Echoes of Eden | 11.14.16

Have you ever had the sense of something so much bigger than yourself, maybe catching a glimpse of something so beautiful, something strange or exciting, and yet peaceful? Like, that overwhelming feeling of awe at the birth of your child, or the lump that comes into your throat at a poignant moment in a movie; a piece of music that taps into something deep inside, a warm sense of “rightness” when you give of yourself sacrificially, or that sense of deep mystery and beauty watching a sunset over the ocean. NT Wright describes this as “echoes of a voice that points beyond itself.”

So what are these echoes pointing to?

For years, I didn’t really get how the Bible stories from centuries ago had anything to do with my life now, or what the long litany of the people of Israel had to do with Jesus. But, slowly I’ve begun to understand that the Bible is telling an on-going epic story that isn’t over yet – a drama that we are now experiencing. This story is full of adventure, romance, danger, and betrayal, with a hero/lover and a evil villain. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we have eternity written in our hearts, planted there by God – a Story (with a capital “S”) that we just can’t escape; somehow we just know there has to be more to our existence.

The Bible stories of the people of Israel are not just random stories, but are pieces of the saga that tell of God’s long-term plan to rescue and redeem the hearts of people and restore things back to the way they were meant to be – before evil entered the Story. The circumstances of your life are not just random events, but are interactive scenes in which you have an important role to play – one full of adventure, intrigue, sacrifice, danger, love, regret, and hope.

I believe the echoes are whispers from the One who loves us and will do whatever it takes to win our hearts back to Him. The voice is calling to us of a world set right again, a foretaste of what living life with God at the center will be like, pointing to the ending of the Story – which has already been written. Like all great stories, the villain is disposed of, the hero rescues the heroine, and they all live happily ever after – the kind of ending our hearts long for.

“There is far more going on around us than meets the eye. We live in a world with two halves, one part that we can see and another part that we cannot. We must live as though the unseen world (the rest of reality) is more weighty and more real and more dangerous than the part of reality we can see.” ~John Eldredge, Epic

How would you live differently if you believed this Story to be true?

God With Us | 11.7.16

For me personally, I think one of the hardest things about having faith in God and following Jesus is the simple fact that God is invisible. We can’t see Him physically or talk with Him face to face, the way we do with other people. We talk about spending time with God, but honestly, this can seem a pretty nebulous and unrealistic activity; in my most doubt-filled moments, I wonder if the Emperor has no clothes on, after all. You know what I mean? And yet, even in the middle of all the questions, somehow we persevere. Like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, but…help me in my unbelief!”

Ancient Biblical characters struggled with maintaining their faith and obedience to an invisible God, just as we do. I’d like to think that had I been around for God’s miraculous rescue of the people of Israel from Pharaoh, or been fed by manna every day, getting visual travel directions from a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, I for sure would never have doubted that God was real and present. Or, if only I’d been around to see Jesus in the flesh and watched the miracles He did, I’d never doubt again.

HA! Probably not.

Although God hasn’t changed at all, the way He reveals Himself to people has progressively developed over human history. We have the benefit of hindsight, the written Word of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit; we know that eventually, God came to be with us by becoming human. Although the people of Israel had the tabernacle as evidence that God was with them, we now know that the blood of Jesus made the blood sacrifices of approaching a holy God unnecessary – a much more perfect way for God to be with us than tabernacle worship rituals. And, we also know that the presence of the invisible God is with us through the Holy Spirit living in us, promised to all who believe.

Even though the people of Israel had stunning and physical evidences of God’s presence with them, the whole chapter of Hebrews 11 is a list of how even they had to live by faith, waiting in hope for what God had promised. Just like we do.

And just what is that promise? The one thing we were created for: to be in God’s presence and speak with Him face to face – to fully know Him as He knows us, and to enjoy Him forever. Until then, by faith we stumble on and continue to live in His invisible presence, waiting and hoping.

Do you have trouble really believing that God is with you?

Watchman Nee says, “I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”

Real Needs | 10.24.16

Just a month after God powerfully delivered the people of Israel from Pharaoh, they were back to complaining, and quite dramatically at that: “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:3) To quote the late great B.B. King, the thrill was clearly gone!

I want to get all judgmental about their poor behavior: How could they be so forgetful and ungrateful? How could they dare to complain like that to the Lord God Almighty, who had just shown them what He was capable of doing on their behalf? Evidently, their deliverance didn’t mean that they actually arrived, and they were not happy campers! Turns out that God’s purposes were more than to give them a comfortable existence—they did not yet know and trust God. Grumpy, hungry, cranky, disgruntled people – wait, that sounds a lot like me when I get troubled, tired, and out of my comfort zone. Perfect conditions for God to train, correct, discipline, and teach obedience, right?

Ooh, I really don’t like those words much. I don’t like being told what to do, and I am more than a bit stubborn and independent. I much prefer to focus on God’s love, peace, and joy, and would rather gloss over words like discipline, test, training, submit, obey. But, believe me – those words and concepts pop up all over Scripture, and I’m learning that my dislike of them says a lot more about my stubborn heart than about God’s love and goodness.

In the continuing story of Israel, God clearly set about testing their faithfulness to Him, and expected them to obey His commands. He miraculously sent them the food they needed, along with specific instructions as to how to get the food, with a clearly stated purpose: “By evening you will realize it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your complaints…” When some didn’t obey the instructions, God explained further: “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why He gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days.” (Exodus 16:28-29) Provision for their needs along with an unexpected gift…but with instructions to be obeyed.

Why do we always think our plan is better than His?

What if obedience is not about being coerced by someone exerting their position, power, and authority, but is a freely given response to evident superiority, knowledge, and ability? What if God knows far more about what we need than we do? Like a good parent, He loves us by training, discipline, and correction to mold our character. He teaches us through both good and bad experiences that we can depend on Him – that He is faithful and trustworthy. We learn to see more and more clearly just who He is – a good and loving Father.

Our Lord never insists on having authority over us. He never says, “You will submit to me.” No, He leaves us perfectly free to choose He never insists on obedience, but when we truly see Him we will instantly obey Him. Then He is easily Lord of our life, and we live in adoration of Him from morning till night. The level of my growth in grace is revealed by the way I look at obedience.  

~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest July 19

God Almighty | 10.10.16

Did you ever wonder why God made the people of Israel go through the plagues, right after He had promised He was going to deliver them? What kind of loving God would allow this, much less actually even cause it? In their misery, and of course not knowing how the story was going to end, they couldn’t even begin to picture the good ending that God promised through Moses.

As I was reading through this story in Exodus, I was struck by how very clear God was about His purpose for this whole adventure. Over and over, different variations of the same reasons are spelled out: “…so that you may know that I am the Lord” and “the Egyptians will know that there is no one like me in all the earth.”

I noticed an interesting turn halfway through the story. God allowed the Israelites to experience the first few plagues along with all of Egypt. Imagine how confused and angry they were toward God at that point. But then, God started exempting them from the increasingly horrific plagues that kept on coming, but now only on the Egyptians. The story doesn’t tell how the Israelites responded, but I’m guessing their view of God was shifting. Maybe they were just a little bit more ready to trust that He really was working on their behalf, a bit closer to recognizing Him as sovereign and powerful Lord God Almighty—more so than if they had just been allowed to walk away on the first try.

God was working on a much bigger plan than the people of Israel could see. He did, in fact, keep His promise to them, and in such a big way that the story is still being told today. He did, in fact, bring relief and hope in the middle of the plagues, growing their ability to trust that He really was God Almighty and was working toward their rescue.

When things are going smoothly and life seems easy, our natural response seems to be that we forget God. But, we call out for Him when we are in pain. In our need and powerlessness we begin to experience the ways that He is working for good – and not just for us, but weaving our lives together with seemingly random and often painful circumstances, and other people, for His purposes.

Is it possible that God allows hard times to come to us so that we might turn to Him and be more able to recognize Him as our loving, good, and all-powerful Lord God Almighty? He is God, and we are not.