Don’t forget to remember

think think think

I just don’t remember. At least not like I used to. Age has a way of creating forgetfulness in all of us. Not unusual elements of forgetfulness, and don’t get me wrong, there are real, legitimate, medical maladies that have far more devastating and heartbreaking consequences. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m just talking about how I don’t remember things that I should remember. It’s a little like Winnie the Pooh, you know, “tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff,” and “willy, nilly, silly old bear.” Anyhow, he would have these times when he’d forget to remember something or faced a puzzling problem he’d have to remind himself, “Think, think, think,” as he’d tap his fluffy forehead with his fluffy paw. In fact, a great quote that I can relate to from Pooh creator A. A. Milne says, ““Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” Man, don’t ask Helen about me in that light … she’d probably say that it happened shortly before our wedding for me. 😎

But that notion is also something we can observe in our everyday lives. It’s certainly something that I encountered in deep ways during our couple weeks in Israel last month. In fact, it’s something that the Bible calls out in our lives in a variety of ways, and I would posit it’s something that stops us as Christians from growing in our faith, conquering our fears, recognizing we’re no longer who we used to be (thank God), and from blessing others with an introduction to the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I was left with this notion as I read through 2 Samuel 5-7, 1 Chronicles 11- 17, and Psalms 1-2, 15, 22-24, 47, 68, 89, 96, 100-101, 105-107, and 132-133 this week. In fact, a nice place to camp out a little bit for the purpose of not forgetting to remember is in Psalms 107. Verses 1-9

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies. For he has gathered the exiles from many lands, from east and west, from north and south.  Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live. Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

The rest of the psalm continues to do what this first part does … recounting the untold ways God rescued – and continues to rescue – his people. In fact, it resounds with examples that talk about being imprisoned in chains, knocking on death’s door, being in stormy seas and rocked to and fro, etc. Most crucially, though, the psalm rings with the basis for our not forgetting to remember in repeating a number of times, “’Lord, help!’ they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.”

This refrain is what we visually perceived while in Israel, touring multiple sites where God completed deliverance on behalf of His people, where He provided them a “land flowing with milk and honey,” where Jesus performed perhaps innumerable miracles only some of which are catalogued in scripture. When you see that, it’s a call to attention, a reminder to not forget to remember. In a like manner, the writer of this psalm admonishes us to think, think, think and hence, to remember. In fact, I think the fact that we don’t know who wrote this psalm is in itself and interesting notion … in a sense, regardless of who it was they are calling ALL of us to remember. And we all should.

Some of us were hungry and thirsty, either literally or figuratively.   Did God rescue you from that? Don’t forget to remember! Some of us were in bondage and imprisoned in chains, either by addictions, challenging experiences or even abuse in our families of origin. Did God rescue you from that? Don’t forget to remember! Some of us were knocking on death’s door, either via disease, poor choices, clinical depression or anxiety. Did God rescue you from that? Don’t forget to remember. Maybe some of us were in stormy seas being tossed around in fearsome waters. Did God rescue you from that? Don’t forget to remember. Okay, perhaps I’ve made my point.

Perhaps the most cogent point, though, is that those of us who haven’t forgotten to remember have a greater purpose in the remembering. Certainly it’s critical for each of us to understand how God has and continues to rescue us from any number of life’s circumstances. But the point in not forgetting to remember is that there are undoubtedly people – at this very moment – who are in the circumstances we once were. I mean, isn’t that likely the purpose of the psalmist writing Psalms 107 to begin with? That is, if I don’t forget to remember God’s deliverance, and I recognize that my deliverance saved me from what you need deliverance from, I can be a means of His deliverance to you! Think of how inordinately more valuable His deliverance becomes then!

His deliverance of a blind man two thousand years ago helps us to trust He can deliver us from our blindness today. His rescue of a woman from the very throws of adultery helps us know that He can deliver us from its horrible throws today. All the demon-possessed that no longer are because of His rescue remind us of our ability through Jesus to overcome our demons today. Most of all, knowing that He was able to rescue all and create a new life and person assures us that He can do the same thing today. Don’t forget to remember!

But perhaps – at least to me – the most powerful aspect of this is that we get to not forget to remember that nothing God does is without purpose. I mean both in the turmoil as well as in the deliverance. I’m not trying to be trite and overly Christian-ize pain and difficulty, but nevertheless God has purpose even in the hardship. In fact, I’d say the pinnacle of evil would be to consider that suffering, pain, tumult, etc., are without purpose. A loving God’s existence dictates that there is a point to the pain. In other words, the fact that God allows us to not forget to remember is an indication of His ability to love us, to grow us, to complete His purpose in us, and to bring us closer in our Christlikeness.

So … think, think, think. And don’t forget to remember. God has rescued His people umpteen times in the historical past. He will rescue us from tough circumstances in the future in accordance with His plan. Most importantly, He has rescued us from eternal death through Jesus. That, my friends, is something to never forget to remember … and to remind others they can also.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Tipping the scales

SONY DSC

A week ago, we returned from an unforgettable 10 days in Israel. Our small group of family and a couple dear friends also encompassed three generations from my mom and dad, Helen and I, and our kids. It was truly a unique experience to see the Holy Land through a variety of eyes and perspectives. Thousands of photos (including the one our daughter took, above) and indelible memories later, it is still with a sense of regret that we returned to “usual” life.

Touring the Holy Land is cathartic on innumerable levels. History is important. Visualizing the accounts conveyed in scripture is unparalleled. Yet I think the most substantial aspect of the experience is the individual imprint it leaves. I’d postulate that none of us are impacted in the same way … much like the reading of God’s word is a way that He speaks to us discretely and uniquely. Having been to Israel previously, I also know that the affect of seeing God’s land is often peeled back layer by layer over time. Again, similarly to how God’s word permeates our hearts a level at a time as we peer into it more and more and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to minister to us.

So it is that I am both deeply moved from our time in Israel and probably wholly unaware of the eventual implication of the journey. Reading over the time since we left through 1 Samuel 25-31, 2 Samuel 1-4, 1 Chronicles 1-10, Psalms 6, 8-10, 14, 16-19, 21, 35, 43-45, 49, 54, 63,73, 77-78, 81, 84-85, 87-88, 92-93, 102-104, 121, 123-125, 128-130, was superlative because I was reading and seeing at the same time.

Such is the case with our visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, coupled with a lesson that struck me from 1 Samuel 25. But let me first set up the situation … King David and his men were traveling from En-Gedi to the wilderness and along the way, came upon the land of a wealthy but testy man called Nabal. David asked Nabal to share any provisions he might be willing to provide. Nabal answered in a way that was both insulting and pompous, resulting in David’s rage and vow to kill Nabal. Fortunately for Nabal, his wife Abigail intervened, tipping the scales away from David’s ire and toward mercy instead. Abigail’s plea is conveyed in verses 23 to 28

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him.  She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say.  I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent. “Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lordhas kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is.  And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life.

As we were planning to visit the Temple Mount (as shown in the photo above) we were warned that we had to remove any semblance of our Christian faith. No bibles. No cross necklaces, even if under our shirts. It was primarily for our safety. Traveling the country and historic sites, places where Christian history happened and places that pointed to Messiah, but which have been overrun and superseded by other religions to the drowning out of Christ, it’s tough not to get angry. Sort of like David’s response to Nabal. I have to admit, my initial responses were irritation and frustration. Denigrating our Savior isn’t something I tend to take lightly. It seems that limitations imposed on our faith are expanding and deepening. Antipathy toward Christianity feels as though it’s collapsing upon us on all sides … not just on the Temple Mount, not just in Israel, not just in the Middle East.

We can choose to be angry and seek retribution somehow. We can argue and complain and reflect back on those who limit us with seemingly similar limitations. Fight fire with fire. Tip the scales in our favor. Or we can be heartbroken and share God’s care for the lost. Tip the scales toward mercy.

God wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We often want otherwise, particularly when we have a chance to fight back against those who fight us. How do we live a life that shares God’s heart for the lost and, how do we choose to focus less on how others are striving to limit our faith and more on the void that exists in their lives?

Nine days ago I was in the garden of Gethsemane, recalling Jesus’s turmoil as He was hours away from crucifixion. Jesus felt anguish both for the fact that He knew He’d have to go to the cross and accept the punishment and death associated with it, but I’m also convinced that His anguish was as much about the fact that the condition existed to begin with – our depravity hurt Him perhaps at least as much as His payment for it. If we are to emulate Him, we need to tip the scales in a different direction … away from the anger of the attacks on the Christian faith and more to the anguish of knowing so many don’t have it. As Abigail intervened on behalf of her husband – despite that he may have deserved to be punished – so perhaps we should have a heart of intervention for those who lack hope and fulfillment. Those who are “this close” to (spiritual) death and don’t realize it.

Standing on top of the Temple Mount I reflected on how that morning before we left, I asked God to change my heart from resentment about how I was being forced to hide my expressions of faith. Seeing four or five religious Jews need to be escorted across the Temple Mount by soldiers because they refused to remove their yarmulkes was an apt reminder that I need Him to continually change my heart … that visual brought me back to infuriation. But maybe what should incense me is how little mercy I can tend to show those that are lost. How little I truly internalize what Jesus was really doing on that cross … forgiving us unforgivables and paving the way for those who have yet to receive the pardon.   What should rile me is the enemy who covers the eyes of so many and falsifies his status as defeated and impotent, dragging so many unsuspecting and oblivious adherents of his lies along with him. Time for me (us) to tip the scales back to where Jesus was … love and mercy for those who need it most.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

The heart of the matter

heart of the night

I didn’t bother counting, but I searched on song titles with the word “heart” in them and perhaps not surprisingly there are thousands. Heck, I’d be willing to bet if you looked at movie and book titles it would expand mind-blowingly. Why? Because the heart is understood to be the place where our most deeply-seeded feelings reside, and where the core of our life persists in both the physical and the spiritual sense.

While that might be the case, I suspect that the heart is more conundrum than comprehension. We may understand that the heart is primary and core, we don’t understand what is primary and core about it. I mean for ourselves … I doubt we fully understand the content of our own hearts. I know for a fact we don’t know the content of others’ hearts. As one of my favorite songs by the Paul Colman Trio says, “They say ‘just follow your heart,’ yeah but what if it lies?” And here the heart’s so crucial and yet we understand it so little. Perhaps not at all. We’re unable to get to the heart of the matter.

My reading the past week or so reminded me of the futility as humans of trying to propose we get it. Folks, we don’t. But …

As I read from Joshua 16-24, Judges 1-21, Ruth 1-41 Samuel 1-24, Psalms 7, 11, 27, 31, 34, 52 and 59, a key point was throughout that was particular pointed out in 1 Samuel 16:4-7.

So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?” “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too. When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In this portion of scripture, we have Samuel visiting the family of Jesse to find the one of Jesse’s sons that the Lord had selected and anointed as the next king, in replacement of Saul. Naturally, as Samuel was visiting he expected that the next king would actually look like a king. You know, tall, handsome, strong, whatever it is that a king should look like … perhaps what Hollywood would say (don’t get me started on Hollywood haha). Anyhow, the Lord provides Samuel – and us – an apt reminder of the heart of the matter.

So let me ask a bizarre question to make my chief point. What if we didn’t have eyes? Or perhaps if our eyes were different, so that when we “looked” at someone the only thing we saw was what was in their hearts. That is, we could see the heart of the matter.

What would we see?

Pain? Hurt? Woundedness? Sorrow? Deception? Darkness?

What if when we “looked” in the mirror we saw the same things in ourselves?

What we would see is the heart of the matter … how the Lord sees. As God reminded Samuel, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So let’s assume we could actually see other people’s hearts (or maybe even our own … but for now lets focus on the hearts of others). How would it change how we treat people?   How would it change our relationships? How would it change our discussions? How would it change our faith? How would it change our churches? How would it change our world?

My point in this is that we judge what we can actually see and we assume, interpret, and infer the rest. Wrongly. God, of course, does so with pristine accuracy. So with our interactions with one another, if we saw what was in someone’s heart would their “attitude” or “motives” as we see them – wrongly – when seen rightly change how we behave? How we treat them? How we sympathize or perhaps empathize? Chance are, yes, it would change.

So why not seek to make that change happen now? Clearly we cannot see as God sees but we can ask Him to align our hearts and mind to what He sees. We can ask Him to change our hearts and our eyes, and to show us through the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives to start to see the heart of the matter, as He sees.

As we stand here on Good Friday, when Jesus – knowing with 100% accuracy the horrible condition of the heart of the matter in each of us – willingly laid down His life and His rightful prominent position at the right hand of the Father, I think it’s reasonable and right for us to appreciate the gift of salvation brought by Jesus’s death. Especially because He saw the heart of the matter in you and me and still went to the cross. That’s why today, Good Friday, is truly good.

Let’s prayerfully ask God to begin to reveal to us how He sees, and to allow us to begin to develop vision to see the heart of the matter. To see one another’s hearts more … something tells me that might just be the key to repairing all that is wrong in this world. Yeah, we’ll never actually see how God sees … but if we keep seeking, He’ll help us find. Vision. To see the heart of the matter.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Him-ility

humility

Businesses are always looking for it in their employees. For sure in their leadership. We want friends that don’t just preach it but possess it. The church is supposed to live it, though if we’re honest it’s equally rare within as without the church. We desire to embody it, and aspire to be a good example of it, but frankly if we think we have it we probably don’t.

Humility.

It’s probably the single most talked-about and sought-after trait in a fellow human. When we think of the most impactful and memorable (from a positive perspective) leaders throughout history we probably would use that adjective within the first three to describe what made them unique. As common as these factors are about the word, why is it that it’s pretty rare? I mean, I’m certain I don’t possess it and I sure want to. What makes it so difficult when it’s so favored?

I think I struck a chord this week during my reading, and I stumbled upon a scriptural reminder that I am going to keep in my pocket with a great many others that I usually have to tap into from time-to-time. The chord was during my continued daily reading from Deuteronomy 5-34, Psalms 91, and Joshua 1-15, and I’ll embellish more below when I unpack Deuteronomy 8:11-17. The reorientation it spurred in me was a slight revision of the word.

Him-ility.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’

Talk about a great “true north” passage! As I read through it, I had to admit that in many respects I violated the very heart of the listed “bewares.” It sets forth quite the admonition with the underlying theme being to alert us that the more we achieve and accomplish in life, the more apt we are to pat ourselves on the back, to give ourselves a high-five, to puff out our chests, to speak glowingly in the first-person. Think of your favorite politician, actor, athlete, etc. Chances are better than not that it is their service, their hard work, their study, their focus, their gifts, their talents that get the credit for the heights they reach. More often than I’d like to admit … for the heights I’ve reached in life it’s my service, my hard work, my study, my focus, my gifts, my talents that I attribute. That is NOT humility.

So how do we reframe our thinking and acknowledging? Him-ility.

I think the only way we can actually achieve the humility that we are seeking is to redirect our thinking toward Him-ility. The Holy Spirit prompted Moses to write in the Deuteronomy passage the key to Him-ility … it’s about HIM, not about ME. John the Baptist expressed the standard for a Him-ble life when he said of Jesus, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30, NLT)

Note that in John’s words, there are actually two conditionalities to achieving Him-ility. One we tend to assume is how we achieve humility … “I must become less and less.” But IF we really want to achieve humility, we have to chase Him-ility. That’s the part where John says, “He must become greater and greater.” And notice, that part comes first.

I don’t believe there is a true, reliable or lasting path to humility … I mean, Him-ility … without the predicate step of making Jesus more and more and more in our lives. That allows for us to become less and less and less … and in the process for Him to make us more and more and more in the manner that would give Him maximum glory and us maximum blessing. Ironic, huh? When we make Jesus more, we can make ourselves less, and He can make us more (just see 1 Peter 5:6 if you don’t believe me). Hence the ONLY path to humility is Him-ility.

This actually squares with my experience. When I look back … with honesty … on the achievements of my life, just as Moses wrote above, I see God’s hand in all of it. Not a single thing I’ve ever done came as the result of my own ability, effort, gifts, talents or intellect. Any of those things I possess – and those that know me might dispute whether I really possess them haha – are because God provided them. God freed the Israelites from slavery, led them through the wilderness, gave them water from a rock and food from nowhere. If we’re really authentic as we gaze back over our lives, we will also see how He freed us from bondage, led us through our wilderness experiences, and provided us sustenance when it seemed there was none.

Let’s go before God in prayer this week and ask Him to give us not a spirit of humility, but a spirit of Him-ility. Let’s ask Him to help us remember that the only way we can lead our businesses, guide our families, conduct our friendships, and live our lives in a lowly and genuine way is to look to Him. To have Him be more and more and more as the Guide of our lives, so we can be less and less and less. Then, and only then, can He make us more and more and more in His eyes.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

DIY

Do-it-Yourself

Cable and satellite tv, the internet, Lowe’s and Home Depot, and many other influences have enabled me to be handier than I can ever have imagined. I assure you, I was not born with abilities to fix things in my house, car, etc. If you know me, this is where you express your most heartfelt and enthusiastic “amen!” It’s incredible how my ineptitude has been transformed with so many skills I never envisioned. My dad did a good job as I was growing up, and especially after Helen and I got married and owned our own homes, showing me how to change outlets and switches, fixing leaking faucets or unclogging clogs. But the true metamorphosis continues especially with being able to Google anything and to watch the “how to” on YouTube. It … is … AMAZING!

It strikes me that this isn’t just a Michael thing. I suspect that all of us have skills we once only wished we could have. The sheer unadulterated POWER I feel when I can make that “service engine soon” light in my Prius is worth my weight in gold. This is evidenced these days by the advent of the initials D-I-Y (do it yourself) … which I recall nary a mention before the emergence of the various media that have equipped those of us previously unequippable.

This newfound freedom from newfound ability emboldens us. As I was reading this week from Numbers 26-36 and Deuteronomy 1-4, I had a tinge of conviction about the DIY capability I put to use around the house, but not outside of it. Allow me to share from Numbers 32:1-9, and to explain thereafter …

The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned vast numbers of livestock. So when they saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were ideally suited for their flocks and herds, they came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the other leaders of the community. They said, “Notice the towns of Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sibmah, Nebo, and Beon. The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock. If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.” “Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?” Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. “Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land. After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them.

Let me start out by saying that in fairness, the men of Reuben and Gad were misunderstood to be wanting to beg off of the battle to occupy the land the Lord had provided to the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan river. But let’s set that aside for the moment. Because the message here derives from a common thread that may well have been the motivation of the men of Reuben and Gad before they were rebuked by Moses and perhaps “clarified.” We’re not totally sure either way.

Anyhow, when I read this I thought it to be a powerful illustration of the mentality we see in Christendom today. There was a sense on Moses’ part that the men of Reuben and Gad weren’t so much content with the land where they were on the east side of the Jordan. Rather the concern was that they were willing to let the other tribes do the difficult work of going over the Jordan and fighting the foreign tribes that were occupying the land the Lord was providing. Either they were unwilling to join the fight or too afraid to engage in the fight. One way or the other, they were happy to let the others do the hard work. DIY wasn’t exactly uppermost on their minds or burning a hole in their hearts.

Encountering that angle on the passage made me think of our modern day churches. The 80-20 rule is alive and well … 80 percent of the ministry tends to be done by 20 percent of the people. The rest of us engage with church in much the same way we would our favorite DIY television show. As observers, spectators and too infrequently as doers. So much for the D of DIY, at least when it comes to church.

Why are we so unwilling to take on the D of the DIY? I suspect much of it has to do with the assumed hesitation of the men of Reuben and Gad. Crossing the Jordan in and of itself meant having to once again pack up their belongings and move from the comfortable place they were in. It meant messy and arduous work. It meant potential hazards in the actual crossing. It meant being willing to fight the enemies on the other side, and it meant possible taking losses in the short-term to gain victories in the long-term. What it also really meant … and they weren’t seeing … is that even in the DIY there was help. GOD had ALREADY done the work, fought the battle, and won the victory. Even when I take on a DIY project, I still always have available the help and expertise of someone more knowledgeable. When it came to taking the land on the west side of the Jordan, God had already accomplished the task.

And so it is in ministry. On one hand, we have to decide to cross, to battle, and to get involved in often difficult and messy endeavors. But God is the One who does the actual work and wins the actual battle. Hence the folly of being unwilling to minister and get involved. Hence the folly of leaving it to someone else. All we’re signing up for is the willingness to be used … and to be blessed. I can tell you with 100 percent assurance … the times when I’ve been willing to DIY in ministry (which is anything but Y) I have always been the greatest recipient of reward. It’s senseless to DIY at home, but not to DIY where Jesus called us to … Jerusalem (our neighborhood), Judea (our surroundings), Samaria (“across the tracks” where people are different than we are), and the ends of the earth. My prayer for all of us is less and less frequently, will we leave the DIY of God’s work to others.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Super(est) Hero

atom-ant

An ant superhero. Yeah, someone back in the 60s thought that was a good idea. And somehow Atom Ant became a thing. For two years (and lots and lots of reruns) one of the smallest critters on planet earth was considered super enough to be a super hero. In Atom Ant’s case, he had lots of powers … super strength (he’s an ant, after all), super speed, he could fly, and generally was invulnerable. He also had a super computer and exercise / gym equipment (because he wasn’t strong enough somehow?). In other words, he had abilities, knowledge, and powers that others needed in order to fight crime. So much so, that in the cartoons the police were otherwise incapable of fighting crime without having to turn almost incessantly to Atom Ant. Thank God our real police aren’t inept like those in Atom Ant’s metropolis! Regardless, this infinitesimal insect was somehow able to garner our credence that he could secure the world as a super hero.

We give that same credence to Superman, Spiderman, Mighty Mouse (yeah, I know … not so much), Captain America and on and on and on. But how about … God?

As I read this week from Numbers 8 to Numbers 25 and Psalms 90, we find a continual reminder about the incredulous Israelites who, smack-dab in the midst of the Lord’s miracles, can’t muster sufficient confidence in His Ability, Knowledge, and Power. Let me be clear that I’m not intending to bust on them … because when we read Numbers 11:8-23, it’s more than a reflection of them, nearly 4,000 years ago. It’s a reflection of us in relation to the Superest Hero there is.

“And say to the people, ‘Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, “Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” But Moses responded to the Lord, “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month!’ Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!”

The past few months we have watched turmoil reign in our son. When they say that the college application process is difficult, “they” are not exaggerating. It’s brutal … on everyone. It’s especially so as the answers begin to come back. As I noted in a prior post, part of the brutality of the process is in the waiting. For us, the more amplifying factor was when our boy got “deferred” by the school of his dreams. That is, he was neither accepted nor denied.

Of course for him, disappointment, anger, frustration, fear, uncertainty and timidity ensued (if you read through the post-Exodus journey of the Israelites, these are many of the sentiments you will see them express). Perhaps understandable. But Helen and I tried to encourage him with what we feel we know as fact … that God is able. We told Him, while we don’t know whether God will (let him be accepted to the school), we know without a doubt that God can. But despite our best intentions and efforts, he was unyielding. He decided that there was no way the school would accept him, and he didn’t want our encouragement getting his hopes up falsely any more. And that was that. You see, just like the rest of us at times, he was unable to accept and acknowledge the Ability, Knowledge, and Power of the Superest Hero.

It’s the same story for Moses. After the miraculous rescue by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites spend as much time complaining as they do escaping, wandering the desert, constructing the tabernacle, and creating a nation. As would happen in the course of relocating an entire nation, food and water became scarce and the people began to complain about not having meat. God tells Moses not to worry, there will be more than enough meat, to which Moses – tugging at the proverbial cape of the Super(est) Hero – challenges God, asking how in the world that’s plausible.

“But God, there’s no way we can feed this crowd with meat … there’s too many of them!” Let’s face it, anytime we say “but God!” in a disbelieving way, we’re setting ourselves up for a lesson and maybe a painful one. Fortunately for Moses, not in this case, but God responds simply, rhetorically, and powerfully … “Has My arm lost its power?” Wow! Think about this … this is the arm that God has not had to use throughout the Israelites’ journey, because the very power of His will caused plagues to amass against pharaoh and Egypt. It also opened up the Red Sea for the safe passage and rescue of His chosen people. The power of His voice created the heavens and earth and everything in them. Imagine IF He decided to use His arm, how powerful that would be! I don’t think human minds can contemplate the superest powers of the Superest Hero, let alone observe them and survive.

And yet, Moses forgot, and questioned. Just like I do. Just like you probably do. We wonder whether God can do the things that matter to our hearts and our lives. And as a result we’re stuck in the limited possibilities of our capabilities. It’s no wonder we feel unable … we are. But we still resort to the equilibrium position of our powerlessness, mired in a fear of “can’t.” It’s like the police in the Atom Ant show (or any of the other superhero shows frankly), we are overrun from the outset. They consistently had to resort to the power of the superhero … but we pause when it comes to calling upon the Superest Hero.

God CAN. It’s that simple. The question most times is whether God WILL. I get it, that’s rough to wrestle with, no doubt.   Even for Moses who had seen deliverance and miracles the likes of which none of us ever will. So no wonder we have a tough time seeing it too. But like Moses, I think we only have to reorient ourselves to the superest power God has shown time and time again, so that we too can draw certitude in His supremacy.

For our son, well he learned quickly that God CAN, as a direct result of seeing God WILL. Our prayer for him though is that he’ll harken back to this situation when future situations arise. Our prayer is that he’ll look back to see that God CAN without having to see that God WILL.   Hopefulness doesn’t arise from knowing God WILL, it comes from knowing God CAN. Superheroes didn’t always have to use all their abilities to fight off bad guys … they just had to have the abilities. The Superest Hero has ALL OF the abilities. My prayer for us is that we too will be able to look back and know that God CAN, even when we’re uncertain whether God WILL.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

mind_the_gap

I love traveling to the UK. For a while I did so for business several times a year as one of my former companies had an office about an hour north of London. One of my favorite things about the daily living during my travels was experiencing the “English” language. Hearing “Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap,” while trying to board the “Tube” (subway) was a sublime but caution-invoking occurrence. But minding a gap has other intuitive significance. I awoke to it a little this week … for reasons that will make sense shortly.

Over the past several months, we’ve watched the development of our oldest child through the luge chute that is early adulthood. An assortment of unwise and wise choices in reaction to the stimuli – real and perceived – of social pressures, acceptance, identity, and comfort in one’s skin harken back to my years going through that same gauntlet.

When I look back on my years, as I’ve said before, I wish that God long ago would have deleted the video in my head of the things I did, said and thought. Mostly I say that for my benefit. Even though the Bible assures us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NKJV), I have to admit that there remains a feeling of indignity I’ll perhaps never ditch so long as I live and recall those discrete events. I did some really perverse, stupid things … most of the time I danced on a razor’s edge and for some reason, God allowed me to avert critical injury.

But my actions were sinful. They emphatically flouted the Creator’s standard for not just my behavior, but also for my wellbeing, and my fellowship with Him. That’s what sin is … not just what you or I might say is bad or unbecoming … it’s falling short of GOD’S standard of holiness. It damages our fellowship with Him. Ultimately WE lose when we sin. Anything not holy – which seems sometimes to be everything I do, certainly it was in my younger years – is sinful. The Bible says that my compensation for such deportment is eternal separation from God. However … God minded the gap for us.

As I read this week through Leviticus 1 – 27 and Numbers 1 – 7, I peered into long-familiar passages with a refreshed perspective because of how my eyesight has been keenly sharpened in this season. We read through these verses and see the incalculable detail of the construction of the tabernacle, the holy place, the holy of holies and all the accouterments therein. The requirements to experience God’s presence were profound … as we’d expect based on the fact that we’re talking about the Creator of the universe here.

We’re also reminded about the specificity of the conduct of the various offerings, which is summarized in part in Leviticus 9:1-4

After the ordination ceremony, on the eighth day, Moses called together Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, “Take a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defects, and present them to the Lord. Then tell the Israelites, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and take a calf and a lamb, both a year old and without defects, for a burnt offering. Also take a bull and a ram for a peace offering and flour moistened with olive oil for a grain offering. Present all these offerings to the Lord because the Lord will appear to you today.’”

Reading through these passages and the four verses above can lead us to think that we have to construct, organize, orchestrate, sacrifice … do, do, do, do, do … in order to experience God’s presence, receive God’s forgiveness, restore God’s fellowship, etc. We can assume it’s solely upon us to mind the gap. True, this is inherently what the Israelites had to go through, until Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish all the requirements (paraphrased from Matthew 5:17).

With that, we have to think more fully through what do we need to do in order to prepare for the Lord to appear to us? The answer: Not a thing. He’s just waiting for us to receive Him.  He wants to have a relationship with us and wants us to be in the proper spiritual mindset, but that isn’t a predicate requirement to have His presence.

That’s how much He loves us and why Jesus’s sacrifice was so powerful and merciful. It’s over and done. The steps weren’t removed. The requirements weren’t eliminated. The sacrifices weren’t modified. They were completed in full by Jesus, because God realized we’d never be able to uphold the standards.

I guess I’ve just been struck and have been reflecting on the colossal love Jesus showed in covering what was an infinite distance between His perfect holiness and my filthiness. When I recognize that He didn’t just excuse what I did, He actually allow the extremity of the penalty to be exacted … just on Himself and not on me … I can’t help but marvel. He didn’t just mind the gap, He closed it entirely.

Don’t misconstrue, I never murdered or molested or raped anyone … acts in the extreme most people associate with “sin” and “perversity” … but in the framework of a holy God my lies, partying, and general depravity measured up equivalently. And yet, Jesus stands before us, arms outstretched, ready to receive, embrace, and carry us when necessary, looking at us not as if to ask, “what have you done for me lately?” but rather to express in love, “do you know all that I did for you and how much it pleased me to do so?”

My prayer for you and me this week is that we’ll just stop and reflect a little. If you’re a Christian, reflect on the gaps God minded for you through Jesus and just position yourself with a heart of gratitude. It’s warranted. If you’re not (yet) a Christian, please consider the gap that exists between you and your Creator. Not to beat yourself over the head, but simply to observe, as you would when boarding the Tube, the gap. In other words, mind the gap, but recognize that Jesus closed it for you (for us) if you’re just willing to accept it. Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

Soli Deo gloria,

MR