Your Hands

You hands–warm, strong, and steady–have held me together these years.

You knitted me in my mother’s womb–every sinew, nerve, and bone. Down to the most intricate detail your hands made me perfect.

You held me up as I learned to walk and and rejoiced over me with song as I grew and ran with arms spread open to the sun and wind. Yes, you were there long before I even began to have a notion of who you were. From you I learned the true meaning of joy. From your hands I have received only good things.

You lifted me, when I was drowning and dark waves of terror overwhelmed me. You held me back all those years ago when an encounter with a speeding car would have surely ended my life. You hands saved me from myself and from the enemy.

Life went on, and as it surely does sunshine sometimes gave way to shadows. But in your infinite power You saved me from homelessness. You never ever failed to provide shelter and food. How wonderful you are! Yes, your hands always provide.

From you I have received and received and received. Yes, your hands are the source of all that is good in my life.

I am filled with wonder at how the hands that created this world, direct the flowing rhythm of nature, and hung the stars in space are the same hands that my sin marred for all eternity. How is it that your nail-pierced hands still beckon to me? How is it that they draw me closer and closer to you?

I can never hope to match your gifts. But I can learn from you and follow your example.

Let my hands be an extension of your own hands. May whatever they create or do be excellent and give glory to you. May my hands have the strength to lift others up when they fall. May they give more than receive, and may they be open to others just as your hands are ever open to me.

Mountain of Intercession, Valley of Interaction

So Joshua…fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (Exodus 17:10 ESV)

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites camp in Exodus 17, Moses bid Joshua take men to battle with the assurance that he would be praying for him. Thus, the battle took place on two fields that day: In the valley of interaction with Joshua, and in the mountain of intercession, with Moses. Both battlefields are important.

  1. “Divine strength is to be combined with human effort— There is a saying in Spanish that says A Dios orando y con el maso dando. Literally it means “Praying to God as you strike with the hammer” God blesses human efforts, and his blessing come in proportion to how much energy and effort you put in.
  2. The success you get while in the valley of interaction will be dependent on whether you are winning or losing ground in the mountain of intercession. It was noted that whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed (Exodus 17:11).

Those are the “obvious” lessons. They deal with success in the valley of interaction. But there is one more that I’m driving at, and it deals with success in the mountain of intercession. It is a much more complex thing.

* * *

One of the things I’ve just now come to understand is that though the purposes of God are incredibly mysterious to us, they resolve beautifully in the end. That chain of events when life seemed to get out of control made perfect sense once I was able to look back, connect the dots, and see how God made much good come out of it. Oswald Chambers put it like this:

The circumstances of a saint’s life are ordained of God. In the life of a saint there is no such thing as chance. God by His providence brings you into circumstances that you cannot understand at all…bringing you into places and among people and into conditions in order that the intercession of the Spirit in you may take a particular line…to bring them before God’s throne and give the Spirit in you a chance to intercede for them.

So for the past two weeks I took this to heart. I made a list in a paper of the people in my life—family, friends, and other people I interact with and I prayed over them daily. My prayer time increased by as much as fifteen minutes. It was a short list, you see.

But each day as I prayed I thought of a new name, and added it to the list so that it grew and grew. It came to include people I love, and people I cannot stand. People I wish I could help, people I want to avoid. People I admire and people I secretly envy. People who have hurt me and people who have brought me joy. People that inadvertently make my life miserable, and people whom I have hurt. People I need to forgive, and people whom I need forgiveness from. People who are poor and sick and in great need. People who seem to have it all.

As you may imagine, my prayer time increased dramatically the longer my list grew. Praying more is, indeed, a benefit. However, I never imagined that after my first week or so I would have to encounter some people whom I could not face. People I literally hid from. They had been in my mind as I prayed, and in my heart of hearts I begged God to make them go away from my life.

The answer to this prayer came the next week. I was forced to encounter them, and yet it was so sudden and unexpected that I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed or nervous. Instead I was empowered to face the situation with grace, and I parted amicably with them.

It took a few minutes for me to realize that in reality, while I had been praying for other people, God had been at work in me, preparing me to go down to battle.

* * *

It is a tendency we all have to seek the Lord when we are in the greatest need. The truth, however, is that the victory in the battlefield is won in part by how we pray up in the mountain of intercession.

Why? Maybe it is because that is where we get out of ourselves. Instead of looking at our lives from the angle of our needs, our complaints, and our particular point of view, we begin to see it as part of a vast, living network. Each of us precious and important to God. Or maybe it is because we realize that there are others who are in greater need, in more pain, and whose troubles are greater than ours–Yet how awesome is it when we are reminded of God’s power when we see the answers of our prayers in other people’s lives? Super awesome. I just think that when we pray for others we empty ourselves and begin grow more and become more conscious of God’s work on Earth.

Sooner or later we all have to go down into battle, but until the next battle rages, are you preparing yourself in the mountain of intercession?

The Siren's Song

When the Sirens Sing

Enjoying intimacy with God involves walking in the Spirit. And walking in the Spirit MUST involve gaining victory over the flesh. It’s not a life of no longer being tempted. It is a life of overcoming temptation.

The following is entirely from J. Oswald Sanders; a passage I read this morning that I thought I should share:

The key is not the mere damming back of the temptation, only for it to break out once again, worse than ever. It is the counteraction operation of a higher and more powerful law. The principle [can be] powerfully illustrated in the Greek myths of Ulysses and the sirens, and Jason and the Argonauts.

When Ulysses and his men set out on their journey of conquest, they were warned by Circe to avoid the sirens at all costs. She told them that the sirens’ voices were alluring but fatal to all who stopped to listen. The unfortunate listeners became rooted like a tree and could not tear themselves away, until they died of hunger.

“Fill your companions’ ears with wax” she counseled. “If you yourself want to listen to their song, first let your men bind you securely to the mast.” Ulysses heeded her advice. “If the melody beguiles me,” he ordered them, “I charge you, disobey my word, and bend more strongly to your oars.”

At length Ulysses heard the beautiful strains that stole into his mind, overpowered his body, and overcame his will. As the music came sweeter and sweeter, Ulysses’ love for home weakened. He struggled with his shame, but at last the bewitching voices of the sirens prevailed.

“Loose me and let me stay with the sirens!” he raged. He threatened and entreated… He raged and tore at his bonds, for it was agony for him to leave the spot. But not until the last sound of music died away did they loose him. He had passed out of the zone of temptation.

Jason with his Argonauts set out in search of the Golden Fleece. Medea warned Jason and his men of the menace of the sirens, as they began to hear their bewitching strains. All around they could see the shore strewn with the bones of those who had succumbed to the sirens’ charms.

On board the boat was Orpheus, the king of minstrels. “Let them match their songs with mine,” he challenged the three maidens whom they could see, and whose silvery voices stole over the moonlit waters…The oars of Jason’s heroes fell from their hypnotized hands.

“Sing louder! Wake up these sluggards!” Medea cried to Orpheus. Orpheus struck his skillful hand over the strings of his lyre, and his voice rose like a trumpet. The music penetrated the souls of the infatuated men, and their souls thrilled. Orpheus kept on singing until his voice completely drowned the voices of the sirens. Once again the Argonauts took up their oars, and Jason and his men sailed to victory.

“Sing the song again, Orpheus,” they cried. “We will dare and suffer to the last.”

* * *

These stories strikingly illustrate two possible ways of gaining victory over the desires of the flesh. One is the way of negations and prohibitions. They are of some help and have their place. Ulysses was bound, otherwise he would have yielded to the cravings of his heart. His men had wax in their ears, or they too would have yielded. But it is an incontrovertible fact that to concentrate the mind on the desires of the flesh, if only to conquer them, seems to intensify the desires.

How much better is the Orphean music than the Ulyssian wax! With the heavenly Orpheus on board, as we listen to His heavenly music, the voices of the sirens lose the power of their appeal, and our spirits are set free.

It is all a matter of who is in control of the life. The self-life with its unlawful desires and tendencies is the citadel of the fleshly principle, and will continue to dominate until it is consigned to the cross. Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). That is involved in walking by the Spirit and results in our emancipation from yielding to the desires of the flesh.

– – –

Sanders, J. Oswald. Enjoying Intimacy with God “Walking in the Spirit”

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.

A letter to my Church Sisters

A Letter to My Church Sisters

Dear Church Sisters:

First of all, thank you for drawing me out of my shell yesterday at church. I wanted to run away instead of talking and listening to you. Why? Because I’ve come to hate small talk that includes questions such as: “How are you?”, “How was your week?”, and “How is work?” Ugh. You have a particular gift of holding down timid people like me and making good use of each encounter; though I wanted to run away you still managed to bombard me your good advice.

The truth is I am doing ok, but it feels like I’m doing badly. My week was very busy, though it felt like I was wasting a bunch of time, and work–well . . . can we please have a conversation that doesn’t involve work? Work is well enough where I left it, two or three weeks ago when I quit. I don’t want to talk about work, I feel nauseous, and apologetic, so let’s please drop it.

Please understand, Sisters, that I am bewildered at life–It’s not at all like I thought it would be. I’d always known myself to be smarter and talented than most. But life is about grit and determination, not just ability. And to get the job you really want is mostly about who you know more than your GPA and the awards you get. The discovery of truth felt like having the ground you stand on suddenly drop out. Furthermore, it’s embarrassing to admit that I don’t have it together, that I am struggling against the feeling of failure in most areas of my life.

It’s come to the point that the place where I could find comfort and refuge–the church–has become a place that I dread going to because I look at so many happy and fulfilled people and I find myself wishing I could be like them. Finally, it’s because there I encounter people like you; people who make me uncomfortable, that persist in drawing me out, and challenge me to embrace the future, and love myself regardless of my circumstances. I hate it. But I realize I have more reasons to love it than to hate it. Because family and people who really care will give you advise, and will deliver that smack in the back of the head to put you back in reality, and tell it like it is–and all in love.

That is why I have to say Thank You. Thank you for caring enough about me. I was annoyed, and I even felt like crying in the restroom after talking to you. But I know you are right–and I know that it was very good advice. I expected no less from a real church family.

I know this phase will soon pass. God willing, I will soon find my place in the world where I will do the most good. And one day my heart will be filled with love and compassion for a young, bewildered youth who is feeling lost and lonely and insignificant. When that day comes, I hope to be wise and caring enough to return the favor–just as you did.

Sincerely,

Paula (on behalf of the Young Adults in your church)

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

How to Find Treasure

When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight (Jer 15:16)

Shortly after Jack Thomas graduated from college as a Mining Engineer, gold was discovered at Devil’s Head Lake, Montana. So Jack headed West.

Three years later the death of his father left him with $20,000 in cash to which he added another $20,000 collected from relatives and friends. With the $40,000 he headed back to Devil’s Head Lake and staked out his claim on a formation he had been studying and was convinced gave promise.

With machinery bought, a crew hired, he started to drill. But at the end of two years he was worn out . . .  discouraged . . . and broke. All he had left was the battered drilling machinery and an assortment of tools and supplies. Utterly disillusioned and disgusted, he sold the entire outfit to a junk man for $1,500.

But before carting the machinery away the junk man looked over the ground. He had a hunch that Jack’s mining knowledge might have been good . . . but that he might have been a bit short on grit and determination.

So, instead of dismantling the machinery, he decided to do a little drilling on his own.

Thirty days later . . . exactly two feet below where Jack [had] stopped . . . the junk man hit one of the most valuable gold streaks in the region. [1]

“As the miner discovers veins of precious metal concealed beneath the surface of the earth, so will he who perseveringly searches the word of God as for hid treasure find truths of the greatest value, which are concealed from the view of the careless seeker.” [2]

* * *

Oftentimes I find that it is all too-easy to miss out on God’s message to me because I don’t focus on what I am reading. I read a Psalm, or a chapter of Proverbs and I consider that as enough, when that is barely scratching the surface of a treasure mine.

Sometimes I am too busy to dwell on what I read, to seek out more information, or to pray about it. I suspect most of us are like that. But how great would it be if we daily devoted an hour just to seek God’s messages for us in the Bible?

– – –

[1] Spangler, W. M.Trigonometry and Graphs, (Scranton: International Textbook Company, 1954) Jacket

[2] White, E. G. Steps to Christ, “A Knowledge of God”