Pondering Divine Sunglasses

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“Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.” (Daniel 7:28)

 
So, some of those words aren’t words we use much nowadays, but it made me think about the intensity of feelings this dream left with Daniel. Daniel had a dream, a vision given from God, and it was pretty intense. It was so intense that he was “grieved in [his] spirit in the amidst of [his] body, and the visions of [his] head troubled [him].” So he asked one of the bystanders in the vision what it meant. He wanted to know the “truth” of it.

 
Four kings would arise out of the earth but the saints of the most High would take the kingdom and possess it for ever and ever. But there was a fourth beast with ten horns and another little one comes up with three of the first horns plucked up by the roots. And then comes the vision of the Ancient of Days with garment white as snow, hair like pure wool, a throne like a fiery flame, wheels like burning fire, and a fiery stream from before Him. Ministering around him were too many to be counted. And there’s more, but you can go back and read it and dig into it for yourself.

 
All I know is that this vision and it’s interpretation was not only hard to grasp so that Daniel needed help but that even starting to grasp it was terrifying to Daniel’s thoughts or cogitations so much so that it altered his whole mood. But he didn’t dismiss it. He kept the matter in his heart. Now, heart for the Hebrew (leb) isn’t just that organ inside that pumps blood or what we think of when we think of strong emotions. Putting something in your heart was about your feelings, your will, and your intellect. It wasn’t just about your thoughts or feelings. Your will is what you do. So, when the Psalmist says, “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You,” he’s not just talking of tucking an emotion or memory away. He’s talking of tucking that emotion and knowledge in so deeply that it effects his will and actions. So too was this vision for Daniel.

 
Daniel didn’t just remember this vision as a vague memory attached to strong feelings. It now colored how he looked at events in life around him. It was as though God gave him a pair of divine sunglasses to think about things in the world. Daniel would now look at his world expecting to see, expecting to spot these kings, these events. Daniel was walking in faith because he didn’t just tuck God’s word away in some crevice of his brain.

 
I think of someone else like that. Her name was Mary and she was young and was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And she had no idea how it would all pan out, only that it would come to pass, because the angel sent by God had said so. There was that day that God chose to have Mary give birth to Jesus in that little sheep cave of a stable. And these shepherds see angels declaring “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) And here was this multitude of angels praising God and saying, “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” So the shepherds run to see this baby and tell of all that has passed. And other people wondered about those things. They marveled, like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” But Mary kept all those things and pondered them in her heart.

 
What’s the difference between marveling and keeping and pondering? The word for keeping is suntero. It’s when you keep something closely together. It’s remembering mentally and obeying. Mary remembered and held on to these words and happenings in a way that she would act upon them. Marveling is like standing by and watching a really cool air show, seeing some outrageous stunt or a crash, and walking away and living life as usual without it having any effect except to say, “Wow!” But not Mary. She pondered these things in her heart. That’s the word sumballo. It’s like she consulted these things. She considered them over and over again. She used these events to help her as she walked through life. These events became her divine sunglasses through which she saw and interpreted and acted upon life. She understood what Daniel understood, at least on seeing things through God’s perspective.

 
Even when Mary and Joseph “misplaced” Jesus and he had remained behind in Jerusalem dialoguing with the teachers at the temple, we see this attitude again. This is twelve years later for Mary. And Jesus has asked, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” And even though they didn’t understand it all at the time, as Jesus returned with them, Mary kept all these sayings in her heart. It painted and effected how she thought and how she lived out life.

 
I’m not a trained Bible scholar so I’m not going to get into hashing out Daniel’s dream here. But I do care about it and I care about Daniel’s character and how he handled the word of God, whether written Scripture, oral tradition, or visions. And I do care about Mary’s character and how she handled the same, including the life and actions of her own son, our Jesus Christ. And I do care what I can learn from their examples before me.

 
It’s such an easy trap to fall into to intellectualize God’s word, to hide it in my heart by just memorizing and being able to spout it out in a moment’s notice. But that’s not the same as meditating over it and asking God’s help to understand it His way and be able to live it out in my life His way. And Lord, You went so far to make it clear on how to live it, that You sent Jesus to demonstrate it in real life for me and for each person.

 
I know by Daniel’s actions and not just his words that he truly believed and acted upon that belief. Had he been one of the 12 spies sent into the promised land, he would have been a Joshua. Like the Psalmist who shared, “In God I have put my trust: I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me,” (Psalm 56:11) so was Daniel. And Mary was learning the same in a world not favorable to women at all. And each of us has the ability and the wonderful opportunity to learn what it is to truly trust in and rely on a God who cares and is intimately involved with us, a God who sacrificed His only Son for those who had turned from Him and denied His way to follow their own. I mean, how great a love is that?

 

Maybe if we took time to ponder and hide that down in our hearts so that it could take effect and reshape every bit of our being, maybe then our lives would resemble what they were created for- to be Your image bearers, Lord. So today, Lord, let Daniel and Mary and Your working as a living God be our example and may we let You change our thinking and our actions until we are Your spitting images in a world that needs to not only see You and be amazed, but needs to know You and be changed.

Hope Deferred

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  (Micah 5:2)

Hope deferred.  Noah Webster defines the word defer as meaning to delay or to put off; to postpone to a future time.  Solomon thought about this too.  In Proverbs 13:12 he shared, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” 

That’s interesting.  Here that word is again being used in Song of Songs 1:4.  “Draw me after you: let’s run!  The king has brought me into his bedroom.” The word in Proverbs is mashak.  It can mean to draw, continue, defer, extend, forbear, handle, make long, scatter, and stretch out.  Here in Song of Songs, it’s the related word moshkeni.  It can also mean “to draw up, to raise, to extend, to draw in, to entice or allure, to draw out (as with a weapon) and to drag or seize.” They are different words, but related, and maybe that matters today.

I mean, here we have this woman who has been waiting.  She has kept herself pure and now is rejoicing wholly in her groom who rejoices just as much in her.  She has waited and now she gets to enjoy the reward of that wait, intimacy with the one she loves.  She calls her lover and at the same time she offers herself to him.  No one forces anyone.  There is “vulnerability and submission along with honor and glory” in love.  Lust, on the other hand, is about domination.  There is none of that here.  Intimacy is about love.  And this verse in Micah, about the ruler coming from Bethlehem is all about that type of love and that type of intimacy and how we miss out on it because we chase after others and other things.  It’s about a “God who loves through surrender and vulnerability leading to glorification.” (Skip Moen)

The story in Micah is about love twisted.  Israel should have been saying to God, “Draw me after You: let’s run!”  They should have been saying, “Draw me after You: let’s do life wholly together!”  “Bring me into Your bedroom so I can know You intimately and You can know me intimately, so that we can be one.”  But they were drawn to others and were void of intimacy with the One who truly loved them and could provide all they could ever desire that was wonderful and good and pure and true. 

Hope deferred leads to something; it leads to a sick heart.  It’s the Hebrew word chalah.  This means “to be rubbed or worn; to be weak, sick, afflicted, or to grieve, make sick…(be) diseased, (put to) grief, be grieved, (be) grievous, infirmity…be wounded.”   So hope deferred leads to this. Which makes me think if this Hebrew idea of hope, tocheleth, is a hope based on a specific expectation, or a specific Person, and if that expectation is twisted, this is what results.  But if our hope is where it was meant to be in our original design, in You, Lord, then our hearts won’t be sick, chalah.

Proverbs reminds us that when the desire, the ta’avah, comes, when what we hoped and longed for expected is here and we hold it in our hands or in our being, we will be delighted and satisfied.  Not only that, but it will be a tree of life.  Solomon is taking us back to the garden of Eden.  What happened when hope and desire were twisted then?  Adam and Eve lost the tree of life.  But God is telling us there is a way back to the Tree of Life.  There is a way back to Him.  There is a way that we can untwist our hope and desire and set it back on the One who rightfully deserves it. 

Sickness of heart comes from a distorted reality.  It grows as we grow away from who we were created and intended to be and to worship.  Sickness of heart comes from keeping ourselves from the One who gives us true hope and joy and fulfillment and life and love.  Sickness of heart is brought on by our own twistedness.  But God loves us so much that You add to our sickness of heart so that we might learn to yearn for You again.  When Solomon said in Proverbs 13:25, “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want,”  it’s the same thing going on here.  Either my hope is in You, God, who fully satisfies my soul, and I eat of You and want nothing more than to be engulfed by You and for You to draw me to You wholly, or my soul fills my life with things that disappoint and cannot satisfy.

Hope deferred.  It may not seem like it in the present, but it’s worth it.  The suffering that Israel went through was terrible but it wasn’t pointless.  It was for a purpose, to untwist twisted hope.  And sometimes hope is so twisted that it takes generations to reshape it.  Because here is the promise of hope in the midst of hardship for the people of God to wait for and look forward to, this ruler to come out of Bethlehem Ephratah, to rule Israel; “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  Here’s the lover who has always been waiting to draw His people to Him in complete intimacy and will not give up on her.  Here’s this prophecy and many others that His people have and had and yet when the time came, when Jesus, the lover of their souls, fulfilled this prophecy, many who should have known, refused to acknowledge the truth.  They refused to submit, they didn’t want Him to draw them to Him.  They wanted to force Him to come their way.

The truth is that we still act the same way today.  It’s not that those particular children of Israel were so bad and worse than us.  We’re just like them, just as stubborn, just as twisted by our own desires and hopes that we’ve set up so that we lose sight of the truth which is only found in God, the one who created us.  The funny thing is that sometimes we think God looks so small compared to everything else going on in our lives.  What a misconception.  But the smallest things are often of the greatest importance and not so small as they seem.  Like Bethlehem, that everyone made fun of, “like, what good thing comes from Bethlehem?”  But then again, the King of the Universe was born there as a little baby, a little baby who came to deliver the world through sacrificing Himself for our sins as he deferred hope to just the right time.

Some things have to be deferred to the right time.  Like a caterpillar in its chrysalis has to go through the whole hard process or it won’t succeed in being a butterfly.  A woman has to wait until the right time for delivery or the baby may be endangered.  And so to Israel and even us, those who come to believe and be grafted in, can’t be returned or be grafted in until our hope is no longer twisted, but in the One who is Hope personified for us. 

What am I longing after?  What and who do I want to be drawn to and what and who do I want to draw to me?  Is my every desire toward You, like it should be?  Is it on You because it ought to be or because how could I think of anyone else?  Are You truly the One who is satisfying my deepest needs and desires?  Are You my delight?  Do I run to You and cling to You and care if You cling to me?  Do I want nothing more than to spend intimate time with You?  Can I get enough of You?  Because if I can, something is wrong, something is seriously wrong. 

In this world, some hope in You is deferred until I enter eternity with You.  But because You sent Jesus into Bethlehem to fulfill the hope of Your people Israel and the hope of mankind we can know that our hope is not deferred forever.  He has come!  And we can run to Him!  Run Israel, into the arms of the lover of your soul!  Run, Gentile, into the arms of the lover of your soul!  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” 

And they did.  Because it’s not a secret.  God has made Himself known through His word and through Jesus Christ.  Come and see your Savior.  Hope is here.  Draw after Him and He will draw after You.   “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)  Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)  May our heart cry and our hope be “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)  You know it’s not only our prayer, but it’s Jesus’ prayer too.  He asked not only for the disciples, but for those who would untwist their thinking and draw to Him, that “they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us…”  I want a lover who wants me just as much as I want him.  And maybe, the reality is, that Jesus, the Lover of our souls, loves us more than we could ever know how to love Him.  But, I want to learn to love back like that, and I want to be enveloped in His love as I learn.  Hope doesn’t have to be deferred.  It can be experienced in a relationship with Jesus Christ if I only submit and and respond.

I Don’t Have to be Overcome!

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“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…”  Isaiah 53:3

I wonder if I looked back in Scripture, how many people who knew God would I find that actually understood times of discouragement in their lives?  And I wonder if I could lean on them as a source of encouragement in my own life today?  And I also wonder if I could use them as a source of encouragement for others around me?  What started me thinking about this was a question I heard posed before me and others yesterday, “How much discouragement can you stand and still serve God?”  And I think that is a good question.  It’s a question I’ve already been confronted with in my own life.  It’s a question that God will ask us.  And it’s a question You won’t just ask us by words, Lord, but by hard situations and hard decisions in our life.

So what Bible characters had hard things in their lives where they could have become discouraged and stayed there?  I think of Adam and Eve who had everything they could imagine and more and lost it by their own choice even though they didn’t understand the magnitude of their choice.  Their son murders their other son.  Their lives are turned upside down.  But even in Eve’s simple statement when her son Seth arrives, I see a glimmer of hope.  “For God has appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”  And it winds up that Seth had a son named Enos and “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Why would the people of Enos’ day start calling upon the name of the Lord all of a sudden?  Could the discouragement of life have been weighing on them?  It’s funny how Enos’ name means “weak or feeble”.  It implies “mortal” as opposed to “man”.  What if his dad and others by this time were starting to realize what mortality really meant?  What if people were realizing that mortality, that death, was affecting life even before one died?  What if they saw it coming in things like “broken relationships, broken promises, broken hopes- things that used to work that no longer work.”  What if they kept seeing the signs all around them?  Pain, toil, unhappiness were there and they progressively increased.  I mean, they had a long time to live and I suppose in that long time, they were faced with a lot of this going on, even amidst the happy stuff.  Death may not have come quickly, but it was creeping up into everything none the less.  Maybe, when you come to see that it’s not all going to be happily ever after, when I start realizing what my mortality really means, I start to cry out to a Sovereign God who can remedy things.

That calling that these people did is from the word “qara'”.  It implies a specific vocalization or message which most often is to a specific person and most often requires a specific response.  It’s not just some general cry to someone you don’t know.  It’s usually about approaching someone specific and specifically approaching God.  These people recognized their mortality and were attempting to return to relationship with You.  From this, I’d say that more than just Adam and Eve were going through discouragement.  But that discouragement, even that discouragement caused by their own destructive choices that led to expulsion, revenge, fratricide, egocentricity, disobedience to God and lots of other bad choices, brought them to a realization about their own mortality and therefore, their need for You.

But it doesn’t stop there.  What about Moses?  I think Moses had to overcome a lot of discouragement starting back in Egypt and throughout his leading the people of Israel.  And I come to the time when they were complaining again, and I think that Moses had come to this breaking point.  He went to You, Lord, like he should and fell on his face before You.  And You spoke and told him to take the rod and gather the people together, with Aaron, and just speak to a rock before them all, and it would bring forth water for the people and their beasts to drink.  And Moses took the rod and went out as You had commanded.  And Moses saw those people, and felt that pain resurge, and said, “Hear now, you rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” and he lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with the rod and the water came forth.  I think discouragement caused that response, but unfortunately, discouragement can lead to greater discouragement.

So why were You so rough on Moses, not letting him enter the promised land because of that slip in the midst of His discouragement?  What would You answer, God?  “Because Moses didn’t believe Me, he didn’t sanctify Me before the children of Israel.”  He absolutely disobeyed.  He didn’t trust You enough in this situation to listen and demonstrate You before the people.  He took matters in his own hands and demonstrated his anger.  He went through the motions, but his heart wasn’t in line because of discouragement.  Before the people, he announced from his own mouth, “Must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Where was the glory of God in that?  Moses didn’t handle the situation Your way, for Your glory and that rubs off on what people see and know of You.  And he was the leader supposed to lead them to You.  But here he was, too fed up and hurt to be most concerned with Your image.

See, the Hebrew words representing “believed Me not” imply that Moses’ action was deliberate and not just an “oops” moment.  This is something that strongly shouldn’t have built up, but did.  It’s a strong condemnation by God on Moses’ action.  It also implies stability, trustworthiness, and reliability.  That’s what Moses was supposed to be setting forth about God.  But what he did, usurped all of that.  Before all the people, he acted as though God’s word is not “utterly reliable.”  See, our actions can demonstrate a lack of trust in front of those around us, and our lack of trust diminishes God’s reliability in their eyes.  It’s a big deal, isn’t it?  Maybe bigger than we realized.  I’ve been there with Moses.  I’ve done that.  And now I understand.  But what do I do about it?

I think about Job.  If anyone suffered extreme discouragement, he did, right?  He was so bad off his wife encouraged him (that’s humorous!) to curse God and die.  But Job’s response was “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.”  Wow!  Is that noble or what?  Well, yes, it is noble, and I think a lot of Job, but then he tacked on that second thought, “but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.”  And isn’t that what got Moses in trouble, that focussing on his own ways, his rights, his goodness maybe before these complaining rebels?  And what of Job?  Was discouragement causing him to focus on himself instead of fully on You?  I mean, what is our righteousness compared to Yours?  What ways does any person really have that we we can maintain or hold before You like it’s anything to boast about?

Job wasn’t being punished, so it wasn’t about that, was it?  Job was being tested.  There’s a difference.  Even if it feels the same and looks the same, there’s a giant difference.  And God knew that eventually, when Job came to his senses, He would pass the test.  That’s why He let Satan rake him over the coals, because God knew the man that He had created Him to be.  You knew Job’s heart better than he knew his own heart.  You know our heart better than we know our own.  I guess it takes these really hard situations to bring us to the end of ourselves so we can really get to the beginning of You, Lord.  Like Job who finally realized, “therefore have I uttered what I didn’t understand; things too wonderful for me which I didn’t know…I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees You.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  And You blessed Job’s “latter end” more than his beginning.  Shouldn’t that be the case for all of us?  Aren’t we supposed to run the race in such a way that we end with victory?  Then I better get ready for the hard stuff that gets me there.

And then Isaiah brings me to think about You, Jesus.  You were discouraged multiple times, discouraged in people, by people, even intimate friends.  You were discouraged by the circumstances in Your life.  Isaiah tells us You were “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces [You] were despised, and we esteemed [You] not.”  It continues, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  I suppose Isaiah was writing about Israel’s response to You, but the truth of the matter is that we all wind up responding like this.  It’s not just Adam and Eve, Moses, or Job.  It’s me too.  It’s not just Israel.  I’m right there too.  Sometimes, I forget the real value of who You are because I get so caught up in me.   But the truth is that You came to remedy me.  “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”  I mean, it’s true Adam and Eve, Moses, Job, and me, no matter how great or good people may think we are or we think we are ourselves, well it really all boils down to us being dumb sheep on our own.  That includes all of us really.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

And when God laid our iniquity on Him, which certainly wasn’t fair, He didn’t respond like us bearing His anger on those rebels, or tooting His righteous virtues, or complaining and mumbling, or having a pity party, or blowing up and loosing His cool, did He?  No, You didn’t.  You were oppressed like we sometimes are, even worse though, and You didn’t open Your mouth.  You were afflicted like we sometimes are, even worse though, and You didn’t open Your mouth.  You were brought as a lamb to the slaughter, as a worthy lamb, unblemished.  Not so me.  And just like that sheep You came before the shearers dumb, You didn’t open Your mouth.  But here’s the thing, even that sheep points to more.

Did you know that rams resist shearing?  I didn’t know.  But ewes don’t.  It’s about voluntarily submitting.  Which leads me back to another example of someone who suffered discouragement and her name was Rachel.  So what does she have to do with sheep?  A lot.  Because the Hebrew of this verse actually says,   “ooch-rachel lifnei – like a rachel before her shearers.”  What does that mean?  The Hebrew pictograph of her name means “the person who controls what separates.”  “In Hebrew, rachel is a word that describes a female sheep (ewe), idiomatically, ‘one with purity.’  In contemporary Jewish understanding, Rachel is a name that means ‘innocence of a lamb.’  Perhaps it isn’t quite an accident that Jacob met Rachel fulfilling her task as a shepherdess.  Let’s go back to the pictograph for a moment.  What kind of woman is a woman who is in control of the fence around her?  Since the letter Chet also means ‘private or inner room,’ we might also ask what kind of woman is a woman who takes control of her own privacy, her own inner room?  Hebrew answers:  ‘A woman of purity.'”  (Skip Moen)  But it doesn’t stop there.  Rachel is also used in the Song of Songs describing the beauty of white teeth.  Here it’s “associated with overpowering love; love so intense that a man will work years of his life to enjoy it.” (Skip Moen)

Which brings us to that last verse in Isaiah where one comes “like a rachel before her shearers.”  It’s not just about innocence but the fact that You could resist, but You chose deliberately not to and You voluntarily submitted.  This ewe “controls her own inner room so what happens on the outside does not destroy who she is.”  That’s what You did.  That’s what this woman in Genesis had to do, watching the man who was supposed to be her husband lie with her sister and then having to wait another seven years.

It’s funny, who would have thought to notice a woman so intimately intwined in the midst of Your discouragement, and so used to help point us to the right response.  And it’s not that she was perfect, but it is that You take the imperfect and perfect it.  You took “rachel” to a new dimension that even Rachel had never gone.  And isn’t that what You do for each of us, for Adam and Eve, for Moses and Job, and for me? I’m Sharon but I’m called to “rachel,” to submit to You voluntarily and the things You bring in my life.  I’m called to submit so I can learn to focus on You and not on the circumstances or people bringing them into my life.  If I focus on and fight the situation, I will wind up doing something truly dumb or saying something truly dumb, and I’m not talking “rachel” here.  I will act deliberately from my own accord, my own emotions, my own righteousness.  I know I will.  I already have.  But, if I focus on You and submit voluntarily, I can guard the fences You’ve set up for me and control the sheep within Your bounds.  I can control my inner room when I’ve surrendered it fully to You because You are the one who keeps it best.  It’s like You teach the sheep, even the ewe, how to become a shepherdess.  And You lead the way.  Therefore, I don’t have to lose, I don’t have to fall, I don’t have to fail, if I keep my eyes and mind on the Lamb.  Discouragement, yeah, it will come.  But it’s just a tool to sharpen my love and faithfulness in You.  It’s just a fence builder so that Your love and boundaries around me can be dug in stronger.  Discouragement will come, but I don’t have to be overcome.