The Word

The Word is the mouth of Jesus and what comes from the mouth stems from the heart. The beat of which pulses through the ink and offers itself to every generation right on time.

It is the torn veil. The broken bread. The water which fills my cup until it runneth over.

When spoken out loud it makes me more than myself. When read in quiet I’m reminded of the stillness of friendship.

God’s Word connects a resurrected people with a supernatural cause.

It is evidence in a courtroom, medicine in a hospital, tools in a shop, and the sail of a ship.

The last hope of a dying man.

The God of my promise.

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Image Credit: William A. Coulter. “Maria E Smith at the Golden Gate.”

 

Power

The power of God is to

write and rewrite

give breath and take it away

love without cause and rule without defense.

It is the astounding “I Am.” that answers every question.

That which he made without freewill worship Him in the every day of their lives. Trees live hundreds of years swaying in His presence with arms turned upward. They are steady because He is steady and move when He moves upon them.

We who have been given the power to turn away think we are deserving of the choice. We run with the greed of it as if a thousand almosts sanctify us. We are without excuse. Large in our own eyes we lift ourselves above His plan.

If only we were plant or animal or rock then we would know it automatically.

We must rise to the occasion and humble ourselves to grace. This is where freedom lives.

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Image Credit: “Mulberry Tree.” Vincent VanGogh

 

The Power of Empathy

“Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” John 4:6

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As a teacher, my favorite thing to talk to my students about was empathy. We searched it out in the stories we read and the history we learned. Empathy turns regular everyday folks into superheroes.

Many people confuse the term sympathy for empathy by thinking they are one in the same. In actuality, they are more like two different stones along the same path. Sympathy is that first and often easy step, the initial warming of the heart when you see someone struggle. Empathy, however, has a boldness to it that makes our Father proud.

Imagine a thunderstorm outside your window. The rain seemed to come out of nowhere and it pours down with such intensity that you are sure it has never rained this hard before. Ground does its best to absorb the hit, but soon water overpowers it. Dirt turns to mud and the sidewalk looks more like a creek bed than a passage way.  Staring out, your gaze moves towards the hunched figure of a man. His hands on top of his head in a feeble attempt to cover himself.

Sympathy looks upon the man with a sense of pity. S mutters to itself, “too bad” then returns to its life. But this is where empathy shines. Empathy sees the poor huddled mass and thinks, “I too have walked in the rain.” Grabbing an umbrella, E runs outside and holds it over the man’s head as they walk through the storm together. The difference is love.

Jesus is our perfect example of empathy. God joined us in our walk to perfect His plan. He knew there was something beautiful about the experience. The God who created and planned understood creating and planning was not enough, that there was value in empathy. The knowing what each other has gone through and coming alongside.

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:17-18).

This glorious relationship works both ways. Jesus became like us, so we can become like Him. It is in our suffering that we capture a glimpse of his sacrifice. When we suffer it gives us an experience to hold on to. A time to reflect on Jesus and say “I too have walked in the rain.” It allows us to imagine, if only vaguely, the cost of our grace.

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb 13:11-13).

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Image Credit: Eugene Delacroix. “Christ on the Cross.”

Freedom Clothes

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks were split”  ~Matthew 27:51

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Indentured servants came to America in the early 17th century[i]. Desperate, struggling European immigrants arrived promising colonial landowners years of work in exchange for a new life. The days were tough and many died, but for those who made it, a fresh start and renewed hope was on the other side. With the completion of their contracts these tired men and women were given what was known as “Freedom Dues.” Along with money and land their dues would include a new set of clothes, garments rich with symbolism that would reflect their well-earned change in status.

Joseph knew about freedom clothes.

When we first think of Joseph, it is most likely his colorful tunic that springs to mind. The one that signified his father’s love and made his brothers jealous. But this first gift was not his freedom cloth, in fact it was just the beginning of his journey. Joseph still had many years of service left in his contract with God.

Through his dedication to the Lord, Joseph served in the house of Potiphar and eventually found himself in prison. His gift of interpreting dreams had made itself known and when Pharaoh had his dream Joseph was the right man for the job.

All of a sudden, he was pulled from his jail cell and taken to the palace. After Joseph interpreted the dream and Pharaoh saw the Spirit of God was on him, “Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck” (Gen 41:42).

Right then everything changed for Joseph. With one-act he was given all authority, a new name, and a new bride. He became a different kind of servant. One who had been faithful, redeemed and was now completely free from his old life.

Serving God can be hard, but let us not forget about our own upcoming moment of redemption. The soon and very soon when we will be snatched from this life and given our own set of freedom clothes.

It is written, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8).

[i] “Indentured Servants.” Dictionary of American History. Encyclolpedia.com. 30 Dec. 2017. http://www.encyclopedia.com

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Image Credit: Frederic Leighton. “Study for ‘Return of Persephone’ Drapery for Demete.”

The Remaining

“Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes…” Genesis 18:27

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Abraham was bold with the Lord and asked the questions that were on his heart.

(Genesis 12-21)

When the Lord spoke to him about the land of Canaan he believed because he could see the expanse in front of him. He could walk in it at that very moment. The land surrounded him and it seemed possible.

It only takes a little bit of possible to make the whole vision seem real.

But time will make you uncertain and Abraham, the Father of Faith, was not afraid to share his uncertainty with God.

When God said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward,” Abraham’s response came in the form of a question, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”

In his remaining Abraham felt unsure of his footing. The remaining is the waiting and waiting is hard. It is hard for us and was hard for Abraham, too, but Abraham was bold and spoke to the Lord even though he was nothing but dust and ashes.

When God answered Abraham He was gentle with his response and told him,  “a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” Then God showed Abraham the stars and he believed because he could see the number of them in the sky.

And then there was more remaining. More time. More in-between. More faith building.

Later, God came back to Abraham with another piece of the promise. He told Abraham he would give him a child through his wife Sarah, saying “I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Abraham’s responded yet again with questions, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

And again God was gentle with His answer. He spoke plainly to Abraham when He told him, “…your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

And then there was more remaining. More time. More in-between. More faith building.

Then another encounter and more information. God came back to Abraham in the form of three visitors who told him, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now it was Sarah, hiding in a tent and listening just beyond the conversation, who struggled with her belief, questioning the ability of God’s hand with the same doubt her husband had spoken in the past. But God, in beautiful symmetry, balanced the scales of our disbelief so that every question man will ever ask is answered with one simple question of His own, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

God asks us this often and the answer is always no. There is nothing too hard for God, the God of Abraham. Sarah would give birth. The child would be called Isaac and Abraham’s offspring would be like the dust of the earth. All of it happened as He said it would. No amount of questioning would change the plan. As much as Abraham and Sarah were uncertain, their uncertainty never prevented their walking through. God had a plan for them and He gave them enough grace to be human and enough faith to be faithful.

When the certainty of God’s word comes alongside the uncertainty of human understanding a question is born. It is good to ask questions, to seek out answers and understandings. In the waiting, the remaining, it can seem that all we can get a hold of are our questions.

But let us not get caught in a cycle of disbelief. There comes a time when we have asked to the bottom of the barrel and we realize what we are really asking for is a short-cut, a way around the waiting and confusion that so often comes with God’s timing. Let us take information as God gives it and wait for Him to show us more. In the meantime we remain.

Abraham asked, then he believed and it was his belief that was counted as righteousness.

Jesus shows us the relationship between our remaining, our questioning and His showing when he says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  (John 15:7)

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Image Credit: “Star of Heaven.” Edward Robert Hughes

“Turning Point”

“And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm.”  2 Kings 4:34

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It happened one day that as the prophet Elisha stood at Mount Carmel he saw a familiar face running towards him in the distance. It was the Shunammite woman from his past. Years ago, she had recognized him for who he was and in return he had promised her a child. Now the child was dead and it seemed the promise was lost.

Trying to remedy the situation, Elisha sent his staff, an object to take his place, and asked that it be laid on the face of the child. We can imagine that this staff was so much a part of Elisha that when others saw it they thought only of him. But no matter how much it seemed like him, it was not enough to bring the child to life (2 Kings: 4:8-37).

What the promise needed was a body.

When Elisha found himself there with the boy, in that room he knew so well and with the weight of the promise he had spoken, he stretched the entirety of his body over the surface of the child, placing “his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands.”

Elisha positioned all of who he was in full contact with all that he hoped for and from this sprang life.

When it comes to our own bodies, they can sometimes feel like promises lost. Identities that got away from us somehow and are in desperate need of revival.

The antidote to this wasting away is intimate contact with our Promise keeper- Jesus.

No almost is enough.

God wrapped himself with a body so He could come in close. As Jesus, He was able to touch flesh, lay hands, and stand alongside, all the while knowing it was His flesh for our freedom. As His followers, we seek out this same type of relationship, a bodily knowledge of who He is. In our reverence we acknowledge His Holiness and become fascinated with taking on our own portion of His offering.

Paul commands such a thing when he says,

So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word (Hebrew 10:19-22, MSG).”

This closeness comes at a price. There are obstacles on every side.  Working together, the world tries to take away our Jesus desire while the enemy swoops in after the remains. The two will treat you like a used car, talking down the parts to devalue the whole. But these two are no match for the design.

The body design. The relationship design. The faith design.

God is interested in the whole, not just the parts.

He covers us in His Word and tells us that when our offering is placed in contact with His it is enough to warm the body- not because we are enough, but because He is enough.

We can’t let the world or the enemy tell us differently. Our value lies not in our appearance, but in our willingness to get close.

Full knowledge of ourselves and our worth comes from standing mouth to mouth, eye to eye, and hand to hand with our Creator and Savior. The One who built the body and redeemed it. Let Him tell us who we are.

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Image Credit: “Turning Point.” Hyatt Moore. hyattmoore.com