Look to Jesus

The Israelites were traveling through a barren land. It has a really bad time. They’d just failed to get permission from the Edomite king to peacefully take the direct route to Canaan through Edom, and now they were forced to continue the long southern dessert road to go around Edom to reach the Promised Land. Just when they thought they had seen the last of the dessert they were forced back into it. To make matters worse they had even been attacked by a bunch of Arads. Granted, the Lord had helped them and the Israelites had defeated their foes, but still…

“And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ (Numbers 21:4-5)

And so, because of their sin of unbelief God withdrew the protection he’d placed over them, and allowed fiery snakes to approach the people and bite them, “so that many people of Israel died.” (21:6)

The people were soon sorry for what they’d done, and begged Moses to intercede on their behalf. “So Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (21:7-9)

* * *

Note to Self: STOP LOOKING AT YOURSELF! LOOK TO JESUS ONLY!!!!!!

That’s all.

* * *

More? Ok. Here’s a tough lesson I’ve just learned.

When I pray, I cannot look at my self.
When I read the Bible, I cannot look at my self.
When I tell others about God, I cannot look at my self.

In short; whenever I’m the weakest and whenever I should be looking for God the most I cannot waste time or energy to look at my self.

Looking at my self is a simple and rather tasteless exercise; but it’s one we do often enough when we’re at the end of our rope. When we feel the weakest, we reach back into the recess of consciousness and drag out the trembling likeness of the internal self. The one we (sometimes) hate so much, but love to use as our excuse. For me it is that neurotic girl with all her psychoses, and doubts, fears, obsessions, insecurities, phobias and the like.

When I look to my self, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I’ll never in a million years measure up. I become so discouraged at the work in process that I begin to doubt in the almighty God who is at work in me. And it is at that exact moment when I should be drawing strength from God, that I am only feeling sorry for myself, focusing on my deficiencies, and placing myself in the spot where Satan, that old serpent, wants me at.

* * *

It took forty years of desert wilderness before the Israelites could go into the Promised Land, and even at the threshold of paradise they still had much to answer for. Their faith was not as it should have been. They were still a mess—a work in progress, just like you and me. They looked into themselves and became discouraged, even impatient, and so doubted God.

The fiery snakes had always been in that desert, and for the past 40 years had never bothered the Israelites, for God’s protection was always with his people. When the people doubted God and eschew his blessings, they placed themselves away from his protection–right where the enemy wanted them. But what they needed to bring them back to life was Jesus.

They only had to look to the serpent in the pole which represented Jesus’ life-giving work for humanity.

So when the serpent comes after you, and you’re feeling weak, look at Jesus. Don’t look to yourself, your current circumstances, your shortages, etc. There is no merit in you at all.

Look to Jesus.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16)

Everything and Nothing

The grief and longing of the human soul for things lost are made almost tangible by the poetic words. In the story, when the lovers reunite once more, the young maid cries,

So many times have I waked when the stars were sinking, to long for thee, beloved. It is cruel, at such a time, to be alone in love. . .

They marry in haste that same afternoon. She—the love of his life, now a beggar, a faded beauty. And she is dying. He—a counselor to the Sultan and exceedingly rich.

The judge officiating the wedding asks for the terms of the marriage. What can she bring to her husband as dowry?

“Property?” Omar smiled. “Hair dark as the storm wind, a waist slender as a young cypress, and a heart that knoweth naught but love. She needs no more. Make haste!”

The judge tells the scribe to writes down “Nothing of tangible value”

“And Now, what property doth your Excellency bestow upon her?”

“Everything—all that I have.”

“Will your Excellency please consider that we must place reasonable terms on record? ‘Everything’ will not stand before the law. We must have itemization…and their approximate value—”

“Write ‘Everything of tangible value,’” Omar instructed the scribe . . .

Later, before showering his bride with gifts of silk, jewels, gold, damask, and pearls Omar whispered to her “O my bride, never wilt thou know other arms than mine.”

* * *

I like stories. Don’t you?

Here’s another one.

Once upon a time, there came a Prince sent from Heaven. He was humble in garb, but was still the Son of God, and he captivated the world. He brought joy, healing, and good news for everyone. After all, he came to earth to be with the fallen race, a people who were poor, and dying…

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

In short, he gave them Everything, when they could give him Nothing in return.

This, my modern friends, was rash indeed. The exchange of the dowry was customary in the Eastern culture. A marriage contract had to be made official with the exchange of monetary gifts. It was as important as what we would consider an exchange of vows.

Yet time and time again in the Bible, it is God who makes the initiative to seek you out, and take you as you are as his Bride. Because the one thing you can give him–that which is “nothing of tangible value” to others–means everything to him.

So will you give him your heart?

– – –

[1] Lamb, Harold Omar Khayyam (New York: Bantam, 1956) p.94

 

While Reading the Bible, Discard the Brain (But Keep the Heart)

Most cultures in antiquity designated the heart not only as the seat of emotion, but also the seat of thought.[i] That’s why the Egyptians, for example, extracted and discarded the “useless” gray matter (i.e. brain) prior to the mummification of the dead (“Who cares what this mushy stuff is?It’s just gross… Hurry up and get it out”).

The heart, however, was jealously and carefully stored, because it was responsible for life, desires, and thoughts.

This same attribution occurred in the Jewish culture, which is why in the Bible the meaning of so many passages in which the heart is mentioned should be re-considered—there is additional depth to the heart than we can suppose upon a cursory reading. It is, therefore, convenient to re-define the meaning of heart as used in the Bible. Better yet, discard the notion/function of the brain as the seat of thought and keep the heart instead.

According to some sources, the heart was the “seat of all morality and of all moral and spiritual functions.”[1] This encompassed the conscience, and the thinking self.

In short, what came from the heart was much more than emotion. It was thought of as “the authority within.”[2] In other words, the will.

* * *

 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

By the fact that “heart” is mentioned in this passage, it describes this love as being much more than a love based on emotions; it is based on a total surrender of the will and the self. A love coming from what makes you you—a conscious love, not a heedless, reckless thing.

This begs the question—how does one love God like that?  How can we, people who have so distorted the definition of love to include everything from affection, to fleeting infatuation (even erotic passion), properly respond? Is God simply asking for the impossible?

* * *

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

God’s promise is to give you a new heart—and with it a new way of thinking, a new way of making decisions, a new way of being your own self. That is what makes the promise in Ezekiel so much more meaningful than before. God wants to give you a new set of values by which you are able to live by. Obedience of his law comes natural to the new heart he gives you, because it has transformed the “authority within” you. It is no longer you, but Christ who lives, thinks, and is in you.


[i] It wasn’t until Herophilos in Alexandria (Egypt) did many studies in human anatomy by means of dissections, that the center of thought was relocated from the heart to the brain, and the mechanical connection between the heart, the pulse, and the flowing of blood in the veins was first grasped.

Visions Of God

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the thirtieth year, while I  was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1)

Visions of God.

Distinctly different than Visions from God.

* * *

These were not only visions given by God, but manifestations of the divine glory of God. These types of visions are theophanies [theophany in the singular], and often took place at the beginning of the ministry of a prophet. Recall Isaiah seeing the mighty throne of God, Moses in front of the burning bush, John (the disciple) seeing Christ in the midst of the seven lamp stands . . . .

Why would God give his prophets visions of himself? One can consider it as a type of initiation for one who is now to enter a new realm of knowledge and perception, a new stage of his life, a new responsibility and mission.[1]

* * *

I think when we are called to do a work—whether great or small—for Christ, God manifests his glory to us in some way or another. And yet, the manifestation is different from person to person, and often it is impossible to explain to others. Ezequiel, for example, describes what he saw: four beings of human form—but so strangely unlike humans at the same time. Four wheels. Lightning and thunder. Voices. A throne of lapis lazuli upon which was

“a figure whose face resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day” (Ezequiel 1:26-28)

* * *

It is said[2] that the purpose of Ezequiel’s vision was to assure the exiles that despite the bleak outlook of the future, the current events had not escaped God’s control. It was to be an assurance that God was in complete control of the cosmos and the affairs of the world.

A revelation of God, therefore, can be a new insight to his character, a reminder of mercy, and a deeper knowledge of his love.

– – –

Have you ever had a vision of God?

What is the duty, if any, of anyone who has ever received such a vision of God?

What do you think is the meaning of the rainbow halo?

What could this symbol have signified to a people who had been through great hardship?


[1] Comentario Biblico Adventista del Septimo Día. Vol 4. (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985) p.604 Translated from Spanish by Paula

[2] Ibid, p. 607

God’s Hand

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. (Proverbs 3:27 NLT)

The ropes dug painfully into his armpits as he was lowered down into the dungeon. The air was damp and foul, and very little could be seen by the wan light of the late afternoon that entered in through the small opening above—an opening that kept getting smaller and smaller the further down he was lowered.

They said this dungeon had been a cistern that was now emptied of water…just how deep was it? Jeremiah did not know. At last he felt his feet touch the bottom. Well, there was no danger of him drowning—What his feet touched was not water…but mud: thick, cold and viscous into which Jeremiah sank.

Complete darkness engulfed him when they closed the cistern. At last he understood—he had been left to die there: Buried alive in mud and darkness, alone, and in the silence of the grave.

He must have struggled against panic. His heart and even his faith could have failed him with the realization that the evil men’s intent was that he should die in that pit of mire. To cry out for help was useless—had not king Zedekiah himself delivered Jeremiah to the hand of enemies? Besides, no one would be able to hear the feeble cries coming up from the pit. And if that wasn’t enough, the unpopular prophet had few friends, and none who could overturn the order of a king. Only one could help—and to him did Jeremiah cry out

But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!” Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.” (Lamentations 3:55-57 NLT)

***

But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, an important court official, heard that Jeremiah was in the cistern. At that time the king was holding court at the Benjamin Gate, so Ebed-melech rushed from the palace to speak with him. “My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.”

So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to a room in the palace beneath the treasury, where he found some old rags and discarded clothing. He carried these to the cistern and lowered them to Jeremiah on a rope. Ebed-melech called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes.” Then when Jeremiah was ready, they pulled him out. (Jeremiah 38:7-13 NLT)

***

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. (Proverbs 3:27 MSG)

God could have easily sent an angel and delivered Jeremiah. God can use angels to feed the hungry, rescue the oppressed, speak up for truth, and spread the message of hope to the nations. But he gives us the opportunity to do this work, to be his hands, his feet, and be the means by which he gives blessings to others. That is why we are in the world. We are not told to be hermits and be holy by ourselves. The biggest blessing we can receive is that of being an agent—an ambassador—of God.

If Ebed-melech the Ethiopian had not heeded to the call of God and been brave enough to approach the king to plead Jeremiah’s cause, he might have ended up the way all the other king’s officials did: Taken captive by Nebuzaradan, dragged to Riblah in chains to face Nebuchadnezzar, and then put to death. But God had a special message for him; a promise that any of God’s children can claim if they do God’s bidding and are faithful to their trust.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!”(Jeremiah 39:16-18 NLT)

Have you claimed the privilege of being God’s hand for someone lately?

Long-Distance Relationship

I still remember the boy I loved. How can anyone ever forget the first requited love of their life?

It’s been years since then, and I’ve turned into a wry spinster of sorts. But still, I can’t forget random small memories of him. Like how, for example, he once caught me in a hallway as I passed, pulled me inside an empty classroom, and laughingly whispered a few bits of nonsense in my ear before letting me go on my way, with my face burning, because he’d just kissed me.

Ours was a tender relationship, with the blessing of our respective parents to boot. Who knows, maybe it would have fledged into something serious. Alas, it was not to be, because the inevitable happened—my first boyfriend moved away, ending the small gestures of affection that characterize puppy love, and leaving behind a little girl crying out for her first love.

* * *

I am the first to tell my friends that a long-distance relationship cannot work. Lovers’ promises of undying affection and devotion cannot survive the great divide of time and space. Or can they?

* * *

“…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

When I read the last chapter of Matthew a few months ago, I was incredibly perturbed. I felt a great and extreme sadness. How could anyone that loved Jesus, that walked with him, that enjoyed close friendship and communion with the Son of God not be overcome by the sorrow? Sure I knew about the logistics of the master plan—the Holy Spirit coming to earth as the comforter, etc. That wasn’t the point.

You see, I knew the singular pain that comes with the realization that things are not the same, and that the hope of eventually meeting up again is not enough to keep a relationship going.

* * *

“…I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)

If it were up to us humans to keep the relationship going (if it were based on our love and faithfulness), then surely whatever relationship we could have with Jesus would end soon after it sparks into being. But God’s love is as everlasting as God himself is.

I take hope in the knowledge that God himself is the guarantee of this relationship working out even when we can’t enjoy physical proximity. I believe that the ties of love that bind you and me to heaven are stronger—infinitely stronger than any human-forged ties. There is no beginning of His love, nor an end of it. It is boundless and ever present.

Physical separation is not enough to break such ties, and neither is our betrayal or our sin or our forgetfulness powerful enough a reason to break the love of God.

* * *

I bask in the knowledge that there is one who loves me greatly and tenderly. I read his love letters every day, and talk to him continually.

I’m 27 years old, my love life is a total wasteland. To most people I appear to be the one that disdains romance, who is proud of being the opposite of a man-magnet. A cynic. But truly, that’s all just a flimsy front.

My Heavenly Prince is the one that makes and keeps me hopelessly and incurably romantic.

The Prophet No One Really Knows About

At this time Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-Jearim was also prophesying for the Lord. And he predicted the same terrible disaster against the city and nation as Jeremiah did . . . (Jeremiah 26:20 NLT)

Throughout the book of Jeremiah, there is a particular evil mentioned over and over again. Not just that of the apostacy of the people as they went after other gods, but that of the distortion of truth. The priests did not preach the truth to the people, and many, many false prophets rose up and told the people “Peace” when the people most needed to heed the Lord’s warnings.

Jeremiah had few friends. Yes, he is a very important prophet in the Bible, but in his day he was scorned, mocked, beaten, and even jailed several times. He lived in the last years of the Judean Kingdom, stood in the presence of many kings, lived to see all his predictions of doom come true, and the hand of God deliver him time and time again.

And Jeremiah needed it. His life was often in danger because he openly decried against the sins of the nation.

“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this Temple and this city,” he said. “The Lord gave me every word that I have spoken. But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will change his mind about this disaster that he has announced against you. As for me, I am in your hands—do with me as you think best. But if you kill me, rest assured that you will be killing an innocent man! The responsibility for such a deed will lie on you, on this city, and on every person living in it. For it is absolutely true that the Lord sent me to speak every word you have heard.” (Jer 26:12-15)

Likewise Uriah the prophet prophesied the same message of the Lord. He was not a phony prophet, he had the truth, and spoke it. He was just as effective as Jeremiah, I imagine, otherwise King Jehoiakim and his officers might not have considered him a threat.

When King Jehoiakim and the army officers and officials heard what he was saying, the king sent someone to kill him. But Uriah heard about the plan and escaped in fear to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Acbor to Egypt along with several other men to capture Uriah. They took him prisoner and brought him back to King Jehoiakim. The king then killed Uriah with a sword and had him buried in an unmarked grave. (Jer 26:21-23)

* * *

Egypt is considered to be a symbol of atheism; the disdainful attitude towards the Living God (Exodus 5:2). It also symbolizes the luxury, peace, and relative safety that the world offers. How often do we see in the Bible the children of God (often mistakenly) looking to Egypt as a refuge–and called out of Egypt to claim their rightful destiny? Could it be that Uriah looked not to God but to human strongholds for protection? Could it be that Uriah forfeited his God and abandoned his calling as the Lord’s messenger in order to pass for a nameless nobody? It is possible he did.

Uriah wasn’t the only one whom Jehoiakim wanted to kill. When the scribe Baruch read the scroll of the messages Jeremiah had had from God, both Baruch’s life and Jeremiah’s life were in danger. It is true they feared for their lives–they were told to hide–but there was no abandoning the post. It takes a deep trust in God to keep doing what he says you must do in face of great opposition. God took on an active role in their protection because when the king commanded the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah, he himself hid them and kept them from harm (Jer 36:26).

* * *

What are some ways we tend to “look to Egypt” as our refuge? How can this possibly twart God’s purposes for you?

What are some promises in the Bible that tell of God’s protective care for his children?

Are we guaranteed the protective care of God in every situation? (see for example Daniel 3:17-18)