Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Temple

In the days of the kings, God lived among his people in a temple built by David's son, Solomon. On Christmas day, God came down and dwelt among his people in a temple made of flesh. And today, God abides with us in an even more surprising and mysterious temple.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wrestler


You always were a wrestler. Even in the womb, you fought to squirm your way to the front. Your first attempt to wrest the birthright from your brother was thwarted, but you emerged with a heel and a name, Jacob, the heel grabber.

You grew up a quiet man, hovering near the tents. Esau, a strong and skillful hunter, loved the open country. He had one thing you desired more than anything else, the birthright. You knew you could never overpower him by brute strength so you resorted to trickery. Esau followed his nose and ended up in the tent drooling over a pot of steaming stew. "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!"

You were only too happy to oblige. You would hand over the stew, IF he traded you the birthright. Your fool of a brother consented, selling the birthright to fill an ever-emptying stomach.

The birthright meant inheritance. But you wanted something more, your father's blessing. Cloaked in a goatskin, you tricked your father and got what you wanted. All your scheming and conniving landed you a mournful father, a death threat, and a sleepless mother who feared for your life. So you ran.

There in the dark night, your head resting on a rock, I found you. "I am going to give you something you can't earn, swipe, or steal, my favor. This land you are laying on will one day be yours. You swindled a blessing out of your father, but I will freely bless the world through you."

"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 8:16, NASB).

You ran to your Uncle Laban where you met your match in the deceit department. You gave him 7 years of labor, and he gave you a wife you did not love. Oh, but I loved Leah. I saw her misery and gave her a child, Reuben. I heard her cry, so I gave her Simeon. I attached myself to her through Levi, who would father the priestly line. And I would bring praise through Judah. You worked 7 more years and secured the hand of your beloved Rachel.

You desired to return with your wives and sons to your homeland. But Laban wasn't ready to let you go. He received a taste of the blessing I would give the world through you and begged you to stay. You took advantage of this opportunity to drain Laban of what was his. Through a breeding experiment, you stole the best of Laban's flock, leaving him with the weaklings. Laban's attitude toward you changed, so you left.

That's when news of your brother reached your ears. He was on his way to see you and was bringing with him 400 men. Your heel-grabbing had finally caught up with you. You knew your brother was coming with an army to pay you back what you deserved. In a desperate plea to save your skin, you sent droves of servants bearing gifts, you divided up your camp into two groups, and you prayed. Oh, how you prayed.

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, "I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted (Genesis 32:9-11).

That night, you got up and sent your two wives, your eleven sons, and all your possessions across the Jabbok. But you stayed alone. Or so you thought. Until...boom! a man knocked you to the ground. You fought hard and long under the light of the stars hovering above. When day broke, you were wounded. Your hip was wrenched out of socket, but you refused to let go. "Bless me!" You were still fighting for what was already yours!

"What's your name?"

"Jacob."

"No, not anymore. I am giving you a new name. From now on, you will be called, Israel. You've wrestled with your brother, your Uncle, your wives, and now this stranger in the night. But I tell you that all along, you have been wrestling me. Your new name will be Israel, "he wrestles with God." Don't you see? The heavens aren't bent against you, they are bending down to you. Here is my favor. Take it. It's yours.

But, oh Israel, you always were a wrestler.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On the mountain of the Lord...

The Laughter grew until one day, the Voice returned.



A beloved son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice.

A ram caught in the thicket. A substitute sacrifice.

Yes, the Lord will provide.

And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided" (Genesis 22:14).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Laughter

As I stared down at the child cradled in Sarah's arms, something deep within me stirred. For so long, fear had made its home beneath the soil of my heart. Fear that I had left my home in vain. Fear that I would fail to provide my wife with the one thing she most desired. Fear that I had misinterpreted God's promise. Fear that I had sinned too greatly and lost the Lord's favor.

I watched as my wife wiped a gray tendril of hair from her glistening forehead. My insides quaked. Something was threatening to unearth my fears. It bubbled in my belly, shook my chest, and tickled my throat until it erupted out of my mouth. There was a cavern deeper than my fears that I had not known existed, and out of it, sprung laughter.

Sarah turned and held out the child toward me. "Do not be afraid, Abram." The words came to me as from some distant dream. "I am your shield, your very great reward."

I extended my arms to receive the child and caught a glimpse of my own wrinkly hands. With these hands, I had awoken Sarah from her sleep. I took her hand, so small in my own, opened the tent flap, and led her into the night. The moonlight sparkled on her face. Such beauty!

"Look up, Sarah. See those stars? Try to count them."

She giggled, "Oh Abram, that's impossible!"

"Maybe, but God says that our family will one day be like those stars."

She placed a hand over her barren womb and tears filled her eyes, "Oh Abram, what if it was true?"

We spent the rest of the night lying on our backs and naming the stars.

Time passed. My beard turned white, Sarah's shoulders began to hunch, and hope fled. These were the days of desperation and despair. My servant, Hagar bore a child, but he was not the promised one. Sarah seethed in jealous anger. We sent Hagar and the child away and continued to wait. My hands had been wrung, clenched, and shaken at the heavens. How long, O Lord!

Now, these hands that had been empty for so long held a baby. I pulled my son close and his eyes met my own. They were his mother's, sparkling jewels. He reached up, grabbed my beard, and gave it a royal tug. "Yow!" Sarah howled with laughter.

It was a laugh very different from a year ago, when three visitors came. We offered them food and I dined with them outside the tent. In between bites, one of them spoke, "Next year at this time I will return, and your wife Sarah will have a son." As soon as the words left his mouth, there was the sound of laughter from inside the tent. Sarah had been listening and the laughter snuck out of her before she had time to muffle it.

"Why did Sarah laugh?" the visitor asked, motioning toward the tent.

Sarah poked her head out, "I didn't laugh."

A smile spread across the visitor's face. He reached up and turned Sarah towards him. "Yes, you did laugh." He let out a little chuckle of his own saying, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

I returned the child to his mother. "I've thought of the perfect name for our son. Let's call him Laughter, for surely he will bring laughter to the whole world."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Promise

Disobedience, a curse, and expulsion. Dastardly deeds draped in darkness. Wickedness, wrath, and judgment. Clouds covered the sun and rain poured down. A cleansing. Then...Light, multi-colored light; a rainbow and a promise.

"Never again will I flood the world in the down pouring of my wrath. The rainbow will stand between you and me. It's an umbrella, a sign of this promise. I will provide shelter."

Yes, God would provide. Through the line of Noah's son, Shem, God was going to build a family. This family would come from the childless one ironically named, "father."

"Abram, leave everything you know, your country, your people, and your father's house, and walk with me into the unknown. I will give you what you lost in Eden, land. You will no longer be defined by the curse in the Garden, but by a blessing." As in Adam, all were cursed, so in your seed all will be blessed."

Letting go of all he could hold, Abram clung to the promise.

By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A New Beginning

Wickedness increased and the earth groaned.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs (Romans 8:22 The Message).

Sin reigned and the people groaned.

But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy (Romans 8:23-25 The Message).

Then came one whose name means “comfort.” Looking down at the baby boy in his arms, Lamech said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed,” and named the boy, Noah.

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:6-8).

God told Noah, “Build an ark. Gather your wife, your 3 sons, and your sons’ wives and enter the ark. Bring along two of all the unclean animals, a male and a female, and seven of all the clean animals that they may live. I am going to send a torrential downpour to destroy and cleanse the earth. But inside the ark, you will be saved from the flood of God’s wrath.”

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family (Hebrews 11:7).

Noah and his family entered the ark and the Lord shut them in. It was dark and quiet as even the animals waited in silence. Then, a strong gust of wind blew against the boat, there was a pattering on the roof, and it started to rain. All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened (Genesis 7:11). The ark creaked and began to lift, swaying from side to side. The ark rose as water immersed the flowers, trees, hills, and mountains.

Every living thing outside the ark died; men and animals, crawly things and birds, everything was wiped out. Everything that is, except…Noah, his family, and the animals inside the ark.

Finally, after 40 days and 40 nights, the rains stopped. The storm ended and left with it a deafening silence. For 5 months, the waters continued to flood the earth. The Noah clan was adrift at sea and floating on a water grave.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark (Genesis 8:1).

As God had blown into the corpse of Adam the breath of life, God sent a gust of wind over the whole earth. The waters fled at His breath, scampering back into the cracks and crevices from which they had sprung. The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Noah called for a raven and a dove. He opened the window and released the birds, waiting for some sign that the waters had receded. Nothing.

In 7 days, Noah sent out the dove again. This time when the dove returned, it was carrying in its beak a freshly plucked olive leaf. Life! Peace!

Noah took off the roof of the ark, and rays of sunlight shot down on his head. As Noah adjusted his eyes, he looked out. The earth shimmered. And, oh, how green it was!

“When the storm leaves, there’s a silence that says you don’t have to fear anymore. The trees are greener, the sky’s an ocean. The world is washed and starting over.” ("Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, Part 2" by Jason Gray)