When the Cloud Lifts {part 1}

Exodus 13:20-22

21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

We are fortunate to live in a time when there is a great deal of nature programming available that showcases the wonder and beauty of creation in all immense glory and meticulous detail.  One can imagine what it was like when there were fewer people and larger swaths of unspoiled wilderness.  One feature showed an enormous school of anchovies swimming in what is known as a bait bell, swirling as does a storm.  The swirl is huge and as predators look to attack, all they can see is the huge swirl of fish bodies.  The fish swim within the swirl where they are protected by reason of sheer number.  This is the similar behavior of herds of wildebeest.  As long as they are in the flow of the movement, they are following their destiny. Psalm 91 is rich with promises and provisions given to believers.  Verse 1 provides one of the main conditions under which the ensuing promises are met.  “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”;  that is, as one remains in His presence – presumably close enough to be in His shadow, all of the conditions for the promises will be met. 

Clouds are symbolic of several things in scripture as Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/cloud they are so amazing and beautiful that we must continue this study soon.

For unto you is born this day . . .

The most amazing thing about writing  this blog is how after writing things again and again. Sometimes you get breakthroughs in awesome ways. I was watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the umpteenth time.  I’ve watched and enjoyed it time and again, laughing at all the jokes in the same places.  
I always [frequently] get goosebumps when Linus quotes parts of Luke chapter 2 informing Charlie what the real meaning of Christmas is.  He got to the verse 11 and I heard it new for the umpteenth time again.  
       11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.


This is the Christmas message, a presentation for the world.  An announcement, a proclamation from the voices of angels, it is veritable truth yet written upon the page may miss your scrutiny and fail to boggle your little mind.  Clearly someone reads it in our hearing every year.  The problem for me and many I know is that we have been reading the King James Version all our lives yet we barely understand what is meant by the words on the page. Let’s take this verse apart bit by bit.


For unto you – This was spoken by the heavenly host, a huge number of angels summoned and sent to the shepherds to proclaim the debut of the kingdom, announced by John but delivered by a newborn. 
is born this day in the city of David – context for the announcement and specification that this is the offspring of David and fulfillment of the prophesy concerning where he is to be born
a Saviour, – one who will live up to his name, and deliver his people from destruction
which is Christ – affirmation that he is the Messiah but not only that . . . 

the Lord – an oft used old English word that has not been well translated to modern English because there is no equivalent word.  Lord means ‘owner’ and it has other connotations including one having authority, or influence.  It means Master.   He owns the world and all of us.  He had authority and wrest all other authority from death and the grave. 
The angels declared it and we wait until the world discovers the truth proclaimed that fateful night.  May you revel in that revelation again and again!  Merry Christmas!

Gethsemane’s Test

This season offers more of an opportunity to place Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection into a live discussion because of Resurrection Day, an actual ‘Holy-day’.  There is more time for interesting conversations with children on why he came, lived and died.  A question was posed by our church’s Christmas play: “Why didn’t he come as a Ninja superhero?”

As surely as the hymnist said: “Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?”  We all struggle knowing our actual worth, is so inadequate for the devotion and sacrifice he showed.  The supreme submission, devotion, and surrender he exemplified is an example for us all.   This was not the act of a god or even the son of God in a titular role.  Christ was fully God and fully man at the same time.  Even then, he was not subject to death as we are – he had no sin to be liable for.   He did not have to die hence the words “I lay down my life . . . no man taketh it from me” [John 10:17-18].  He was not killed and those who try to vilify the jews for the crime are confused on the concept. 

Someone HAD to die to legally pay the sin debt for you and I (all humanity).  His humanity was reluctant and struggled to surrender both His life and his contact with the Father.  He consoled his friends by sharing the promise foretold by the prophets.  

He had been preparing for His sacrifice for some time.  At the transfiguration, he was provided counsel by Moses and Elijah regarding his departure [exodos].  Alone in Gethsemane, the three gospels provide what Jesus asks of the Father. He asks if it is possible, to remove the suffering that he must endure.  Mark 14:36  ” . . . nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt. ”  He then relegates his will to that of the Fathe or he submits his will to the Father.   Jesus leads absolutely in the way that we have failed to imagine because we wouldn’t have the insight to give up our will.  It’s not something we would do.  

Salvation of the soul encompasses the restoring and redemption of the three components of the soul i.e. the mind, the will and the emotions.  These components are sacrificially given back to God so that they can be transformed and made acceptable.   We are told that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16)  and that our minds must be renewed and we learn that in order to have the compassion of Christ we must change to be like him.  In that same manner, we must then forfeit our will, as he did to complete our soul restoration (Psa. 23:3) 

This is what happened in Gethsemane, this exemplified his great surrender and passion to give and to show not only surrendering his body but surrendering his everything for us in a way we are only beginning to appreciate.  

Love Unknown . . .

Watching Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series is at once a celebration and glimpse of melancholy.  Reflecting on the CNN series has allowed me to revel in the profound depth of diversity that exists on our planet while I marvel at the commonality we share as humans in a big world that has never been smaller.
Many have written and commented on the life and sudden demise of the popular chef and host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown“.  He was rich, famous and dashing.  He had the world on a string.  Were there signs of depression or hopelessness in those last episodes?  Didn’t his producer or crew see it coming?  Were there no harbingers of hope or purveyors of the gospel near?
Bourdain stands stoically as journalist; the famous CNN reporter asking the hard questions and pushing boundaries.  He frequently looks gaunt and even frail wandering about distant and isolated cities, sometimes looking as if he’s coming off a bender.
He was incredible at aiming fresh eyes at locales and cultures.   He found the features and areas that were off the “beaten path” and described cultures and cultural artifacts in a way that was astute and timely.  His sensibilities were never cliche.  He was not susceptible to trending opinion or easy answers.  His show displayed and proclaimed unique and honest integrity from all corners of the world without preference to colonialist or nationalist persuasion.
His instinct for cuisine and his appetite was open to indigenous and ancient palettes.  It never seemed that he was trying new tastes, it was as if he had sampled everything and knew when he was tasting the best.  As a chef, he was bold and at least on camera would taste anything.
There was an episode where a Brazilian madman was randomly shooting toward a restaurant where he was dining.  His cameraman and producer both dived in to protect him.  He was not impressed, nor did he seem grateful.  This was his real penchant, after all his accomplishment, fame and acclaim, he did not seem hungry for more nor ingratiated by his outcome[s].  In hindsight, he had frequently told his viewers that he traveled 50 weeks a year.
Life lost is always a shame, but when it appears that one has chosen suicide out of desperation it is dreadful.  Considering the pain Bourdain had experienced, made it seem so much worse.  I’m reminded that this life is merely as stage upon which we prepare for eternity.  Even someone who seemingly has it all, felt that life was meaningless.  He was quoted to say that though his father was Jewish, “I have never been in a synagogue . . .  “

The Rigor of Followship

My ten year-old son is growing and trying out his wings on new tasks.  We were bicycling one of our favorite trails and he thoroughly surprised me by his departure speed and attack.  He has suggested this trail and any assumption that he was comfortable was elementary.  I only needed to follow.  I assumed that it would be gravy.   It was.  I was free to daydream and enjoy the ride.  It then occurred to me that this experience turned metaphor needed exploration.  

In business, nonprofit ventures, government, sports even the church, there is no end to talk about leadership.  Rightly so, but the corresponding wisdom says that one must master following before attempting to lead.   Did you notice the hailstorm of consternation caught by Peter and John [“the sons of thunder”] when they and their (stage) mother decided to approach Jesus in an effort to heighten their stature in the Kingdom?  It didn’t work out well. 

I found myself pushing to keep up with the kid, and though the trail would be ranked easy, there are blind spots and curves.  I know I can sprint by him at any time, but that’s really not the point.  

Let’s whittle the metaphor a bit more.  We are following but we are easily bogged down by details.  We have spats with the rest of the herd.  We get prideful and stubborn.  We want to do things our own way.  

Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” [John 10:27].  He said that knowing that we would hear him and need to follow even though we wouldn’t see him.  He knew that we would need to follow even though we were slothful, self-indulgent or even disobedient.  

A very popular song says we’re “Chasing after you” and perhaps that’s the most laudable goal.  Striving to follow and learning the rigor.  By the way, He will leave 99 sheep to come after you – so hang in there . . . 

Holy-Day Inn

I owe this lesson to my pastor who has been adding to the trove of knowledge that I keep and making it seem that my trove is minuscule compared to his, although he is years younger than I.  As we have ever heard the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem as a result of Caesar’s decree that all should be counted in their area of origin.  This was Joseph’s home town though he had been living in Nazareth of Galilee.
And as the story is related by Luke the physician, Mary went into labor and delivered her baby but there was no room in the inn.  The Amplified Version of the Bible says there was no [private] room.  This gives me pause.  How can there be no private room for a couple who are expecting in the “any day now” category?  How can this be when Joseph is in his home town where supposedly he should have some influence and relatives? Yes, I get that this was an extraordinary circumstance, but through my 21st century eyes, this is ludicrous.
No room in the inn implies that they searched for accommodation and found none. I can imagine the real frustration of a “newlywed” expectant father who is just trying to make the best of a bad situation.  He is mandated to appear for the census.  Feeling overwhelmed and of course exhausted as he has had to make a 90-mile trek on rising terrain only to arrive with no recourse but to sleep in an odorous stable.
I’m quite sure that I would be questioning my sanity and my history, not to mention God himself.  I’m the guy who would be asking “Is this the way you intended things to work out?”
In hindsight, we see that everything worked out but it was not a smooth seamless “A to B” transaction.  Joseph was required to trust God and trust the message given to him by the angel.  As always, things appear chaotic and it is up to us to expect that God will fulfill His will no matter what.

Peace of the Prince

It’s early December and traditionally we hear familiar music with the lyrics “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  How does Christ get the title “Prince of Peace” and how does he enact his duties?  
Lately we’ve seen so many absolute distractions, many of which seem peace threatening and even life-threatening.  Wars and rumors of wars, insults and harassment,  threats to our livelihood, health and well-being are all in the news and even in our physical space.  We are moments away from some new disaster, plot or illness predicted to spoil our future, our children or our legacy.  These distractions are merely but they are so easy to fall prey to time and again .  Circumstances can tempt us into feeling overwhelmed,  anxious, even forlorn.   
“But God, who is rich in mercy”,   made it so that we are free from these torments.  We never have to worry, or grow depressed.  Our King has provided us with a supernatural gift.  It is His peace.  It is unlike peace given by the world. [John 14:27] Like all of his gifts, its scope is beyond our imagination.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides the detail of how this peace works. In context the Apostle encourages us not to be anxious about anything [4:6],  then he says that God’s peace transcends all understanding, that is, its functioning is beyond anything we could know.  Finally, the classic Amplified Version reveals the full meaning hidden in the original Greek:
     7 And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  [AMP]
His peace shall “garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds” that is, it will fortify and keep watch over your heart and mind.  This action is not passive, but active.  This action is not static but ongoing as long as we live in the Anointed Overcomer!  His peace adapts to your needs and carries us through our trials and tribulations.  Our need is to believe it and hold fast!  He is the reason for the Season!!

The Sower Sows the Word {Luke 8}

4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
Newly born-again Christians come into the Kingdom only knowing how to navigate this current world.  They (we) are susceptible to loss from exposure to fleeting attractions that they had fallen prey to.  Christians mature by walking with Christ and over time learning several important lessons:
  • that the things that seem good to you may not good for you.
  • once the Word has been choked, it can be difficult to make up lost ground
  • Money cannot handle all of the problems of life
  • the LOVE of money is the root of all evil
  • Worry and fear are to be dissected and eliminated; they potentially can be crippling
  • No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.  I Cor 10:13  [NET]
This parable does not require much explanation but some people do seem unable to grasp how deceptive the cares, riches and pleasures of this life tend to be.  We can be deceived and ultimately live beneath our privilege as children of the King.

Repentance Part 1

Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines repentance as:” a change of mind with sorrow for something done, and a wish that it was undone”.  There is not much talk about repentance these days as if the word is suddenly irrelevant. The real danger is that we think we know repentance but in reality, perhaps we don’t.   
 
 
I have frequently said that man is a spirit, he owns a soul and lives in a physical body.  That soul contains three parts, the mind, will and emotions.   As we reflect upon the definition above, it speaks to changing the mind or thinking differently about one’s sin along with sorrow (a different emotional state).  This could lead to a disconnect between those who are more emotional versus those who are more thoughtful. 
 
I believe it is God who actually allows us to change our mind about our failures and shortcomings [our sins] and then to feel sorrowful or regretful about them.  I know that I may feel justified in getting my own vengeance, or spouting off angrily or doing something that isn’t right (according to me).  Although I feel justified, I need to repent, I need a change of mind or I will keep doing and thinking the same way.  This is a problem.
 
An old adage is: “what were once vices are now habits” meaning even though I didn’t intend to, I have continued on my way quite possibly without remorse or a sense of wrong. This deadly cycle continues unabated until I come to a place of genuine repentance.  
 
[to be continued]

Marah

Exodus 15:22-25a
 And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? 25 And he cried unto Jehovah; and Jehovah showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet . . . [ASV]
These verses describe the scene early after the Israelites departed Egypt.  The exhilaration of their escape had faded.  They were far from Egypt and found themselves in a wilderness.  Their water supplies were spent, they were tired, and needed refreshing.
They found water after arriving at Marah, but it couldn’t be consumed because it was too bitter.  They started a complaint campaign against Moses.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to endure the grumbling and complaining of millions of people thirsty and irritated.  They looked at the water and it probably looked inviting but when they tasted it; it was overwhelmingly bitter.   Undoubtedly they bathed in it, but they couldn’t drink it.  After this went on for a while, the complaint campaign escalated in earnest.  Moses then knew he had to talk to God.
Moses had no solution.  Bitterness is impossible to overcome. God had always provided an escape.  Would He do it again this time?  He showed Moses the remedy for the situation.  He showed Moses a tree to be cut down and cast into the water.
This story is a metaphor, I was told years ago.  The waters are a symbol for life in this world.  The waters were bitter and life in this world is bitter for those who do not know Christ.  In the middle of the bitterness, the Israelites cried out to the Lord for a solution.  He is so rich toward us that He always gives us what we need.  He showed Moses a tree that was to be thrown into the water.   The tree is a symbol for Christ.
By obedience, the BITTERNESS was taken from the water making it sweet.   Life in darkness is bitter, no joy, no peace – but God who is rich in mercy, hears us and gave us His son.  What He gave was beyond our comprehension.   He was slain for our good, He is the answer to our prayers.