on our wedding day, we made some absolute promises that are still in effect 40 years later. The only limit put on those vows was “until death do us part”. If I had said, “I’ll love and cherish you for a while…” or “Yes to the ‘for better, for richer, in health’ part, but about that ‘for worse, for poorer, in sickness’ part — well, we’ll see”. Those half-hearted vows would’ve left gaping loopholes for a quick escape when the worst day came or the financial trouble arrived or the serious diagnosis showed up. Words like that sound less like a promise and more like a business deal, made to protect the interests of the parties involved.

Will Parker sang to Ado Annie in the Broadway musical Oklahoma, “With me it’s all er nuthin’! Is it all er nuthin’ with you?” God makes His intentions clear in His Word — He holds nothing back, He makes promises that will be kept, and His love is all-encompassing. He’s an ALL kind of God. And He is calling for our “all er nuthin'” devotion.

When Jesus was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He didn’t have to stop to think about it. He didn’t go over the 613 Old Testament laws in His mind or even refer to the Big 10. He responded,  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Jesus didn’t say “Obey the Lord your God with all your heart…” or “Serve the Lord your God with all your strength…” or “Live your best life with all your soul….” 

Just love, with all you’ve got.

all

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “A” is ALL.

If you need to catch up:
Intro – The Long Song
Monday – Stanza A
Tuesday – Long Song Study, Part A
Wednesday – Aleph