Steadfast Love

I’ve been studying Psalm 103 with a group of close friends recently. It soothes my heart to read about God’s kindness and love. But it’s even more powerful when you see it in action, up close in real life. I’d like to share one of those experiences with you in the words of my friend, Judy.


When we first started this journey, the familiarity of the verses caught me off guard. I thought it was because of the songs I had sung in church that often contained the words of this passage. But when I opened my personal Bible, I was shocked to find that this psalm had walked with me through some very difficult times in the worst period of my life. How had I not remembered that?

As I read over my journaling and ran my fingers over the highlighted portions, my heart was overwhelmed with His compassion to me, His struggling daughter. My friends have asked me how I have joy after struggling through the long, drawn out separation, divorce and end of my marriage. I had fought so hard to keep that relationship alive that the end rocked my foundations. Psalm 103 was the answer to that question. During those dark, lonely, grief-stricken, paralyzing days, I spent so much time in the Scripture. Motivated by joining a Bible study, by new women friends who were strong in their faith, by my own desperation to find healing, I poured myself into the Word. Reading. Cross referencing. Listening to sermons. Praying. Memorizing. Begging God to heal these broken places of my life. And He did. My marriage ended, but my relationship with the true lover of my soul continued and thrived.

I don’t always remember exactly which verses helped. Healing is not a bullet point list that we can move along in a linear fashion, accomplishing each task to claim that we’ve completed the process. It’s more like a twisted, spiral, conic section of repetitive behaviors, thoughts, processes; moving forward, then backward, then completely turned around and right side up again. It’s a constant choosing to do the next thing. To believe truth. To insist upon writing those truths of God on my mind and heart.

Psalm 103 contained one of those truths. Three times I had returned to this psalm during that season. Three critical times. Wow. I thought to myself what was the number one thing I learned during that time from this psalm of David? This: God’s steadfast love was with me. Four times it is mentioned.

  1. “Who crowns you with steadfast love”
  2. “The Lord is…abounding in steadfast love”
  3. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love”
  4. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him”

Steadfast love. In my personal life, human love has proved itself to be elusive and transitory. Yet, there it is in black and white in Psalm 103. Repeated four times. It doesn’t just say “love.” Every single time the adjective “steadfast”’ precedes it. Steadfast is defined as “firmly fixed in place, immovable, unwavering, loyal.” And my heart clung to that character of God as I walked the journey of separation, loss, betrayal.

What comes before each of those four steadfast love phrases in this psalm?

  1. “Who redeems your life from the pit”
  2. “The Lord is slow to anger”
  3. “He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities”
  4. “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more”

Whoa. Four hardest things in life – I’ve gotten myself into a terrible pit I can’t get out of. I’ve done something to incur the anger of God. My sins demand payment. Death. His answer for each one – steadfast love.

This week I received a call from my ex-husband asking if we could meet. We’ve had very little contact over the past year, and he has never before pursued a meeting with me. My mind has run amuck with all the possibilities – and not in a calm, reassuring, confident way. This morning as I meditated on this psalm, my question to God was how could I glorify Him in this meeting. And His answer – rest in the knowledge of My steadfast love. Take the bedrock of truths that I have built into my heart, mind, character and walk confidently toward whatever this meeting holds. No matter what the news is or how it affects my future, one thing is unwavering, firmly in place, immovable, loyal – the love of God.


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The Magi Don’t Belong in This Story

A blog for Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, which occurs twelve days after Christmas on January 6th

The mystifying magi appear in just one Gospel, Matthew, Chapter 2. That doesn’t give us a lot to work with, and much of what we may believe about these sages is myth or conjecture. For example, Scripture says nothing about camels or the number of magi. Did you know they followed the star sign for two whole years, finding baby Jesus in a house, not a stable? And they were not kings. Because I have a habit of trying to see myself in all the characters of Scripture, I want to look at the little we know about these shadowy figures and what they might tell me about myself.

The magi were gentile astrologers, foreigners in possession of great material wealth. The word “magus” can mean wise man, magician, advisor or even wizard and comes from the Persian language. These mystery men traveled a long way to bring their inappropriate gifts to an anonymous child in a backwater village. There is no specific prophecy of these messianic visitors in the Bible nor even of the star which brought them. The magi don’t belong in this story. And neither do I.  

The magi were rich, and this story is about the poor.

Whether Christ’s visitors used their own resources or worked for a rich benefactor, they possessed the means to leave their homes for over two years on a romantic quest and then return again. They (or their unmentioned pack animals and servants) brought rare and valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Christmas story no one and nothing else lives in a world of wealth. Mary delivered her Son in an animal stall. Joseph was a common carpenter who offered a poor man’s gift at Jesus’s consecration in the Temple (Luke 2:24). Christ came to earth on a mission to and among the poor (see Luke 4:18, II Cor. 8:9, etc.). The magi don’t belong in this story because they were rich.

The magi were gentiles, and this story is about Israel.

The wise men were not Israelites. They implied their non-Jewishness when asking Herod about, “the king of the Jews,” and their profession was outside the usual range of Jewish vocations. They were visitors from a far country and a foreign culture, outsiders to the story they were helping to write. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited savior of God’s conquered but chosen people. Jesus Himself proclaimed his responsibility to “the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Even if they happened to be Jewish converts, these magicians were not of the house of Israel. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were gentiles.

The magi were influential, and this story is about the powerless.

As well-resourced astronomers or astrologers (the two studies were often one discipline in the ancient world), the wise men served as advisors to the powerful. They held influence over important decision-makers. While they did not, apparently, seek out King Herod, news of their mission carried to him, and he took it very seriously. The words of a common tourist would not have aroused so much concern. The magi were connected. But Jesus did not come to the powerful. He invited shepherds to His birthday party. He touched lepers and consoled prostitutes. Jesus came to the poor, the oppressed, the humble, the outcasts. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were powerful.

I don’t belong in God’s story for the same reasons.

Anyone living in a western country today, even in the bottom 5%, “is richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants,” according to Forbes. I can rightly say that compared to everyone in the world now, as well as those who lived in Biblical times, I am rich. It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to be saved. I am also a gentile. As far as I know there is no Jewish blood in my veins. God’s story is not the story of my people. And I am connected, even powerful. There is the fact that I am white, which unfairly advantages me, giving me social power I do not earn or even understand. My American passport, the technology I wield, the political and vocational connections I could muster, all give me more influence than most in the world possess.

Like the magi, there is no reason I should know anything about Christ, that He should get my attention or I should get His. I don’t belong in His story. And yet, according to God’s great mercy, He mysteriously chose me out of nowhere, guided me to His Son and bids me worship Him. I don’t want to be like ‘the three kings’ because they were rich, powerful gentiles. I want to be like them because they were willing to risk their privileges and step outside their heritage for something much more important. Against all odds, they were chosen to worship King Jesus, and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10).


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Talking to Stan

Stan, my wonderful father-in-law, just put his garden to bed for the winter. There is nothing he loved more than driving his tractor around the farm on a fall day in Michigan. So it was both fitting and beautiful that he took his last breath doing just that. In fact, he died between sentences, while talking with a close friend.

This good man was the nearest thing I had to a father in my adult life. He was a man of integrity who loved God, a patriot in the best sense, a warrior who shed tears when his grandchildren left after a visit. He loved and cared for his wife of 65 years, a spry and feisty centenarian who can no longer live on her own. She and I are puttering around the house together now, waiting for a room to open in a nearby assisted-living facility. As I search for missing items, calm repeated fears and welcome a parade of visitors, I find myself talking to Stan.

Sometimes I ask his advice obliquely (what would Stan have done about this?) and sometimes directly (Stan, please help me figure this out). I tell him how grateful I am for the plans he made, the family he raised and the legacy he left. I grumble at him for his packrat ways and for hiding his wife’s driver license too well. I’m a bit astonished at myself for doing this. I don’t know whether he hears me, and so far, he hasn’t answered back.

Many otherwise sane people have talked to their dead throughout history. Some have institutionalized the practice as prayer or ancestor worship. I understand the impulse. My love and my frustrations are real. They want a target to aim at. Someone who cares deeply about me now sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. Stan, as I knew him, was both strong and tender. I trusted him. He could understand my situation as no one else could. So I talk to him.

I realize I should be talking to God like this all the time. My love and even my frustrations have been invited by the King of Everything. Someone Who cares deeply about me sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. The Lord God is both strong and tender, and I can trust Him. He understands this and every situation as no one else could. So why am I talking to Stan?

It’s easier to feel warm about a physical person you have hugged and laughed with than a Spirit you’ve never heard or touched or seen, I suppose. But I don’t want my memory of Stan to be a substitute for the reality of God. Instead, I want to understand God better through my love for Stan. I want to know my Jesus as the warm, wise, ready heart on the other end of my conversations.

I don’t think it’s wrong to talk to Stan even though he’s dead (as long as he’s not talking to me), but it is more effective and more real to speak with the living Christ. It is not Stan who has what I need, loves me the most or intercedes for me with God. His death cannot yield those benefits. But his life is still pointing me to the One whose death ensures that Stan and I will sit down together again. There are so many things I look forward to in heaven, but one of the best will surely be talking to Stan.

“Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)


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