beyond fantasy

A life lived with Jesus is a journey, filled with hidden treasures waiting to be uncovered. If we divest ourselves of our religious mindsets and our spiritual preening, approach our Savior with humility, admit that we don’t know half of what we think we know (and most of that is probably wrong), and realize that he wants to sweep us up into his eternal story, we will discover that Scripture is the recounting of a fairy tale, written moment by moment into the fabric of reality by the Author of all things. After all, we inhabit a story of intrigue, and passion, and danger, and betrayal, and romance, and heroism beyond imagination. If we can humble ourselves and gain renewed minds and let the Holy Spirit wipe the scales from our eyes, we become available to encounter wonders.

The Bible is filled with glorious promises and stories of great faith and heroic deeds. With awed imagination, we ponder the great miracles God has done in the lives of his people. Scripture is clear that God is for us, not against us, and that nothing can separate us from his love.

Yet, many people exist with unspoken, nagging doubts as to their genuine standing before the King. They feel that they are not living in anything like what could be considered overwhelming victory. They have the occasional, momentary flash of confidence in the Lord; the sense of his nearness and his triumph in their lives. Yet in most of their day-to-day living, they feel as though they are being battered and bullied by circumstances and personal failures and unanswered prayers.

They are like Zion, addressed in Isaiah 54:11,

O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted….

There is not a person alive who has not felt thrown about by waves of insecurity and fears. Also, we are assaulted by the enemy of our souls—the accuser who slithers to our side to remind us of the “facts” of our lives, pointing out every spot on our garments, every stain on our reputation, every failure to live as we should.

We too often fall into the mind-set that thinks the Lord has forgotten us. We don’t want to believe that he is too busy for us, but somehow we carry a nagging suspicion that he is aloof from our concerns and circumstances. If he truly cared, if he was aware of my needs, he would do something. In our foolish frustration borne of fear—in the “fretting unbelief of our hearts” (Francis Frangipane)—we think that our circumstances, or sin, have taken God by surprise.

This, we come to believe, is unpleasant and unavoidable reality.  We long for “something more;” we ache with longing to feel close to our Creator and to really experience his love. We feel a thrill of glory and excitement as we discern the echoes of our desire in tales of imagination–stories sad and beautiful, wretched and charming, frightening and uplifting. Fables and fairy tales ignite our passion as we recognize, even if it is only for a few moments, our deepest desire for significance, for adventure, for heroism; we dream of the chance to battle for good and overcome evil, the wonder of being swept away in love, and the honor of truly living a life of sacrifice for a great and noble cause.

This is the lure and appeal of the great stories we love. Yet when we lay down the book or leave the movie theater or turn off the television, we return to our mundane lives, our hearts weighed down with empty resignation. Like Norman MacLean, we realize that “life is not a work of art.” Such moments cannot last.

But, what if we’re wrong? There is always a greater and deeper reality than the journeys of feeble men and women. In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan the lion tells the children about the “magic deeper still” from “the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned.” From endless ages past, our names have been written in the Book of Life belonging to the eternal Lamb who was slain for us. He is the great, noble, and powerful King who woos us by his mercy, delivers us from our selfishness and foolishness, and then catapults us into a story that catches us off-guard with its intensity and fire. We have been captivated and captured by a magnificent monarch who has determined to use his limitless resources to present to himself a breathtaking bride, stunning in her beauty, possessing neither spot nor wrinkle, but only transcendent loveliness.

Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones (Isaiah 54:11-12).

Your Lord has promised he will set the foundations of your life with precious stones; he is establishing his glory and beauty as the bedrock of your life. He created you for significance—for magnificence—and he will settle for nothing less as he moves you forward in your destiny.

So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
because He is your Lord, worship Him…
The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace;
Her clothing is woven with gold.
She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors….(Psalm 45:11, 13-14).

The glory you will display is a mysterious and powerful work of his own hand:

 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who call you is faithful, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.)

I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27.)

Our God is the Originator of all that exists (Genesis 1; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17.) He is from everlasting to everlasting, and knows the end from the beginning (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 46:10.) He is First and Last; He is the Beginning; He is the End (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 1:8, 22:13.) The ageless past and endless future are in his hands (Isaiah 43:10-13.) He controls the destiny of everything he has made—and he made everything that is—so he determines our value, our worth, our significance, and our place in the tapestry of eternity.

The Lord knows full well who he intends each of us to be. In fact, this one who knows the end from the beginning has a destiny for you beyond anything you could begin to perceive.

But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9.)

Our present world is burdened by trouble and chaos; even our best intentions and systems are afflicted with wickedness and injustice. Jesus told us that we would have tribulation in this world, and we feel the anguish of the darkness that surrounds us, as well as the awareness of our own failures. Our Father knows all this and feels the pain too—and infinitely deeper than we could ever experience. He understands every minute detail of our journey here—every thought, every action. He understands our successes, our failures, our fears and our doubts.

But, do you not realize that when you worship and pray, presenting yourself before the Lord of glory, he is able to see you as you will be in eternity? He can interact with that glorious being he knows you will be. He sees the true you; the You you will become. Because he has determined to lead you into that destiny, he is able to respond to that person he has created. He knows you as the magnificent expression of his image that you will be throughout eternity. This is not wishful imagination or fanciful thinking. Your future identity is, to God, a reality now, a person who is locatable and knowable by our great King.

He is drawing us out of our “reality” into his. You have been created as an awesome image of our glorious Lord, destined to display his splendor not only in this age, but in the age to come, and to give glory and praise to him, dwelling in love with him for all eternity.

We will never, never cease to be the people who love the LORD our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. And what glorious people we are, and will be!

nothing is wasted

Recently, I wrote of a very dark season in my life. I had been a Christian for decades, and had served in leadership in various ministries and churches. But all that time, I carried unhealed hurt that, in my self-sufficiency, I felt I could ignore. I also never addressed my subtle but persistent unbelief in God’s goodness and love for me personally. I was always able to connect with His heart for others—especially the innocent and neglected—but somehow it did not transfer over to an ongoing encounter of His love and favor in my personal experience.

I think many believers can relate. We know that the Lord loves us—at least, we give lip service to that truth. But in the deepest recesses of our souls, when we lie awake in the middle of the night, we find ourselves appalled and frightened by the darkness we feel is still within us.

Guilt can be a merciless and unmovable monster, screeching condemnation and clawing at our sensitive conscience. We feel overwhelmed and ashamed by weakness and failure. If we fail to recognize the incalculable pardon and mercy we have received from Jesus’ sacrifice, we will cower before its onslaught, aghast at the thought that God must be angry and disgusted with us, and frantic with fear that other people might discover what we are really like. Like someone in the bulls-eye of a tornado’s path, we are whirled ruthlessly in a maelstrom of questions:

Why aren’t I obeying/praying/reading Scripture/ministering as I should?
Why don’t I love God more?
Why do I keep sinning the way I do?
Will I ever stop failing? Has the Lord really forgiven me…….?

A few mornings ago as I prayed, my thoughts stumbled upon that ugly path as I began to recall many instances of dreadful failure from my “dark night of the soul.” I had been forgiven by God and man, but I still found myself sick at heart with regret about the wasted years of sin and unfaithfulness. I felt I personified Jeremiah’s words:   The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked….(Jeremiah 17:9). Surely my actions had proven that to everyone.

Several months ago, the Holy Spirit powerfully spoke to me the promise of Joel 2:25: I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust. Although I believe the promise, as I prayed it didn’t seem to have much reality in light of the parade of wretchedness reminding me of the incredible defeat in my life. I felt disqualified from any promise or fullness of what my life could have been as I knelt, ashamed and dejected.

Suddenly, I felt as if I was transported to the feet of Jesus, much like the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. I sensed Jesus asking me: “Where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

In an instant I realized the gracious truth of Romans 8:1 (There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!) as I lifted my head and replied: “No one, Lord.”

He said “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

As His words washed over me, I was aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit and I was conscious of the awesome I AM overseeing the timeline of my life. I couldn’t see the details—my life did not flash before me—but somehow I knew at that moment HE examined it all, reviewing and sifting all the evidence.

And in that awareness, I heard His quiet, powerful voice: “Son, nothing is wasted.”

I was overcome as I realized that even in my weakest, darkest moments, He understood, with utter perfection, every desire and motivation of my heart. He was intimately aware of every howl of pain when I screamed and cursed in anger instead of crying out in humble brokenness. He saw every wicked craving that sprouted and flourished like twisted vines, choking my true desire to be satisfied in Him. He recognized that even as I attempted to numb myself so I would not feel the inferno of torment and despair that I carried because of my sin, I was crying silently with desperate hope that I might find a place of true repentance.

God Himself presides as Refiner’s Fire (Malachi 3) over each moment of our existence. As we humble ourselves in the fear of the Lord, He hears us and writes in His book of remembrance. He declares over us that we are His. In His mercy He reaches into our lives and extracts the precious from the worthless (Jeremiah 15:19).

You may feel that you have failed, perhaps wretchedly and repeatedly, as I did. But the Father has a different viewpoint. You may believe you have been unfaithful, you have sinned, you have spurned His love and grace, you have done things you should not have, you have not done what you ought. But God doesn’t look at outward appearances; He reads the heart. He is able to discern and nurture the true and precious promise of life He has placed within you. He is able to take even your failures and your weaknesses and extract what is precious.

Do not be afraid to run to your Father, who knows you intimately and perfectly (Psalm 139).

If I should shrink back from the light
So I can sink into the dark
If I take cover and I close my eyes
Even then You would see my heart

You’d cut through all my pain and rage
The darkness is not dark to You
The night’s as bright as day …

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
And death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You  …
(Rich Mullins, “Nothing is Beyond You”)

Even though you may only see worthlessness and sin from the failures of your life, He perceives every pure seed of love and faithfulness. He has not forgotten every wavering resolution to obey Him. He remembers it all, and from the ashes of failure He extracts what is precious, purifies it, and creates radiant jewels for His eternal glory within you.

Nothing of value, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is forgotten.

Nothing is wasted.

we do what we’re told

(I wrote this a couple of years ago for my blog Raw Fruit). 

Here now, are ideas oft repeated:

  • If we could get rid of religion, there would be no more war or social chaos.
  • God is a sadistic tyrant who eternally tortures people just because they don’t believe in him/her/it.
  • Churches expect their people to accept all their teaching, and punish independent thinking. No intelligent, informed person believes in God.
  • Religion has poisoned every culture and resisted all human progress.
  • The Bible is an incoherent mess of writing by superstitious ancients, and is full of contradictions.

I could list many more, but these are the first few that popped into my head.

These notions are dogma to a large segment of our society; ideas so pervasive it almost seems they exist in the intellectual air our minds breathe. It makes sense to turn away from “God” and religion in disgust, since religious zealots scurry about raping the environment, carrying weapons, and secretly plotting to overthrow governments and force the entire world to become a theocracy.

I wonder how many who cling tenaciously to these positions are aware that there are rational, reasoned responses to every single assertion, and others like them? Thinking people through the centuries have wrestled with gigantic questions and doubts and fears, and have come to rational conclusions and positions of faith that can be well-articulated. Whether you agree or not is your prerogative, but you should not dismiss their findings out of hand as if they are ridiculous. To do so is dishonest and foolish.

I have not set out in this post to “prove” the existence of God or the love of Jesus. I am not here to perform quantitative analysis of empirical research. I am merely a pilgrim pointing past myself, past all the garbage and the fluff and even the good and bad “stuff” to signposts, sometimes only dimly perceived, leading us to a place where we can all find hope and truth (and hopefully hope through truth).

Now, it is true that there have been terrible atrocities throughout history performed by individuals and groups claiming to be people of faith. Churches can be hotbeds of uncritical, mesmerized group hysteria, filled with preachers whipping their followers into a frenzy. Religious fundamentalists often speak out with venom and bitterness and appear to hate anyone who feels differently than they do. Since I am a christian, let me confess for us all: mea culpa.

But, consider this well-known quote:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)

Or this comment from a blog post (note: I previously included the link, but the post no longer exists):

…if your storybook was true, I find it funny your warped idea of gods love. The relationship your hold with god and jesus isn’t some friendship, your not walking through the woods skipping and dancing. you are being an obedient slave who worships him and strokes his ego and if you don’t you go to hell. seems to me god is a bit of tyrant and is extremely egotisticals and will have anybody who is willing to get on their knees and worship him. if you want to be that pathetic then i really to pitty you all. (comment from “not stupid”)

It appears christians do not “corner the market” on anger and bitterness. When I read comments containing this kind of contemptuous hostility, it sounds as though there is deep hurt beneath it.

I think Mr. Dawkins and “not stupid” both need a hug.

Let’s be real. Anyone who holds to dogma and opinion without at least a bit of examination is a religious fundamentalist. Many militant atheists fall into that category. When we cease to process information critically, with at least a modicum of humility, we are prey to the conformity of “groupthink”.  We have moved lockstep into a herd of sheep who all run the same direction, over the same packed ground. This mentality affects us all in one fashion or another. I have read publications from supposedly enlightened “freethinkers” who spend their energy spouting the same tired rhetoric as they pat each other’s intellectual backs.

Every human has a worldview, a matrix through which they process information. That is important and necessary. It’s just that we need to be continually reminded of mystery. No matter how you slice it, none of us possesses every piece of the knowledge pie. The sheer volume of what we don’t know–and I am speaking of the entire human race en masse here–is staggering. To be a seeker is to be humble, which is one way to become truly wise. It doesn’t mean that a seeker won’t have opinions–strong ones in some cases–it just means that he or she is willing to engage with others in a respectful, open manner.

It has become a tired cliche’ to say “I’m not religious, I am spiritual.” But it is true that every person ever born is a spiritual being. We crave transcendence. We seem to be “hardwired” with a desire to connect with humanity, nature, and the cosmos. Most of us sense intuitively that it is a marvelous thing to immerse our lives in causes greater than ourselves. Those who focus on living for their own pleasure and gain end up shriveled and emaciated husks.

I often marvel at the beauty of nature, or contemplate the magnificence in a clear night sky, and I tremble with awe for the wonders laid out before me by a loving creator. I pray and experience a peace from something or someone outside myself. I ask for wisdom, and am granted understanding that comes from sources I didn’t uncover with my own intellectual ability.

I encounter the love of Jesus Christ, the living God, every day in numerous ways. It would take far more than one post to explain how and why I came to believe and experience him, and continue to have that experience. Many millions of other people through the millennia have lived the same way.

This is a Grand Adventure.

I do not claim to have new understanding; all I can do is share my story, which I do gladly. But I am aware that if someone fortifies themselves with disbelief, any thoughts I could offer will most likely fall on deaf ears.

You can lead a sheep to Living Water, but you can’t make him drink.

ashes to beauty

Today, as I write this, I mark three years to the day that I began my journey out of a profoundly dark season of my life, into the joy and pain of deliverance and healing and the relief of finding mercy and acceptance from my Father and from family and friends I had deceived and sinned against.

Three years ago, at this time, I was in the process of drinking myself into an alcoholic stupor. Sometime in the early morning hours of the next day I lurched back into a semblance of coherence and discovered I was lying on a bed in a local ER. I saw my wife sobbing; I looked into the shocked faces of precious friends; I beheld my children as they struggled through tears to understand what was happening, and what had happened.

I had walked with the Lord almost forty years and had served in a leadership capacity in many local and international ministry venues. Yet now I lie on a hard bed, wasted, bloated with alcohol, wretched, angering the nurses with my continued lies as I insisted I had “only had a few beers.”

I won’t go into details about my descent into alcoholism—that is for another time. But through the years of ministry, and all the decades of good Christian activity, I still found it difficult to fully accept the love and forgiveness of God. Somehow, I was hesitant to completely trust the tenderness of His mercy. I somehow wasn’t convinced that as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14). In my foolishness—in my pride—I assumed my frame should be made of “sterner stuff”.

We read in Isaiah 53:5 that Yeshua was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He took the full brunt of my anguish and rage and dishonesty and wickedness and bore it away from me by fully bearing it in His pierced and severed flesh. My angry recriminations against God, who I felt was unjustly ignoring me, found full-throated expression in His howl “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Because He took all my iniquity upon Himself, I am fully and completely free, and I have been able to walk a path of profound healing and renewal. I am forgiven, and justified by His grace alone.

I write about my experience today to proclaim that the past one thousand ninety-six days (one of the years was a leap year) have been a source of amazement to my family and me. God was able to take a series of events that had the potential to smother us in cerements of despair, and instead use them to craft a multi-colored tapestry of hope and healing.

For years I read Yeshua’s words in John 15:5: “Without Me you can do nothing.” I agreed with Him, of course; but through my filter, what I really believed was: “Without Me, you can’t do a lot of things.”

Well, funny as it might seem, when you look into the original language, what Yeshua actually meant when he said “nothing” was NOTHING.

Weird.

Interesting, isn’t it, how regularly and easily we fall into the trap of thinking we can accomplish much. Even worse, we also feel that our salvation, our holiness, our love for God is primarily self-generated. We pray and cry, we mourn because of our failures, we wail that we“should be closer to God”, when all the while Yeshua holds out His nail-pierced hands and tells us: “I have done all and more than you could ever imagine. You are fully forgiven and accepted in the Beloved. I desire to manifest My goodness to you and live My life through you, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Come boldly to the throne of grace, to find mercy and grace to help in all your need.”

The worldly spirit of self-reliance and the spirit of dutiful religion are two sides of the same coin. Both give credence to the lie that we are our own god. Either way, we view our lives through the filter of our own works. That is the reason brutal self-condemnation (my specialty) brings no awareness of our Lord’s loving presence, and does nothing to foster deeper holiness within. Yeshua accomplished our salvation and our righteousness through His sacrifice on the cross, and there is nothing we can accomplish to add to His finished work.

So I rejoice today in a life made precious and beautiful in His image; a life saved and catapulted into new hope even as I thought I had plunged myself into a pit of degradation. Our Savior is the God of restoration, the One who gives

 …beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
That (we) may be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD
that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3).

we the sheep….

(Portions of this were taken from a recent Christmas devotional I wrote and released through Inscribe, the ministry website for my wife Kathi and me)

Scour the internet, read posts on Facebook, pick up a newspaper and read the editorials and opinion sections, and you will encounter individuals complaining (and sometimes raging) about the stupidity of people and how the masses of humanity are simply “dumb sheep”, blindly and uncritically following the pronouncements  of media, government, and the dictates of their own self-interests. It seems we are all convinced we have cornered truth and wrestled it to the ground, so that we know the world would be in far better shape if everyone would just listen to what we have to say.

My wife Kathi and I live in the United States of America, where the onslaught of quivering ecstatic consumerism of the holiday season was almost drowned out by an avalanche of anger and dread unleashed by our recent presidential election. People were bitterly divided, each camp proclaiming those in the other camp to be maniacs, idiots, fascists, murderers, etc.

Here is a message from a Christmas carol, written almost 200 years ago, that seems appropriate for our day:

            God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
            let nothing you dismay;
            remember Christ our Savior 
            was born on Christmas day
            to save us all from satan’s power
            when we were gone astray….

When I was nine years old, I went astray. My father had taken my brother and me to a large public event, and when it was over, I needed to use the bathroom. Dad walked over with me and waited by the exit with my little brother, but somehow, as I walked out I turned the wrong direction and was swallowed by the swarm of people rushing to get to the parking lot.

I was only lost for about ten minutes, but to me—and my father—it seemed like hours. Even now, I remember the desperate loneliness and sick panic that flooded me as I frantically searched for my daddy. When we finally spotted each other, we ran to each other and I jumped into his arms and began sobbing.

To go “astray” is to wander from the correct path, to deviate from the right destination, both in the literal and moral sense. While I was astray from my father, heading the direction I thought was correct, I was alone and vulnerable to anyone stronger and smarter than me who might have wished me harm. Initially, I thought I was going the right way (it seemed right to me) so I wasn’t aware of my error. For a few moments I thought everything was fine. But then, the truth of my situation dawned on me, and I realized I was in trouble.

This is every person’s condition. The troubles in society only serve to graphically reveal the underlying problem of all humanity. Every one of us just knows we are able to chart a proper course for our lives over rough and rocky paths and through the dense wilderness of this world. We write, and post, and yell, and protest because Those Other People are ruining the world and WE are intelligent, strong, good people. Right?

Unfortunately, the wisdom of God contradicts us:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
          We have turned, every one, to his own way… (Isaiah 53:6).

We have an enemy—satan, which means the enemy or adversary–who is a deceiver and liar and accuser; a murderous and adulterous swindler who attempts to seduce us into pathways of destruction and death. He has nothing but evil intent for every man, woman and child. If we go our own way, we will ultimately end up in serious trouble.

But praise be to our merciful God! As the song declares, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day and He vanquished every dark power in the universe, stripping them naked and humiliating them (read Colossians 2:15). We no longer need to go astray, frightened and alone. Jesus is our way into the gracious arms of our strong Father, who is All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Loving.

Our God is the Great and Good Shepherd, who is willing to care for all of us sheep.

haShem

In a few days, billions of people around the world will celebrate the holiday—the “holy day”—we call Christmas. There are as many different ways to remember the day as there are people taking part, but regardless of the expressions, it is a time of celebration and reflection.

For Joseph and Mary, holding the newborn Savior, it was a time of celebration as well, tempered by fatigue, and probably relief that the birth had been successful. Upon the arrival of shepherds, they discovered that heaven had also burst forth in celebration. The angelic messages they had received were beginning to be fulfilled.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great I AM.
(“Mary, Did You Know?”)

How much did Joseph and Mary really understand about the blessed event? How could they know the all-encompassing glory this birth represented? How could they perceive just how powerful was the redemption born to earth this night, and how great would be the cost to purchase salvation?

How could they begin to imagine how great was this Baby born in such humble surroundings?

In Exodus chapter three, we read that God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and commissioned him to stand before Pharaoh, demanding Israel’s freedom from Egyptian bondage. Moses asked for God’s Name, so that he might be able to tell the people who had sent him.  God simply replied “ehyeh-asher-ehyeh”  (YHVH, usually rendered “I AM THAT I AM”). He is the original, uncreated Being, the Source of all existence. All that exists is contingent upon His existence, and He is existent within Himself. He depends on nothing and no one except Himself.

In our western culture, we primarily use names as identifiers or labels. But names in Hebrew language describe dynamic function. They tell who someone is and what he is doing—inviting us into relationship.

The Name YHVH shows us that He is absolutely transcendent above everything in creation, both seen and unseen. Yet in revealing His Name, the Jewish sages tell us He is extending mercy to His creation.

The Bible tells us Mary pondered many things in her heart about her Son—with good reason. So much mystery, so much glory, so much promise surrounded this Child from the beginning. He was born into poverty and difficulty yet He grew and released the riches of God and proclaimed freedom from bondage to all people. He grew to be a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, yet He drew the outcast and downcast and gave them joy and hope. He died an agonizing and shameful death yet He rose again and now rules with all power and authority as Lord of lords and King of kings. He is Yeshua—salvation from sin.

This great and eternal God, existing from unending infinity past, extending into infinity upon infinities of endless future, became flesh, available to be touched and held in the present moment. He is available to us still.

Daily life has a way of pressing us with urgent and frantic demands. The Christmas season seems to escalate the frenetic activity, as we pile more and more events and responsibilities on ourselves. But in the midst of it all, we are invited to remain rooted and grounded in love, remembering that our Savior is closer to us than even our very breath.

The Great I AM speaks to the deep places within us this Christmas. He reminds us of His love and His all-sufficiency for everything we need. He is the ever-present Answer to our deepest heart desires.

In His Name, we celebrate the season! Merry Christmas.

the laughter of YHVH

Sometimes it looks like this:

It is a warm, bright Sunday afternoon at the park. I sit on a wooden bench, watching my small children play and dance and rejoice.

It is just the kids and me. Kathi is on her way to a special evening church meeting. The couple scheduled to speak that night minister in gifts of healing. Kathi asked me—begged me, really—to go with her.  She is aware how intensely I dislike going anywhere Sunday evening. It is enough for me to drag myself each week to the morning service, and endure a couple of hours of fear and boredom and dismay, clammy with the desperate hope that maybe this time God might touch me, somehow free me from the howling wasteland of disappointment, emptiness and despair.  I have sunk deeply into the mire of self-pity; what I want, God is not giving me. I don’t understand or appreciate the difficulties that have come to my life. Each week I dutifully attend church, but I am not happy, nor engaged.

So, this Sunday late afternoon, I won’t go. But I feel a nagging guilt; like the psalmist, I am troubled as I recall “how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (Psalm 42:4). I am also angry–and certainly justified in my enmity–because God claims to love me, and He won’t behave the way I want. He could fix my difficult circumstances; He could take away my pain; He could let me know He is listening and ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!

But, as I think of how badly my wife wants me to join her, remorse gets the better of me, so I dutifully pack up my little ones and head to church.

We slip in the back, late, and I scan the crowd to find Kathi. She sits, beautiful and peaceful, near the front of the sanctuary. There are empty chairs near her–saved for me?–so we quietly join her.

I listen with mild interest to the message preached, but then to my surprise, I suddenly finding myself standing at the front of the sanctuary, in a line of people who want to receive prayer. Most of them are excited, anticipatory, eager for a touch from God. Me? I sigh with frustrated, fatalistic pessimism.

And hands are laid upon me. People praying with faith, for me of little faith. I don’t expect anything to happen, really; I will receive a polite prayer and I will mutter polite thanks before I return to my polite chair. That is all I expect; that is all I want. What I get, as the speaker gently touches my chest and speaks a few words, is a sensation of light and heat and the realization that my legs—suddenly weak—have buckled beneath me and I flop on the carpet, staring at the ceiling as astonished light fixtures glare back at me.

I lay for a few seconds, stunned. Then almost instantly, I feel self-conscious and stupid. I can preserve a little bit of dignity by rolling over and pretending to pray on my knees. As I bow my head, I am suddenly aware of a bubbling in the pit of my stomach. Of all the crazy things: It is as if I have a womb inside me and an embryo of merriment has formed, encased by a shell fashioned from my confusion and offense. Somehow,  I know I have the choice to crack the “egg” and release laughter, or ignore my foolish imagination and continue stewing with bitterness and regret.

The whole situation is so ridiculous that I snort. The snort becomes a gasp; the gasp a chuckle; then suddenly I am howling, bellowing with joy, holding my stomach.  I shout and whoop and raise my hands in the air as tears run down my cheeks. My body shakes from the force of cleansing, renewing, healing laughter sent from the heart of my Father. He is laughing with me.

Yet, even as I am being redeemed from the pit, I’m still offended, and I have questions. Really–You give me laughter? What about children chained in wretched sweatshops? Or the thousands dying in poverty and disease? Or babies starving because their mothers  are too weak to nurse them at the breast? What about sexual perversion and exploitation and rape? What of the millions of daily injustices, both small and great, throughout the world?As swiftly as my thoughts careen from one question to the next, I seem to hear a Voice powerful and majestic resonating within me, a sound pregnant with tenderness, a cascading roar of fiery liquid compassion; joyful ecstasy and brokenhearted mercy somehow mysteriously blend into a single, magical expression. My Father is answering me.

“Yes. Yes! I know all about those things. And I know what I intend to do about them!”

Beautiful words, simple, profound; wisdom of eternity releasing a sliver of understanding. Words that give me hope and soften my heart. I humble myself before the mighty hand of God. He is aware, and that is enough. I am chastened and comforted. I am restored to life.

Years have passed since that night, and I have endured other seasons of darkness and brokenness. Depression is a vicious, haunting beast. But I have never forgotten those words I heard, and have come to understand, that just as YHVH spoke to Job, in a similar fashion He addressed my complaints. There are circumstances in life that I cannot understand. I am not the Almighty; I have not existed from infinity past, nor can I see the panoramic sweep of ages to come, so there is no possibility that I might comprehend the entire scope and sweep of the cosmic drama.

What I can do is trust the goodness and faithfulness and justice of God, who brings the dead to life, who knows what He is doing, and will one day—because of love and mercy and holiness—bring all creation and all history into alignment with His justice. Then we will know Him face to face, and dine and rejoice with Him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and our laughter will echo into eternity.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Revelation 21:3-5