Testimony of a Witness

I have heard from some in law enforcement that witnesses to a crime are the worst evidence. Scientific evidence is much more preferable because of the general inconsistency of your basic human. I, for one, am an excellent example of inconsistency. I totally spaced writing the entry for last week. 

Ironically, our Creator seems to prefer the inconsistent creature to the consistent scientific variety. Ever wonder why? I do, and I do still, so that’s not what I’m going to figure out here. Instead, I want to point out what we started out as witnesses of, the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22 NASB)

When I was taught to write out my testimony, I was taught a format to use: what I was like before, what happened, what I’m like now. The idea being that I’m testifying to what Jesus did to me, and how I’m different, hopefully better. But what if you’re boring? What if what your Savior does in your life is so dull and interior that your testimony is a cure for insomnia? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a really cool, dramatic, gut-churning, testimony of what you have witnessed our Savior do? As it turns out, we do.

I heard Sunday, over and over, how great the name of Jesus is. The person using His name was trying to draw the people into worship, to focus us on Jesus, but there was this TV-Preacher feel to how she was doing it. It was focus on the name, and what He does for us rather than on Him. Not that this was necessarily the intent, it was simply the feel.

We all, every believer, every disciple, everyone believing God raised Jesus from the dead, confessing Jesus is Lord, all in that category have a testimony: Jesus is alive and active in my life. Rather than what I was like before, it’s far more important what He does. 

I talk to my wife every day, multiple times throughout the day, we do stuff together, we ask each other questions, we are close in ways that aren’t always obvious, and some that are. It’s not what I was like before she and I talked this morning, or over lunch, it’s that we talked, that we are together all the time, that we seem to share brain-cells, speak a weird symbiotic language made up of partial movie quotes and one-liners. 

know Jesus is alive because the very warp and woof of my existence is enmeshed in His existence. His Spirit dwells in me in this weird overlay over everything I do and think. I am permeated by my Savior. I wish that meant that I stopped doing stupid stuff, never went my own way, and he and I never had to wonder what the other was thinking. Technically, He knows, I don’t, sometimes I don’t what either of us are thinking, and He always does.

Those who read this and are married already know that perfection doesn’t describe human relationships. It doesn’t describe my walk with/before my Savior either. Not His fault, it’s entirely mine. But I walk with my Savior. The Creator of the universe lives within me, stays with me, and continues to relate to me because of the powerful transaction on the cross, the failure of His grave, and the continual intercession at the right hand of my Creator.

Was I saved from a life of terror, rampaging murdering and wonton destruction? Nope. Was I changed from a hopeless drug addict to a hope-filled evangelist? Not my story. My story is that I, frail, flawed, and fickle, walk with the Master of the universe. And that I do so because He invites me into this relationship, made it possible, and sustains it through His power. 

So, I too am one of those who know the story of Jesus, from the day of His baptism, through His ascension, and my “proof” is that He continues to walk with me to this day. It’s relational for me, as it was for them. I haven’t seen Jesus and shared a meal with Him like they had. I didn’t hear the voice of some Rabbi calling me to follow him, and leave everything to obey his voice. They did that. I’m not an apostle in any sense, truly. I’m simply a witness to my Master’s presence in my life.

Why A Twelfth?

When I was  a kid, it never occurred to me to ask why the disciples wanted to choose a twelfth man. Never. And then one day, later in my Bible learning days, I was part of a discussion where some guy claimed that the disciples were jumping the gun. His claim was that Luke’s point in Acts was that the disciples chose Matthias, but God chose Paul.

That had seriously never occurred to me. His reasoning was flimsy, somewhat. And I thought his definition of ‘apostle’ was lacking, or at least was more narrow than the biblical range of meaning. Yet, I didn’t have an alternate theory. It never occurred to me to ask. Honestly I still don’t have a great theory, and merely critique the views of others. That critiquing is so easy is one reason I haven’t come up with one myself.

If you use internal evidence, though, a theory may not be necessary. Let’s look at the reason(s) Peter gives:

“Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” (Acts 1:16-17 NASB)

“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE,
AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’;
and,
‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’
Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:20-22 NASB)

If you have never checked Peter’s references, he uses Psalm 69:25, and 109:8. If you decide to look those verses up, you find he didn’t use the entire verse (to be fair, the Psalms weren’t divided up into verses at that time). And if you check the context, you find one Psalm commonly thought to describe Jesus (Psalm 69), and another that certainly could (Psalm 109).

On the surface, if you don’t check those Psalms, or check the context of what Peter used, you may think Peter is merely proof-texting. But context sort of supports his use. That was my first surprise. But the other surprise was more important. Look at the last sentence. There, right on the surface, is the  reason for the twelfth man.

It wasn’t to ensure they had someone to judge the twelve tribes in Judas’ absence (at least one commentary had that one). It wasn’t an error, jumping ahead of God who wanted Paul, because he couldn’t be a witness to the entire life of Jesus. It wasn’t any other of a dozen other options…ok, maybe two others. Anyway, what Peter says is actually what makes the most sense.

The only record of the life of Jesus was in those who were there, those who ate with Him, who walked, literally walked, with Him. Only they could attest to the words and deeds of Jesus while He was among His human creatures. Consider the words with which John ends his Gospel, where he claims that not all the words and deeds were recorded because that wasn’t possible (John 21:25). We miss a lot because those witnesses are no longer among us.

But one question remains. Why twelve? There were obviously options among them who had been with Jesus in the period Peter describes. The people reduced the options to two, and God chose 1 of them to make 12. But why twelve? Maybe it was to round out the judges of the twelve tribes, but then, wouldn’t their tribal heritage be important? Maybe it was to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. Although that simply runs into the same problem. 

The truth, the reality we have, is that our Savior didn’t think it was important to tell us why. Maybe the people of that day didn’t need to be told, they had received that knowledge verbally already. Maybe it just sucks to be us, 2,000 years later, wishing we could be flies on walls of the early churches.

I think it’s likely that this piece of the information, while interesting, isn’t important to our Savior. He had His purpose, it was fulfilled in the choice, now move on. This is my theory. I don’t know if I’m right or not, our Savior doesn’t tell us. But there are a lot of other things He does tell us. I think I’ll move on to those.

Whatcha Lookin At?

Remember the scene in some movie: people looking up, shielding their eyes against the bright sun, trying to catch a glimpse of something there, squinting to catch just a bit more detail. And then, someone walks up, standing with them, glancing up to the sky, but looking more at the people than what the people are looking for. When they eventually get the sky-watchers attention, it turns out they were looking for the someone right next to them.

It’s a recurring scene idea, used in Indiana Jones movies, comedies, and Acts.

Imagine it, Jesus has spent 40 days with His disciples, providing “convincing proofs” of His resurrection, clarifying the Scriptures about Himself, and simply being with them. Luke is specific, that Jesus shares about the Kingdom of God. And finally, after these days come to a close, Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, one of His favorite places. They know He’s leaving, and figure now is as good a time as any to ask a question burning in their minds, one He has ironically not covered in forty days.

“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b)

I think (you may not) that it’s ironic, and part of Luke’s point to his audience, that Jesus speaks to them regarding the Kingdom of God, and they ask about the Kingdom of Israel. I think that difference is why Jesus answers as He does:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8 NASB)

The message is supposed to go farther than Israel. The good news is for the world, not a single kingdom. And that’s not to say they didn’t understand that, but that they could not conceive of a mechanism to carry that message that wasn’t Israel. God had always worked through Israel. And He still would, but only to a point. Those eleven were about to become the “jumping off point” of a work of God the likes of which none of them could imagine.

And so they stood, looking into the sky where Jesus had disappeared into clouds. And these two guys walk up wearing shining clothing. I imagine the scene, like so many of those movies. “Whatcha lookin at?” And the resulting shock of those who hadn’t noticed them.

In a way, many believers are sort of stuck, looking at the sky, struggling to wrap their heads around God choosing a different method than what they had imagined and prepared for. Which is ironic to me because that is how I see God’s method throughout Scripture, the unexpected and unplanned for. Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ ministry, and His crucifixion were all completely unexpected. They were looking for a messiah, not God Himself. They were looking for a king, not the King of Kings. They were looking for a prophet, but not a High Priest and Prophet and King, somewhat like Melchizadek.

And then, after rising, He leaves. Just like that. How weird. Where’s He going? When is He coming back? Is He coming back? That’s what the two guys answer. “Yes, He’ll be back just like you saw Him leave.” Yeah, but when? Not our problem. Our problem is to obey until that happens.

So, we can get a crick in our neck, looking at the sky, or sore muscles working the harvest before us. Maybe it would be best to split our time between the two. You never can tell with God, He may just surprise us…again.

Golden Silence

Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy. Sometimes, I simply cannot resist speaking up and making clear exactly how foolish I am. Sometimes. Okay, way too often. I struggle with the difference between assertions and questions. Even when I try to use questions, they come out sounding like thinly disguised assertions – because they often are.

Why is silence is so difficult? Jesus did it. He didn’t answer His accusers. He didn’t feel the need to correct their foolish accusations. When they struck the truth, even obliquely, He affirmed it. Yet He never defended Himself. He was like a lamb led to slaughter, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.

The psalmist, probably David, reminds us of the power of silence:

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
(Psalms 62:1 NASB)

In the NASB text, “waits” is in italics, which means this word has been added for clarity. Literally, it reads “Only to God silence my soul, from Him my salvation.” Which explains why it needed some clarity. Hebrew poetry is both beautiful and, well, difficult.

When we continue on in the psalm, though, it turns out that David is pointing out that the rest of his world seems out to get him – it’s noisy and chaotic, dangerous and deceitful. With God, though, it’s different.

Only to God can he find that quiet for his soul. Only before the presence of the True King can he find the peace that quiets the chaos around him. Why is that? Because as David approaches God, he becomes more aware that any hope of salvation, deliverance from his adversaries, any hope of seeing through the deceptions, all David needs is found in God.

Be comforted by salvation in our Creator, not in ourselves or through other creatures. I didn’t save myself, nor do I remain my Father’s child by my own efforts. I can wait for my Savior, even when it seems dark, when chaos surrounds me, when my paranoia sets in and my fears mushroom, when my imagination lies to me and friends don’t have time for me. 

Only to God. Silence, my soul.

From Him my salvation.

Aliens Among Them

Ever know something you simply can’t figure out how to explain with – English? Or any language you may know. That feeling of both frustration and wonder with something you can sense, you almost feel or touch, but can’t explain. There are no words, only pale metaphors and similes.

If you thought of something, then just imagine how our Creator feels as He tries to explain to simple-minded creatures just how vast is His love for us. And yes, we are simple-minded. It’s just the way it is, it’s best to get over it. He loves us anyway, so no shame, just smile and thank Him.

We have a few clues as to one of the weirdest part of our life with our Creator, while still trapped here on earth. One of them is found in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NASB

To us has been committed the ministry of reconciliation; the spreading of the message that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us. So, what we’re doing here is spreading a message for our Savior. Okay, but how do we do this? If you’ve tried, it isn’t easy. People want proof. What proof do we have? Well, then there’s this passage:

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:14-16 NASB

There seems to be a responsibility to give an account for the hope that is in us. Fun fact: this world is hopeless. Not so fun fact: Disciples of Jesus seem just as hopeless. Why is that? Are you? Or, in the face of all the pervasive evil of this world, do you persist in hope? Or, as you look at this world, does the hopelessness seep into your bones? Does the evil seem to overwhelm you? It might. There’s a lot of cultural and societal pressure to give into the hopelessness. And then God tells us this:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39 NASB (emphasis mine)

We have everything to hope in. And our hope is sure, not an imaginary illusional thing. We have the guarantee of the Spirit of our Savior within us. Okay, yay! We have a hope, but what about this world? As the passage above says, we face a lot of stuff every day. How do we do that, and maintain our hope over time? There are two things we are to do. 

First, we live our lives:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’
Jeremiah 29:4-7 NASB (emphasis mine)

This is about exiles, or those under the punishment of God. We’re not here because of judgement. But, like them, we are aliens in a strange land. Like them, we live among foreigners. Unlike them, we are actually here as ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). This isn’t judgement, it’s a ministry. But, like them, we are to live among those around whom our Savior has placed us. Like them, we have hope (see Jeremiah 29:11). But there’s more.

Second, we endure:

And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says,
“AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU,
AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.”
Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”—
giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 NASB

Notice how Paul slips into this paradoxical comparison toward the end? We are considered deceivers, but true. We are unknown, but well-known. And so on Paul goes, what is perceived about us is false, and what is true is richer, deeper, and more real than what can be perceived.

This is why we have a hope to be explained. This is why we have something that marks us as different. While  the world burns itself to ash, we stand untainted by smoke, with another standing with us. We have a hope, and we need to live, to love, to interact, and react in this hope.

I love that last line of 2 Corinthians 6:10, “…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, but possessing all things.” Live as if that were true. Then we will have something to explain.

Different Similarities

Once again, back to my typical analytical approach to Scripture, I found something I think is cool. It may bore you to death (or stupor). It was during a sermon yesterday on spiritual gifting, and it was enlightening to me regarding the spiritual gift of “miracles” (as some refer to it). It begins with Paul’s opening setup in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
(1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NASB)

Notice that, in the NASB translation, the word ‘varieties’ is repeated. That word in Greek is diairesis (Strong’s G1243), which refers to distinctly different “distributions”, or the idea that not everyone gets the same things or the same amount of the same things. Leave it to the Greeks to have a word for that.

Now notice the different words in each phrase, they are in sets of 2. In the NASB, they are “gifts” and “Spirit”, “ministries” and “Lord”, “effects” and “God”. Notice that in each case, gifts, ministries, and effects are “different”, while Spirit, Lord, and God are the same. Side note: if you want a nicely laid out Trinitarian passage, few are neater than this one. Same, same, same.

Don’t miss Paul’s point here: not everyone gets the same gift, ministry or effect, but the same God works in all of them regardless of differences. Let that be clear, up front, and on top.

“Under the hood”, though, I found that “effects” in the NASB was tied to the Greek word, energema (Strong’s G1755), where you can actually see our English word, “energy” right there inside it. So, essentially this is energy. But, think about this word for a second. What actually is energy? Well, to answer that, let’s compare it where it’s compared in Scripture (or, in this case coupled with another, similar, word).

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
(1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NASB, emphasis mine)

The bolded text is what I want to focus on, not that the other isn’t important. In the NASB, word “effecting” is the Greek word, energema (a noun, not a verb), and in the Greek text it is plural. The word, ‘miracles’, in the NASB is the Greek word, dynamis (Strong’s G1411), where you can see the English word, dynamo. This word is also plural in the Greek text. That Greek word is normally translated as “power” in English translation. So, together, energies of powers.

Back to my question, what is “energy”? So, let’s compare “energy” to “power”. Are they synonyms? Let me put it this way, what is the most powerful source of energy in our world today, and I mean in a practical sense, where we get electricity to power anything? Arguably, nuclear power is the most powerful. We harness atomic fission to produce electricity. But how? How does a contained nuclear explosion produce electrical current? 

It’s produced in one of the earliest mechanical inventions, the water wheel. Think it through, water over a wheel produces motion harnessed to something else, usually stones grinding wheat or a saw cutting wood, or something. But that’s not how a nuclear power plant  works, right? Well, not exactly, but similarly.

Later development of the “water wheel” made it “portable” in the form of a steam engine. Development from that led to the steam turbine, and suddenly we have a lot of power from boiling water, even using nuclear energy. Now, notice how I used those two words, power and energy above?

So, in a sense, power is the application, or harnessing, of energy. That’s a gross oversimplification, but the idea relating the two is still expressed. Now to harness the energy of this passage to empower us.

The Spirit of God somehow uses human creatures to harness the energy of our Creator to accomplish powerful  things in this word He created. Let that statement rattle around a bit. Think of the nuclear power plant. Think of the person seated next to you at church. What’s the connection?

We, frail, fault-ridden, imperfect creatures are used as “power plants” by our Creator. But for what? We’re not producing electricity, and remember, it’s not everyone. Different people get different distributions from the same God, Lord, Spirit. But it all is for the same purpose:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB)

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
(1 Corinthians 12:11 NASB)

Once again, it’s not about you. Of course it isn’t. Why start now? The power is for our fellow disciples, those people in the pew next to you. Or, if they’re the ones the Spirit uses as a “power plant”, then it’s for you. I suppose then, it would be about you – along with everyone else…

I always thought of this “gift” as something like “signs and wonders”, and it may not be. It may be as dramatic as stopping the sun, or as simple as enabling a group of disciples to work through the night in a service project. Could the person delivering coffee at midnight be the “effects of power” person? I don’t know, maybe that’s “service”. Or encouragement, or “helps” (whatever that is).

Or maybe we’re looking at it too closely, and should step back. What does our congregation need to do what our Savior has called us to do? What has to happen to meet that need? Where will we find the power to see that happen? Does that make more sense? You may be able to think of better questions. Just ask our Creator and chances are good, He will answer. And answer with POWER.

Lessons From a Wheelchair

Yesterday, in our city, a couple of churches held a benefit for a young man in our town. He had been paralyzed in a surfing accident, and was now in a wheelchair. Yesterday, hundreds in our small town gathered to contribute to his care, and hear his testimony. We heard worship music, and the testimonies of his family, and finally from him. It was amazing, enlightening, and both difficult and beautiful to be there.

Many common verses and passages were brought up, although I was very pleased someone used John 9:1-3:

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
John 9:1-3 NASB

While much was said about God allowing rather than causing such an injury, Zac also spoke of it being part of God’s plan. And this plan, as Zac understood it, was to glorify God. He had already witnessed how his injury had brought glory to God. 

Clearly, this young man has a rough road ahead of him, and he has barely started on that journey. Regardless, at this point in that journey, he is convinced that this is part of God’s plan. If you continue to read the rest of John 9, you find this man-born-blind “schooling” the Pharisees, so confident in his perception of what God has done for him, they cannot shake him. In their frustration, the Pharisees put him out of the synagogue, and he is found by Jesus and worships Him. 

In the end, the man-born-blind sees more clearly than those born with sight. It’s one of several rich ironies in the Gospel of John. And that irony is now part of Zac’s life. Please join me in praying for this young guy, and all those who will be touched by his testimony. There is a link below to the website about the event and in support of his care.

http://zacshope.com/ 

A Whirlwind Relationship

One of the interesting “appearances” of our Creator in the Hebrew Scriptures is as a “whirlwind”. There is a term that is commonly thought of in this way, the Hebrew word, “sa’arah”. It’s used when Elijah is taken up by Yahweh (2 Kings 2:11), and this is the word for the whirlwind out of which Yahweh speaks to Job (Job 38:1). It isn’t always the appearance of Yahweh, sometimes it is an actual storm.

Having said that, it is used in Ezekiel for the appearance of Yahweh to Ezekiel at the River Chebar:

As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
Ezekiel 1:4 NASB

Ezekiel goes on to describe an inexplicable sight of the creatures about the throne of Yahweh. Still, all of that happens within this cloud or fiery whirlwind. Which reminded me of the appearance of Yahweh on  Mount Sinai in Exodus:

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Exodus 19:16-20

The same word, sa’arah, is not used in Exodus, but the imagery sure sounds similar. There are other visions of Yahweh which don’t involve the whirlwind, so why do some? I’m not sure, and conjecture at this point is probably not helpful. It most likely has to do with the particular people at that particular point in human history, and I don’t know enough detail about either.

Yet, I learn something of my Savior from these appearances. I learn things like these:

  1. He is willing to come to His people and be seen by them
  2. He is powerful, frighteningly so, possibly terrifyingly (yet, see Judges 13:21-23)
  3. He reveals Himself to His people in ways that communicate a message we need, at that point in time.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. The vision of Elisha of the chariots of fire and horses of fire as Elijah is taken by the whirlwind, combined with the vision of Ezekiel of the creatures within the storming whirlwind makes me wonder. What would it be like to see that? What would such an appearance of my Creator be like to experience? Would I, like Ezekiel, be silenced for a week? Would I, like Isaiah, have the presence of mind to volunteer for my Savior’s purpose? Or would I blather on like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration? I suspect I’d blather.

My Creator has not shown up to speak with me like that. I haven’t seen Him enthroned with the four creatures around Him. I haven’t heard the loud thundering trumpet of His voice. I believe Hollywood cannot reproduce, or even come close, to what Elisha or Ezekiel saw, nor adequately depict the glory of my Creator showing up on Mount Sinai. I want to see it. I want to be so awed I collapse in a quivering heap on the ground, babbling in a fetal position for a week. Bring it on! Sigh, alas, it is not to be. And that’s okay, honestly.

The thing is, I can get so caught up in the physical sight that I miss the fact that I have Him with me all the time. It would be cool to see the whirlwind, don’t get me wrong. And I would be ecstatic to experience that (and, yes, terrified). Yet, my Savior dwells within me at every moment.

Therefore, when I am behaving, He is with me. And when I am misbehaving, He is with me. He is with me when I travel, when I am at home, and when I am somewhere else. If I would live that way all the time, I would be different. I would treat others differently, I would see this world differently, I would think differently. And, perhaps, living that way might make it more likely that I will see such a sight. Yet, even if it doesn’t, and I don’t, I will in heaven. Eventually, we will all of us see Him, in all His glory, and every knee will bow, and every will tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It will happen, eventually. So, in the meantime, how will I live today?

Wrath, Grace, and Justice

I get why a lot of people referring to themselves as “Christ-followers” don’t particularly like the Hebrew Scriptures. I have changed my term to disciple of Jesus. Not that I am particularly disciplined, or not as much as I should be. I choose it because it is more subordinate in my mind. I need something more intentional and committed, because I don’t particularly like what I find in the Hebrew Scriptures either. Yet it’s still true about my Creator and Savior.

For instance, when David sins by counting the people, Yahweh is very displeased. After David repents (at least in the order things are recorded), Yahweh gives David a choice of three punishments: 1) Three years of famine, 2) Three months of battle loss, or 3) Three days of pestilence. Pestilence doesn’t sound so bad, but here’s how Yahweh describes it to Gad, David’s seer:

So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Take for yourself either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.”
(1 Chronicles 21:11-12 NASB)

David’s response is that he would rather fall into the hands of Yahweh than the hands of men, so he chooses three days. The angel of Yahweh goes through the land and 70,000 die from north to south in the land. And then there’s this dramatic scene:

And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, “It is enough; now relax your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O LORD my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

(1 Chronicles 21:15-17 NASB)

This is a difficult account of our Savior punishing sin among His people. It’s a window into His relationship with David, with Israel, with His human creatures, and, potentially, with us. We don’t like it when our Savior get’s angry, we’re uncomfortable, and squirm in our seats. This is how He dealt with His people, not gentiles, not pagans worshipping other gods, His chosen ones. How, then, will we escape when our Father in Heaven seems so severe?

Our hope is in His grace. Our Savior is just. And, because of His just nature, there is wrath. Yet, there is also grace. Yahweh saw what His angel was about to do to Jerusalem, and “relented” or “was sorry”. Our Creator changed His mind. Isn’t that what we want from a just God? Do we really want justice? Wouldn’t that wipe us out, utterly destroy us? Isn’t that a global flood, thorough destruction, maybe with only a single family left?

I want grace. I want my Savior to change His mind about me. I want something to appease my Creator. Eventually, my Creator provided Himself as my Savior. He took away the wrath by taking it on Himself. He appeased Himself, His just nature was settled through Jesus on a cross. And so, grace reigned over my sin, my failure, as David experienced. David saw the angel of Yahweh standing over Jerusalem with sword drawn, ready to destroy there too. And David saw it all stop, in grace. Yahweh changed His mind, relented of the evil about to happen, was sorry for the people of Jerusalem, and stopped it. 

Read the Hebrew Scriptures and discover the grace of our Creator in fresh ways. The accounts of our Creator demonstrating grace among these accounts helps us better appreciate Jesus, and ourselves before His presence. On the threshing floor of Ornan (Arunah in 2 Samuel 24), David makes an altar, and offers an offering to Yahweh. According to tradition, eventually, on that site, David’s son, Solomon will build the temple. And, eventually, the Savior will teach in the courts there, teach of the grace of Yahweh.

Loving People

I have said for years, and I should never say this – yet I still do – Church would be great except for the people. And I am one of those people. You probably know, or can imagine, what sort of people I’m referring to. They are annoying in some way. They follow the pastor around incessantly asking questions, or worse, making suggestions. They have opinions about everything, whether they know anything about the topic or situation or not. They complain about almost everything, although most often about people who annoy them at church.

Yes, these are the “hypocrites” of which those who criticize the church from the outside seem to know so well. Rather than explore the strange irony of that, I want to show something I found very encouraging in Scripture which shows Jesus’ perspective on “those annoying church people”. First, the setting, Jesus leads His disciples away to rest…

The apostles *gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He *said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
Mark 6:30-32 NASB

The apostles had just come from their first “missionary journey” to the villages of Judah. They had cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached the Kingdom of God to the people. And, when they returned, a bunch of people either came with them to see Jesus, or were already swarming around Him while they were gone. Either way, it’s pandemonium around them. So, Jesus leads them to a quiet place to rest and rejuvenate. Only, it doesn’t work…

The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:33-34 NASB

These people are geniuses. They see the boat leaving, figure out where it’s going, and get there first on foot. And not just those around Jesus when He leaves, but “…from all the cities” they gather together ahead of them. That’s a spectacular failure to find rest. Now the pandemonium not only continues, it worsens. They weren’t able to eat before, now what is it like? Don’t you hate it when people do that, interrupt your plans, hijack your vacation, invade your “sanctum”? So annoying! And yet, Jesus looks at them with compassion. 

I confess, I’m not there yet. I like my “space”, I like having that “cushion” around me, this is definitely an “area of growth” for me. I’m not like Jesus in this respect, and need to submit my desires for “space”, for individuality, for safety, for “my right to rest” to my Savior. Because He looked at them with compassion, because He saw they were like sheep without a shepherd. They had no idea who they were, where they were going, and what they were supposed to do (who else heard Yoda’s voice when they read that?). I’m like them, and I need to be like Him.

I believe we can be like Jesus in this regard. It won’t be easy, it will be very counter-culture, counter pop-psychology, counter conventional wisdom, and counter to a lot of other stuff we take for granted. It means taking Philippians 2:1-11 seriously and applying those verses rigorously to our decision-making, attitudes, and priorities. I admit, I’m not a fan, I’m not looking forward to it, dying to self is dying, don’t think it’s easy or happy. But it is joyous, it is peaceful, it is freeing in ways I am looking forward to. For when I die to myself, I rise to live within my Savior, and walk within His Spirit.

So, let them come, let them steal my attention, derail my plans, invade my space, and interrupt my rest. It’s not just okay, it’s a joy and a privilege. It’s a messy relational Kingdom, my Father’s Kingdom. So, how can I help you?