Sunday, June 26, 2011

When Fear Evaporates

Sometimes, it's the simple light bulb moments that pierce me the most. Not the mind-bending time spent in Greek and Hebrew dictionaries or in commentaries heavy enough to break a toe--nothing that could be considered an intellectual pursuit of things too amazing for me know.

Just me, a quiet moment, and the Word.

I get lost in the familiarity of stories I have known for so long that I don't remember learning them. Verse after verse, page turning page...and then there it is, something new. Was that really there before? How could I have missed it, this divinely illuminated phrase leaping off the page at me?

This week's divine moment came in the story of the Ten Commandments and Moses--what can be more familiar?

Fire, billowing clouds as from a smoking furnace, mountain quaking, lightening flashing, trumpet resounding louder each time, and a voice wrapped in thunder. At the foot of Mount Sinai, the people come to meet with God, wait for word from the one man allowed to reach the top, and then receive (both priest and people) an ear-full of warning for them not to "break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them" (Ex. 19:24).

Yes, the Israelites had reason to fear of this all-powerful God who was calling them into covenant with Him. And so when one verse later, God speaks the Ten Commandments, the people say, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die" (Ex. 20:19). They feared God, which, according to Moses, was kind of the point of God's whole pyrotechnics demonstration, so that "the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin" (v. 20).

Then comes Exodus 21-23, full of the commandments and ordinances, rights, laws--all the legal stuff. Maybe it's that I have always been mentally asleep by the end of the do-this-but-don't-do-this list found in those three chapters so that Exodus 24 escaped me.

The chapter starts with God commanding Moses to bring "Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel" up the mountain so they can "worship at a distance" (Ex. 24:1-2).

Wait--what about God's command for the priests and people to not come up? And seventy four people going up the mountain? I remember only the one (plus the tag-along Joshua)...and everybody else shaking in their boots below.

But here, at the foot of the mountain, there is no mere shaking. There is a divine invitation, a ceremony, when the people enter into covenant with God, all speaking in unison, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" (Ex. 24:3). Blood is slain in burnt sacrifice of bulls on the altar. Then, "Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Ex. 24:8).

God's people, not just their door posts covered in the blood so that death could pass over like in Egypt, but here literally their own flesh was covered in the blood of covenant, long before the One would come to cover their sin once and for all.

And then to mark, to remember the covenant, there is a feast! Those seventy-four men go up to feast with God--not just with God present yet shrouded in a cloud--but with God, Himself, appearing: "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

Why were these 74 men suddenly invited to worship "at a distance" yet close enough to see God with their own eyes? And why were they no longer in fear of their lives? What happened?

I think this change is, at least in part, due to the covenant. When two persons enter into covenant, they become one. My strength becomes yours. My possessions become yours.

Here, the elders, representing the entire people, are invited into the Father's presence. They are covered by the blood of covenant, a blood which purifies them so that they are able to enter into the presence of holiness and also a blood which casts out fear through the protection found in the covenant.

I wonder if this idea finds parallel in the oft-quoted verse in 1 John, "perfect love casts out fear" (4:18). In covenant with Christ, we who are in Him fear not the judgment to come. In covenant with Christ, we are ushered into God's presence...and we, too, will feast with Him there one day soon, in view of that sapphire pavement beneath his throne.

A covenant which casts out fear. A covenant which grants me entrance into the holy of holies.

I can only imagine...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Measure of a Man

Sunday, many of us thanked God for an earthly example of His Fatherly love. Unlike some, I was blessed to grow up in a home where I never doubted that both my earthly and heavenly fathers loved me completely. My “daddy” and I still spend time together each week; he knows the depth of my love for him, so Father’s Day has never seemed like a big deal. But yesterday seemed different to both me and my husband, perhaps because it’s the first Father’s Day where we can see how much our lives impact our two-year-old son, the first one where we’re acutely aware of setting the right example for our own children.

When searching for characteristics of a godly father, obviously, one would look at God, Himself, as the perfect example. The Old Testament also gives several fatherly examples, but most had serious parenting issues a father today would be wise not to emulate.Then, there is the New Testament's Joseph, God’s choice to be Jesus’ earthly father. Have you ever asked yourself when God planned to send Jesus to earth as a tiny baby, what qualities He saw in Joseph that made him the perfect earthly father?

Scripture doesn’t say much about Joseph. He was a carpenter, a laborer, a Jew, a lower-class man. Yet, the few verses about him speak volumes about what a father should be. Consider just a few of Joseph’s character qualities that made him a good father:

1. Joseph was immediately obedient to God’s words: When the angel appeared to Joseph, telling him to take Mary as his wife despite the present circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, Scripture says, “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife” (Matt. 1:24). Later, when an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod was seeking Jesus’ life, “So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt” (Matt 2:14). Note that Joseph doesn't question God. He simply and immediately obeyed—even middle of the night. He followed God’s commands at all costs.

2. Joseph did not let personal pride or anger determine his actions: After learning of Mary’s pregnancy and knowing he wasn’t the father, Matthew 1:18 says, “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” Can you imagine a world where pregnancy before marriage was punished by a public stoning? Joseph would have been completely within his rights to make Mary a public example and sign her death sentence.

Imagine his first thoughts before the angel explained the true nature of Mary’s pregnancy—anger, hurt, and humiliation. Accepting her as his wife now that she was pregnant would mean he would be treated differently by the community for the rest of his life, perhaps even ostracized. Thankfully, Joseph believed the angel and put God as well as the baby's and Mary’s well-being before his own personal pride.

3. Joseph put aside a career as well as left home, family, and country for his child’s welfare: Joseph obeyed God’s command to flee to Egypt and live there until the death of Herod. Later, God told him to return to Israel, but still not to his hometown: “Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth” (Matt. 2:22b-23).

Imagine Joseph—a carpenter by trade, possibly looking forward to taking over a family carpentry business in a small town where everyone knew his reputation and name. We can be sure that having a baby this way and then leaving town were not the career moves Joseph had planned.Imagine him having to find work as a foreigner, a Jew, in Egypt. Sure, he had a useful trade, but he had no reputation in Egypt, no portfolio of work to show potential clients, no family to provide helpful emotional or monetary support. It was just him, Mary, and Jesus relying on God above for their daily bread. We know of Joseph's poverty because when he and Mary went to church to present Jesus to the Lord, they offered a poor-man’s sacrifice to God, “‘A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS’" (Luke 2:24). Obeying God and putting his family before his own personal dreams of success were very costly choices.

The lessons here are simple but deep and eternal. To be a good father (or even a good mother), one must hold fast to these three truths: Put God first. Put family second. Put self last. That’s how you tell the measure of a man.

I ask your grace today in allowing me this repost from the archives so that I can spend a little extra time with my husband on Father's Day.

I thank God for the father of my children, the man who shows tender affection to his little ones when they are sick... who slows his pace to walk hand in hand with shorter legs...who makes time for a rollicking game of Candyland after a hard day's labor...who joins his family in silly backyard Berry Blossom Festivals (and anything else he would never have dreamed of participating in), all to make his children smile.Thank you God for fathers who show their love daily, who show us the Father.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

If There Were No Needs to Meet

It's a verse to live by: "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus " (Phil. 4:19). As Christians, we believe this. So, our prayers are filled with what we need...and we want that need met, now please.

But a God who is Sovereign, Omniscient, who knows every need before we even know it--why does He wait until we identify a need, a lack before He responds? Why doesn't He just provide before we need so that there is no need to begin with?

God waiting for us to realize we need, we lack, we are incomplete--it's a pattern in Scripture. The stories are tucked within--stories of real people in history with real needs, all coming to their heavenly Father, asking for help, and God responding in His time...and when He responds to meet that need, there is always joy.

There is Hannah who petitioned the Lord for a child after years of barrenness...and God responded with her son Samuel so that her heart exulted in the Lord: "I rejoice in Your salvation" (1 Sam. 2:1).

There is Queen Esther and her "uncle" Mordecai who petitioned the Lord for protection for their people when Haman had contrived the coming of a Jewish holocaust...and God brought salvation, so much that the holiday Feast of Purim was established with "feasting and rejoicing" (Esther 9:22).

From Genesis to Revelation, the in-between is filled with examples of people feeling a need and God fulfilling it. But, I find value in looking at the Alpha and Omega--the first and the last.

The very first time man finds He lacks something, has a need only God can fulfill, is found in the second chapter of Genesis:

"Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.' Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18-20).

Here, Adam needed a helper. The Lord said as much. Why, then, did the Lord not immediately create Eve? Why first did He bring forth every animal to parade before Adam? Yes, to name them. But why now? Why not do the naming after He created Eve?

It's likely that God wanted Adam to realize what he lacked, for Adam to realize he had a need only God could fulfill in supplying the helper. And in the knowing came an appreciation of what he gained by God meeting that need.

This need-understanding, this lack-filling in Adam--it's a foreshadowing of a fallen race of Adams, Hannahs, and Esters, men and women with the taint of sin coursing through their veins so black that only the blood of a coming Messiah could cover and redeem. But the key to receiving redemption is that you first must understand your need for it.

This is what happens in the last example of this pattern in Revelation, when it is time for the book with the seven seals to be opened. John says, "And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it" (Rev. 5:2-4).

Here, "no one" is found worthy enough to open the book and start the countdown to the kingdom calendar's culmination. It is obvious that there was a search based on a lack, a need seeking to be filled.

Yet, with the search over and no one found, John begins to weep--he loudly wails in grief as one who is mourning the dead. He feels the hopelessness of an eternity without one worthy enough.

God waits, allowing John to truly understand His need, mankind's need of a Savior. Then, one of the elders speaks up, directing him to look at the "Lamb standing, as if slain" (Rev. 5:6).

The Lamb, Jesus, the one sacrifice for all time--He is there to open the books, and at that moment, myriads of angels begin to praise Him in joy, shouting "Worthy is the Lamb!" (v. 11). From weeping to uproarious joy in seconds.

It initially sounds pretty good--God meeting our needs before we even know what we need. Imagine the grief we could avoid if we did not feel loss or lack, if there were no void waiting to be filled in us.

But this would not be a gift at all. Before we can appreciate anything of great value in our lives, God is gracious to either let us feel loss or the lack first. Otherwise, we cannot really appreciate the gain to the fullest. More importantly, though, without this recognition, we cannot realize our need for a Savior.

Photo from:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If We Only Understood How to Rejoice and Be Glad

It has been a l-o-n-g spring of warning my children to not touch the fifty-five gladiolus bulbs stretching the full length of the front porch. Up and down the concrete, the three ride their tricycles and bicycle, often crashing into each other or backing to the very edge, barely missing the two-foot plants shooting straight up out of the earth six inches away. I know, I know...what was I thinking!?

"They'll make us summer flowers if you leave them alone," I have chided, rather loudly...and repeatedly, for months on end. A couple stalks were snapped off at the bulb by a penitent-when-caught child. Then, a big storm came through, its winds pressing against the green sword-like leaves until they now permanently stand at odd angles like some cubist painting.

Despite all the drama, apparently I'm the only one who had faith that the bloom stalks would actually produce the typical eight or more blossoms, one atop the other like unstacked nesting dolls with the smallest at the top. Last week, a few of those tight green buds began opening, revealing the Creator's paintbox of deep red, regal purple, creamy yellow, and pale lilac.

The children were suddenly excited, as if this were an unexpected miracle. I shook my head, smiled and cut the "glads" for my kitchen counter knowing that indoors, the hooded flowers would open one by one, providing an entire week of blossoms.

It has been a crazy ride through intense drought and clumsy children, but I did plant them for a reason. Their very name--"glads"--always reminds me that I must choose to rejoice despite my circumstances. Maybe it's just me, but I need that visual reminder each morning when I step out my front door.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks to His disciples about their attitude when faced with difficulties, specifically persecution. He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12, my italics).

In nine of its eleven appearances in the New Testament, the Greek word for "glad" is actually translated as "rejoice" or "joy." In fact, one of the definitions for "glad" is "to rejoice exceedingly."*

I know why the translators chose to use the word glad. It does sound rather odd to say "Rejoice and rejoice..." but that's what the Scripture says. Christians are to rejoice...and rejoice some more, but not in mere fleshly gladness that will only diminish with trials but in a spiritual gladness that defies circumstance.

I wonder if any of Jesus' disciples at least entertained the thought, "Easier said than done." I know at times, I have done just that...mainly, because I don't remember or just don't comprehend the magnitude of grace the Father has bestowed upon me, sending His Son to save my dark, sin-filled soul.

To understand rejoicing and gladness, one must understand grace, an idea implied in the original Greek but lost in English translations.

In Matthew 5:12 above, "rejoice" is transliterated as the word chairo. While this word may not be too familiar, perhaps the word charis, "grace," is more so.

For instance, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8, my italics). This kind of grace, charis, is a gift of mercy, kindness, and love from God the father, one that "exert[s] his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues"**

This word "grace," charis, comes from the root word for "rejoice," chairo.

χάρις from χαίρω.

It can't be a coincidence that the word grace comes from the root word rejoice. The two are interconnected.

For starters, there can be no true rejoicing, spiritual gladness, without the grace of God. It's just not possible to rejoice the way Jesus intended with a God-sized hole lying empty within.

Secondly, if we Christians truly understood how much grace God has had and continues to have on our souls, our daily circumstances, our futures--then we would jump at the chance to rejoice through circumstances we would otherwise choose to not suffer through.

This idea seems to hold water when looking at the words of the redeemed in Revelation. While the particular words for "rejoice" and "glad" found in Matthew 5 are used separately numerous times throughout the New Testament, they appear together only one other time, in Revelation 19:7 at the wedding supper of the Lamb when "a great multitude" of the righteous celebrates the Lamb. They say, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

In heaven, we Christians will finally understand how much grace God has bestowed on us and our automatic reaction will be to rejoice in our Savior.

Until that day when we exchange robes of flesh for robes of purest white, we must make a conscious effort to seek His mercies anew each morning, to remember the grace He has given us in times past...and choose to be glad in our Spirit.

**Strong's Concordance