thirty-four years of beauty

(This is adapted from a post I wrote a few years ago for my precious wife on our anniversary)

I write with grateful joy today, because it is my wedding anniversary. Thirty-four years ago this day, a wonderful, loving, gentle, luminous, alluring young woman and I exchanged vows before God and family and friends, and our pastor announced we were married.Marriage is exciting and infuriating and joyous and frightening and challenging and wondrous and weird and astonishing. It is a great adventure; it is a comforting and joyous sharing of life; it is two unique individuals daily learning to become—in profoundly mysterious union—“one flesh.”  Marriage is an earthly picture of the love Christ shares with his Church.

I have learned how to be more like Jesus, and how to truly be a man, by sharing this journey with the finest woman I have ever known.

The last chapter of the biblical book of Proverbs contains this question: “A capable, intelligent and virtuous woman, who is he who can find her?”

I can answer. I found Kathi.

My feelings for her today are elegantly expressed in the lyrics to a beautiful song performed by Steven Curtis Chapman titled “We Will Dance”:

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes
And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain
You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong
You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go
We’ll see them come and go again
But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze
One thing will not be changin’

We will dance
When the sun is shining; in the pouring rain
We’ll spin and we’ll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight
Sometimes we feel so far apart
Sometimes we dance as one
And feel the beating of each other’s heart

Some days the dance is slow and sweet
Some days we’re bouncing off the walls
But no matter how this world may turn
Our love will keep us from falling

And we will dance
When the sun is shining; in the pouring rain
We’ll spin and we’ll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

The music will play
And I’ll hold you close and I won’t let go
Even when our steps grow weak and slow
Still I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

Thank you, my beloved, for all the years of dancing.

Dancing

 

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God’s name is not harvey

A few days ago I read a grimly humorous story about a family who posted a message on social media, “Good news! We are OK,” to which a friend wearily replied “I’m sorry, remind me: which disaster are you in?”

The level of destruction due to natural—and man-made—catastrophes we have recently been witnessing is heartbreaking. We all want to do everything we can to help and to ease people’s suffering.

Many Christians are deeply troubled and fearful in the midst of such chaos, and unfortunately, we have seen much conflict and animosity occurring as people entrench themselves into opposing viewpoints, vehemently arguing their case as to the cause behind all the trouble. Some claim the disasters are judgments from God; others react against this, questioning why God would judge one place and not another; and still others try to walk a middle road, claiming that God is merciful, but there are times He does need to judge and we can’t always understand His ways.

These pronouncements and opinions miss the point.

In Luke 13, we read that Jesus was told about a group of Galileans who had been cruelly killed by Pilate. He gave a response that, at first glance, almost seems evasive, but it actually gives us an enlightened perspective:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)

The Lord had just been discussing the importance of discerning the signs of the times when someone piped up with the account of the slaughtered Galileans, probably with the intent of receiving a response about judgment and retribution. But Jesus clearly pointed out that these events were not direct examples of heaven’s judgment upon wicked people. As He often did, He changed the focus of the question back upon an individual’s responsibility to live in right relationship with God.

So, as we ponder and pray our way through the turmoil and chaos, and wade through all the declarations of doom from self-proclaimed prophets—and the resulting hurt and angry protestations from individuals offended by what they perceive as heartlessness—there are a number of factors to consider.

We understand that God is sovereign; everything that exists belongs to Him. He reserves to Himself the ultimate authority to judge every individual, every people group, every nation. There is a coming Day when the present age will be consummated, and the secrets of every heart will be revealed. In that Day, we will all stand naked before the holy One who sits upon the glorious throne, judging with perfect justice.

It is important to recognize that God has a controversy against every nation (Jer. 25:31, Hosea 4:1), so we are to seek Him for wisdom and guidance as to how we should pray, and not automatically declare “This particular occurrence is a judgment of God upon this particular people at this particular time.” The great truth, and great hope for us, is that God desires all men to be saved. His heart is always reaching for mankind with good-will and kindness. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. He said if we believe in the Son we are not judged; if we do not believe, we are judged already (John 3:16-19); and it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God if we refuse His grace (Hebrews 10:31). But for us who have been justified, the hands of God are a refuge of strength and comfort and mercy, for we have been tenderly engraved upon them (Isaiah 49:16; John 20:24-29).

We also recognize that at this present time, Scripture teaches that all creation groans and convulses as a woman laboring in childbirth, desperate for the full manifestations of the sons of God (Romans 8:22). It is irresponsible and naïve for us to ignore our own complicity in the convulsions of creation due to sin. Our planet groans and aches with longing for us to fully take our place in righteous stewardship, properly managing our Lord’s good gifts, because then creation itself will be delivered from its bondage to corruption into the glorious liberty that awaits us (Romans 8:21).

So, when we see tragedy strike, it is helpful and right that we humble ourselves and confess our sins—not in morbid introspection, but in humility like Daniel, identifying ourselves with the failings of our people and our nation. As we repent, we also respond with gratitude and worship for God’s great kindness and goodness. We have freely received, so we freely release blessing and life over our nation, proclaiming mercy and healing into every heart and every situation. As children of the great King, ambassadors of His grace, it is our mandate to bless and not curse. We are to be blameless and pure so that we shine as lights in the midst of a warped and perverse generation (Ph. 2:15).

So, do not feel as though you must take sides about “why” tragedies occur. Frankly, there are many “whys” we all must face that do not have completely satisfying answers. But it is vital that we keep as our foundation the clear teaching of Scripture that our Lord is good, and He expresses that goodness to all He has made! At the birth of our Savior, the sky exploded with brilliance as angelic hosts proclaimed the kind intentions of our eternal Creator: “…peace on earth, goodwill toward men….”

We honor our Father when we trust Him. We do not bury our heads in the sand and refuse to face reality; rather, we courageously and boldly live lives of hope and trust in the face of dark trouble and wickedness, knowing that the God of all the earth will do justly.

We are assured that the time is coming when He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and His dwelling will be with us eternally. There will be no sorrow, or sickness, or fear, or pain.

All will be as our God desires. Behold, He makes all things new.

canticle in the darkness

Here is a promise and a comfort most beautiful, spoken to us by our glorious and gracious Father:

The kind of person on whom I look with favor
is one with a poor and humble spirit,
who trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)

Many individuals in the body of Christ have lived long in such a posture; remaining humble, childlike, trusting and trembling before the power of our eternal God and the mysteries of his Word. But after long seasons of barrenness, stumbling on dusty roads through colorless and arid wastelands, their throats have become parched with crying and thirst, and their souls have paled from inability to change their circumstances; their lives becoming a vapor of insignificance.

In this dry and weary land dwell foul and slithering spirits, who hiss with mocking arrogance. “Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy…” (Isaiah 66:5). And so you tremble more violently; not with fear of the Lord, but with cringing fear and despair, because it seems that Jesus is not glorified through your life. You live with prayers unanswered, promises unfulfilled, sins unvanquished, relationships unrestored. Your life seems engraved with failure and your destiny is written by your inability to press forward into the land of promise.

You find yourself agreeing with the voice of the accuser, because his words are based on “reality.” But they are not based on truth.

You are not sculpted in failure, cast as a monument to “what might have been,” but in fact, you have been carved onto the very hands of the triune God (Isaiah 49:16; John 20:26-29) and burned into the affections of His heart (Song 8:6-7).

Your life and your heart of humility and trust–though weak and faltering–is more pleasing to God than you can possibly imagine!

For YHVH takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.
He heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God,
Thou wilt not despise.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
(He) favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness.
(Psalm 149:14; 147:3,5,11; 51:17).

So we wait—trusting, trembling with hope—for His lovingkindness. Faith is turning our gaze to behold Jesus, and to follow Him where He goes. It is to keep our focus fixed on Him, not worrying what others have (or have not) done or accomplished; not concerning ourselves with what levels of glory we “should have” reached; neither ashamed for things we have done that we shouldn’t have, nor regretting things we have not done that we should.

But you may say, “I have failed too much. I have squandered my inheritance. I have been covered so long in the cloak of despair that I reek of decay.”

In your desperation, hear His response:

You, who sits mourning in the very heart of Zion—though you don’t even believe you are there—I come to comfort you. I gently smooth the ashes of charred dreams from your hair; anoint your head with fragrant oil to cleanse the stench of hopelessness and place on your brow a beautiful garland, woven from my vibrant, shimmering pleasure. I strip from you the grave clothes of shattered hope and wrap you in a mantle of praise and glory, a festive robe suitable for celebration, that as I rejoice over you, you would no longer be exhausted by despair. I will rebuild the broken places in your life; I will restore life to the years that you think you have wasted, and cause you to flourish before me as a towering oak, my righteousness your life-flow. (based on Isaiah 61:3-4).

So now, take God at His Word, believing that He has deposited within you His imperishable, incorruptible seed. You are deemed priceless, purchased with the life of Christ.

…you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (1 Peter 1:18-20).

When the enemy mocks, his forked tongue spitting lies: “Let God be glorified, so we can see you rejoice; oh wait, He isn’t glorified in you, is He? You can’t rejoice, can you?”
warriorBride
Here is your response, a full-throated, delirious exultation of victory as part of Jesus’ warrior-bride:

I am so joyful in ADONAI!
M
y soul rejoices in my God,  
for He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness and triumph…
like a bride adorned with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10).

Selah.

strange fire

Fire was important to Israel’s worship, both in the Tabernacle and the Temple, as it was to be kept burning continually on the altars of incense and of the burnt offering. In both the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple in Jerusalem, fire on the altar was set ablaze by God himself (Leviticus 9:24; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). This fire was special; this fire was sacred; and it was to be tended continually.

But in the wilderness, at the very institution of the priesthood, came tragedy born of human foolishness:

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:
‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.'” (Leviticus 10:1-3).

Our great God is love and mercy and goodness; he is filled with lovingkindness, and he pardons sin and iniquity. But we must never forget that he is holy and pure, and evil cannot dwell with him (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4-5).

The body of Christ has entered a season of increased consecration, where the Holy Spirit is causing all of his people to live a greater maturity in the faith. His call has always been that we would walk in the truth he has shown us, and believe the written Word and the promises he has quickened to our hearts. As the coming of our Lord draws nearer, and this present age nears its completion, it is vital that we know him and trust him, finding our life and strength in him.

There are many powerful promises God has revealed to us, and encounters with his presence to comfort and encourage us, reminding us of his power and his commitment to our welfare. But when we find ourselves consumed with vain imaginations such as regrets from the past (I wrestle with this) or fear of the future or insecurity about the Lord’s love for us, are we not coming before him with “profane fire”? When our identity is determined by our accomplishments or the fleeting approval of men, and we find ourselves consumed with fleshly desires and grasping after security, isn’t this placing before the Almighty an offering that he has not commanded?

And when we come before him, seeking to pray the right way, or repent correctly, or worship with the right forms and words; when we demand that he answer our questions so we can understand and believe; when we think we can somehow find favor in his sight through our devotion or our religious activities; are we then not just as guilty as the sons of Aaron, kindling strange fire on the altars of our hearts?

Our Father knows us intimately, and he wants us to bring him our cares, our fears, our doubts, our anger. We cry out to him from our brokenness, and in mercy he heals us. We pour out our anguish because we only know in part, and see in part, and there is so much we just don’t understand.

There is a place we are to bring all our wickedness, our unbelief, our fear, our foolishness, our pain, and our emptiness. It is the cross of Jesus. We lay it all down; and then, when our backs are unburdened of our load of care, our shoulders untethered from the yoke of slavery, and our hands emptied of our own accomplishments, we lay ourselves prostrate before him, knowing that he has taken upon himself every agony, every filthy action, every injustice from every instant of human history–past, present, and future. Then we arise, having boldly entered the Holy of Holies, the very presence of our eternal God, knowing that our hearts have been made clean and our bodies have been washed with pure water. The flame that we then find kindled within is like that inferno that roared from heaven upon the wilderness altar; the glory that flattened Solomon and all Israel at the Temple dedication; the wildfire that exploded on Mount Carmel, silencing the shrieking of Baal worship; the blazing eyes of Jesus that caused John the beloved to collapse as though dead.

We glorify him and he burns within us as he reveals his passionate love, the flaming heart of holy mercy that gives light to our darkness and warmth in our coldness.

fire-heart

encounter

In the deep spirit of a man the fire must glow or his love is not the true love of God. (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God).

Nothing of this tangible world–no possession, no deep and loving friendship, no sensual experience, no mood-altering substance, no religious pleasure–can comfort and fill the human heart with joy and delight like the presence of Jesus.

After many years, I have found that all my “spiritual stuff,” upon which I depended so heavily to bring me into wholeness and holy living, amounted to nothing but, as Paul wrote, a pile of dung. My pleading, my grasping, my agonized wrestling, my guilt, my shame, my repentance, my hopeful but ultimately vain promises to “do better”; the memories of these are seared across my soul; welts caused by the fiery brand of dead works.

But to be engulfed in the inferno that is the love and presence of the Triune God; to encounter it, even if but for a moment, kindles within me the light of truth and flame of holy passion. It alights my spirit and creates a desire for, and a delight in, the will and the ways of God. Encountering Him causes my heart to “burn within me.” Encountering Him burns away the hindering claw of the flesh and releases me to run with Him to the mountain of spices, where His fragrance perfumes the atmosphere and permeates the physical surroundings. I dance with hind’s feet, rejoicing with the Lover of my soul.

When I encounter Him, even for an instant, I want to follow and obey; I wish to lay down my life that He  would take it up and make of me what He will. I desire to forsake all for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus and dwelling near His noble and magnificent heart. I am connected to the Vine by His grace; I have but one desire and holy passion: that I may dwell in the house of YHVH all the days of my life, to behold His beauty and inquire in His temple.

I find my only true satisfaction and genuine knowledge of who I am by encountering the One who created me. By ravishing my heart, He makes me pure. So I cry:

Kiss me with the kisses of Your mouth–
For Your love is better than wine….
Your name is ointment poured forth….
Draw me away!
I will run after You.

In humility, drenched in His love as with the morning dew, we follow even as we seek, we cry for more even as He satisfies us, we mourn even as we leap with joy. The “now and not yet” is in our hearts, the sure and present promise of His great glory within us and His inheritance of majesty shown now to the powers and principalities of this present age, with a destiny to proclaim throughout endless ages the majesty of His awesome beauty and His powerful work in us, His chosen beloved.

The rational minds of men and women cannot–and will not–grasp the beauty of this truth. Rebellious and relentless reasoning constantly batter us, strengthened by the pervasive clamor of our culture and the self-demonstrating world of our senses and the seductive, whispered lies of the infernal enemy of our souls; they conspire to cast us from the delights of the Garden: walking in the cool of the day, basking in innocent and free communion; and thrust us squalling and fighting our way into the tyranny of false godhood, enchanted by the siren call of pernicious, tower-building skepticism and the arrogant cynicism of the “knowledge of good and evil.”

In his search for a statement that could not be doubted, Descartes arrived at “I think; therefore I am.” So many believe that their own rational thoughts are the sum total of their explanation for existence. But our staggering, blistering hubris has led us to destruction and silenced the gentle whisper of the Voice within us. The power of the human mind, our fractured reasoning, without humility, has slaughtered love.

I choose instead:

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Just as intimacy between a man and woman produces a new human child, so intimacy with God produces a new creation, birthed in glory, swaddled in love–an extravagant reminder, once again, of His mercy, and an expression of hope that can change the world.

the Nikean creed

One morning, I was minding my own business, getting ready for work, when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart so clearly, it was almost as if I heard an audible voice.

“Jeffrey, you are not the savior of the world. I am.”

I know what you are thinking. Duh—right? But it stopped me dead in my tracks.

I have written about my youthful desire to “burn out for God.” Heroes of the faith loomed large in my mind, and I pictured myself praying and eventually becoming a man who would live every aspect of his life in sacrificial devotion, twenty-nine hours a day; I would become a heroic, selfless, humble soldier for Christ who would be willing to take up my cross, endure any hardship and face any danger with martyr’s courage. I would live inflamed with zeal to be a demon-destroying, injustice-shredding, glory-spreading, Word-wielding  warrior for Christ.

Also, of course, I was also completely responsible for everything that happened in my marriage and family. Surely, as head of the household, the well-being of my wife and children depended on me.

Not. Even. Close.

I believe that everyone’s life affects others, especially if we are “of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), because we are part of one Body, and therefore joined together under one Head (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18). But I notice something important in those Scripture passages: there is one Head, one Savior, and it isn’t me!

Unfortunately, many of us still are obsessively performance-oriented. It seems instead of following Jesus, we follow hard after the philosophy of a famous sportswear manufacturer:

JUST DO IT!

God saved you, after all; don’t you now owe him the courtesy of trying, with all your strength, to love him with all your heart and behave as he would expect you to? Aren’t we responsible to fix everything in our lives and the world around us?

Our weird works-based theology springs from the fallacy that knowing good and evil makes us like God. It doesn’t. God created us in his image, but we have all sinned, and spun off onto our own roads leading into the dark swamp of self-worship.We desperately need him to grab us by the shoulders, steady us, and set us on the path that leads to life. If we humble ourselves before Jesus, he creates something new out of our lives, declaring that we all have a great and glorious destiny and wonderful exploits to perform on this earth. But these spring from the desire and power of our King.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Get it? You are saved by faith; but God gives it to you. You are a marvelous new creation; but God did the creating without your help. You have incredible, world-changing works to do, but they were all planned out for you a long, long time ago.

Guess what? It’s not about you. It’s not about me, either.

We can try—God knows some of us try—but we can’t make ourselves holy, or zealous, or courageous, or loving, or merciful. We are absolutely dependent on the mercy and power of our Lord, not anything we can do. God desires and requires us to have hearts of grace-filled love, humbled by his mercy. So, in kindness, he gives them to us. He loves it when we trust him and place all our hope in what he accomplished for us through Jesus.

Our response of devotion springs from hearts filled with the powerful and merciful love of God. We can never earn that love, or pay him back for the sacrifice he made for us. He truly deserves that we would offer him our lives; so by HIS grace, we are able to respond to his gracious invitation with amazed gratitude. This is really good news for those of us who labor under a self-imposed yoke of sacrificial religious duty. Take a moment to read and ponder what Jesus said:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).

So, let’s take a deep breath, cease striving, and know that he is God!

Now, where did I put my copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs…….?

king of the trenches

The person who has never doubted the goodness of God either lives in denial, or has never suffered even so much as a headache. Sometimes the most sincere, trusting believers wrestle with doubt and fear and anguish due to unanswered prayers, unaddressed issues of injustice, and fearful trouble.

When circumstances scream that we have been left on our own, it seems easy to doubt God—or become angry with him—because he did not do a certain thing or answer our prayers a certain way or make things work out the way they ought to. We think: If I were God, I would never let _____ happen! So we try to be faithful and trusting, but we harbor secret doubt in the deep recesses of our souls. Is Christianity really true? Maybe it is for some people but not so much for me. Or perhaps I don’t have enough faith. Or I haven’t believed correctly. Maybe my faith isn’t strong enough.

And maybe—just maybe—the wickedness of my past has shipwrecked my life.

In 1 Kings 20, we read that Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, had formed an alliance with a number of other city-states, conquered much of Israel, and then besieged Samaria in order gain its wealth, taking the silver, the gold, and the loveliest of their wives and children.

King Ahab was aware that his army was no match for the one assembled by Ben-Hadad. But an unnamed prophet appeared, promised victory to the king, and outlined how the battle was to be fought. The king listened and obeyed (for once), and Israel triumphed, recognizing that their victory didn’t come from their own strength, but from the hand of God.

The Syrians also understood that they had been defeated because God helped Israel. But servants of Ben-Hadad believed that it was because the battle occurred in the hill country, and they devised a plan for victory:

Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the valley, surely we will be stronger than they” (1 Kings 20:23).

Do we think as the Syrians thought? Is he God of the hills, but not the valleys? Is he God only when prayers are answered, and we dwell in security and comfort, and we are kept safe from every enemy? Is he God only when our souls are satisfied and we are healthy and happy? If we are walking in faith and obedience, is that when he is God?

Could he also be God when, without warning, life spirals into sheer wretched cruelty and decimates our world with shocking suddenness? Is God truly aware when we are sick and hurting, yet we are not healed? Is God truly YHVH-Yireh—our Provider—when we don’t have enough money and we face financial ruin? Is he really our God who cares when loved ones suffer horrific injustice  for no good reason?

God of the hills only? Could the Creator of life also be God of the drug addict, dying in the gutter covered in vomit, or God of the young girl abducted and raped and left to die in her own blood? Is the LORD of purity capable of being God of the pedophile, the murderer, the human trafficker? Is he God Almighty when powerful, wicked rulers oppress their weak and innocent citizens, stealing their dignity and hope? Is our God still good when the immoral sewage of our self-serving culture has swamped our homes and poisoned the minds of our young people with perversion?

Is he God when all life seems dark and hopeless and there is no reason to suffer another moment with unending, searing, soul-shredding agony?

Scripture is brutally honest about our world and its terrible pain and suffering. We are told that all creation is in a state of catastrophic brokenness, and any relationship we might have had with our Creator has been ravaged by rebellion and selfishness. We want to think we are basically “good”–for instance, many years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People–but when we look at society, we see it spiraling into chaos, bloody with hatred and violence and fear. We realize, in the words of Fleming Rutledge, that “something is terribly wrong and needs to be set right.”

The pronouncements of atheists and evolutionists and nihilists in our culture are wrong. We are not products of blind chance, clawing for the fittest to survive a few pointless years, destined for oblivion. Deep within, we know there is more to life than this and we agree that the wrong must be made right.

And because we were helpless, and because we were hopeless, God himself stepped in to our world, suffering humiliation more dreadful than any damnable human valley of death.

God of the hills only? No, he is also God of the valleys. Jesus swallowed death and destruction for us all. He surrendered himself to the dread horror of sin and out of mercy for us, bore our state of helplessness in the assault of unrelenting, violent Evil. His body was sliced by every torture we could devise, yet he cried out, over and over, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” proving that he would not abandon us to our selfishness and utter cruelty. He is able to comfort the most wretched, heal the most damaged, and deliver the darkest and most depraved of us.

If I ascend into heaven, or dig down to bed myself in hell—there you are!
If I say “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.” (Psalm 139:8, 11-12)

The great I AM is not a “tribal god.” He is Lord of the Hills and Lord of the Valleys, Lord of all existence, creator of heaven and earth. He does not compete with the dark powers of sin and satan; he has utterly triumphed over them through the cross. He will not bow to our systems and customs and governments. He is the infinite One who loves us with burning passion. His purity cannot be tainted by uncleanness and his holiness is greater by far than any contagion of our sin. The blackest human darkness is not dark to him. He is able to “save to the uttermost” anyone who will call on him for mercy. “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men” (C.S. Lewis) and his mercy is everlasting, stretching to a thousand generations. Outside of time, and beyond eternity, he knows what he has determined and he will cause it to be.

SONY DSC

The king of Syria believed that God was limited in what he could perform. “Ben-Hadad” was not his name, but a title for the king meaning “son of Hadad,” son of the “god” of the realm; a god of storm and thunder.

When life and circumstance howl and rage against us, when the “storm” and “thunder” of darkness and violence seem overwhelming, when evil desires to crush all the earth in its iron grip, we recall that it is our God who is Lord of everything. All authority and power has been given to Jesus, the holder of the keys of hell and death. He is not limited in his love, his goodness, his kindness, or his power to comfort and heal and save. No matter the desperation, no matter the darkness, no matter the valley, he is with us, his love is our light, and his presence is an impregnable fortress of mercy!