Monday, April 28, 2008

Bitter Water

I just can't seem to get that passage from Exodus 15 out of my mind. Perhaps God still has a lesson for me and I haven't learned it yet.

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
Exodus 15:25-26 NIV

Now, I am not all that smart. And I had to dig a little into the commentaries to gain some insight as to why this passage was speaking to my heart. And here is what I found. The evidence and speculative conclusions may point to a tree with some chemical properties that enabled the wood or its sap to render the bitter water sweet.

Maybe it did, or maybe it didn't. Maybe, as one lady in my Bible Study says, “It was God's will.” Maybe it was just another plain old garden variety miracle like the one at the Red Sea a few chapters earlier. The point is that the water became sweet to drink.

Now, here is the part that I failed to fully grasp earlier. The newly sweetened water had a medicinal effect as well as a refreshing effect. In fact, it had a “cleansing” effect. One of the commentaries noted that there is research to indicate that the water acted as a laxative and purged the Children of Israel of some internal gastrointestinal parasites that caused weakness and was marked by dysentery.

So, here is the point.

Are you ready for this?

Not only did God want to get His children out of Egypt. He wanted to get Egypt (or at least its ill effects) out of his children!

OK, that's may be a little gross and out of place on a blog about holiness. But maybe not once you let the thought sink in. At Marah, God provided just the right medicine to prepare His children both physically and spiritually for the long hot march to Sinai.

So what does that mean to me?

I think it means that when I have tasted the bitter waters of sin, shame and suffering I can have them sweetened by the wood of Calvary's cross. And that wood can bring refreshing, cleansing and healing to a sin sick soul. It can cleanse the outside. And it can cleanse the inside from the stain of sin. So that, just like the Children of Israel were cleansed of the internal parasites, God can cleanse me from the sinful nature that causes me fall into sin.

And that dear friend, is holiness.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Adoration as a Spritual Discipline

Adoration was the topic again the other night as a group of us met to look into the book, Disciplines for the Inner Life. I won't take the time here to reiterate the summary that our leader provided on his blog. Rather, I want to provide my thoughts on this topic.

First of all, the words "adore" or "adoration" do not appear in the Bible. At least not in the KJV. Adore does appear in the NIV. But it is in Song of Solomon and the context is not exactly what we were looking at. However, the concept of adoration of God is found throughout the Bible. But how do we get a handle on what it means to adore God?

My thoughts kept coming back to a truly secular example. I am not a huge art fan. But I enjoy some of the paintings of the masters. The modern stuff doesn't really do anything for me. In 2002 I was on an extended business trip in Europe. I had the good fortune to have a free week-end to spend and I spent it in the town of Antwerp, Belgium. This town had a beautiful old cathedral called the Cathedral of Our Lady. Inside near the altar was a triptych painting by Rubens. The theme of the triptych was Jesus being carried. In the small panel to the left Jesus is carried in Mary's womb as she visits her cousin Elizabeth. In the small panel on the right Jesus is carried to the temple by Mary and Joseph. The central panel has Jesus carried down from the cross.

I stood in awe in front of the painting. The subject, the beauty, the scene and the passion captured by Rubens caused me to stand in awe and adoration of that beautiful work of art.

There is nothing that painting can do for me. And there is nothing that I can do for that painting. And perhaps that is where the secular analogy breaks down. But I stood in awe of the painting because of what it was -- a fabulous and priceless work of art.

When I think of God and what adoration has to do with my relationship to God I find that my adoration is based upon who God is. It is not based upon what he has done, can do, or will for me. In short, it is the only reasonable response when I truly see God for who he is.

What does adoration mean to you? How does adoration manifest itself in your personal relationship with God?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Worshipping or Murmuring

We have been diligently going through the beginning of the Old Testament in our Bible Study on Sunday mornings. We began in Genesis. Which is a good place to start, I suppose.

Last Sunday found us in the 15th chapter of Exodus. The week before the Children of Israel were miraculously delivered from the advancing army of Pharaoh. God parted the waters and Moses and the people walked across on dry land. Not wet, sticky, messy, get stuck between your toes mud. But dry land. What an amazing deliverance.

It is in this passage that God places a test before the people. This is not the post to debate whether or not God tested His people back then, or tests us today. All I know is that the Bible says that God said to them “if you will listen... do... and obey...”, then God would do something.

Whenever God tells us what to do we always have a choice. And that choice really demonstrates a lot about us and about our character. If we obey then we see God's hand upon us and our faith in Him grows. The next command will be easier to obey because of our obedience to the last command.

But many times we do not obey. At least not right away or not cheerfully. This is certainly true of the children of Israel. God had delivered them from bondage, slavery, Egypt, Pharaoh and his armies. And the bulk of the 15th chapter of Exodus is all about the spontaneous worship that erupted from the mouths of the people. They celebrated the horse and the rider being thrown into the sea. They sang praises to God as Miriam leads the ladies choir in echoing the praises of the people.

They leave the worship service and go three short days into the wilderness of Shur. And there they found no water. Their physical natures were being tested a little due to their thirst. They began to murmur and grumble about the lack of water. And that brought about a question about their spiritual nature.

Were they going to be a worshipping people who occasionally murmured? Or were they going to be a murmuring people who occasionally worshipped?

That question is relevant to me today. And it is relevant to you.

What is my spiritual nature?

Am I a person who truly “listens, does, and obeys” but someone who occasionally doubts and murmurs when God does not respond immediately and as I think He should? Or am I a person who consistently doubts, grumbles and murmurs about my lot in life and who only occasionally stops and worships the God of all creation?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When time passes slowly

Last week I posted about the passing of time and how it seems to be moving at a very quick pace these days. And I realize that this is not the case for some. Although scientifically we know that time progresses at the same pace for every one and every where. And we know that time seems to go by at a different pace depending on our age.

Do you remember as a kid it seemed like Christmas would never come? In fact, 10% of your life span so far would would go by until the next Christmas. While for me, it will only be 2% of my life so far until we gather as a family again to celebrate Christmas. So there are comparative and perceptual differences.

So what do we do during these seasons in our life when time seems to go by slowly?

I am afraid that my answer to that question is more simple than it is easy.

Psalm 27:14 says:

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

But what do we do while we are “waiting”? The Bible is not all that specific about what to do while we wait on the Lord. But the Bible does speak to these times.

The prophet Micah has words of encouragement to the people of Israel. He says:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light
Micah 7:7-9

What a great encouragement that God is near even when we don't feel it. He hears my cries, even when I feel they are just bouncing back to me from the ceiling.

Consider this passage containing the Apostle Paul's prayer for some whom he cared deeply for.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Colossians 1:9-12

He is praying for them to be filled with knowledge of God’s will for them in their present situation. He prays that they would lead a life worthy of the Lord. He prays that they would both be and do things that would be pleasing to God.

Then he prays that they would be empowered or “strengthened” from a divine source. Thus the strength would not be according to our weakness, but that it would be according to His power, from whom it is received. When God gives he gives like himself, and when he strengthens he strengthens like himself.

The purpose of this strength was for enduring difficult time and suffering what may come their way. Paul prays not only that they may be upheld in their trials, but strengthened for them. For you see, there just may be some work to be done or lessons to be learned even in the midst of our suffering. And those who are strengthened according to God’s glorious power are strengthened, with a sufficient measure of patience. A measure that includes not only bearing patience, but waiting patience.

The problem is that we could never do this by any strength of our own, but only as we are strengthened by the grace of God. And in the end it is God who will get the glory. But it is you and I that will get the grace, mercy, blessings and all kinds of things from God that we can’t see right now through the pain and tears.

This has been on my heart for the last few days. I believe that there is a reason. I don't have to know it. I just have to write it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Less Like Scars

Gerry Cheevers was finishing his great NHL career and was the goalie for the Boston Bruins the first year I was in college. His trademarked goalie mask is easily identified by even moderate hockey fans. It was a simple face contoured fiberglass mask. What made it so memorable was that it had hand drawn "stitches" all over the front of it. Each of these sets of stitches was drawn in place by Gerry himself, or the longtime Boston Bruins trainer, John Forestall.

They represented each and every puck that hit Gerry's face mask during practice or in a game. John Forestall would calculate the damage that each shot would have inflicted on Gerry's face and diligently drew the approximate number of stitches the doctors would have used to close the gaping wound the puck would have undoubtedly inflicted upon him.

That mask had character.

Driving to work this morning I was hit by the power and message in the lyrics of this song written and sung by Sara Groves. So I called my office phone from my cell phone to remind myself to find these lyrics somewhere on-line.

I really enjoy Sara Groves voice and vocal style. She sort of reminds me of Norah Jones who I really like. I like the "jazz" sound of many of Sara Groves' songs. But that is not really why I liked the song. These lyrics really spoke to me and framed some of the thoughts and feelings that have been somewhere in the back of my mind for years.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Less Like Scars
by Sara Groves

It's been a hard year.
But I'm climbing out of the rubble.
These lessons are hard.
Healing changes are subtle.
But every day it's...
Less like tearing more like building.
Less like captive more like willing.
Less like breakdown more like surrender.
Less like haunting
more like remember.
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars and more like character.
Less like a prison more like my room.
Less like a casket more like a womb.
Less like dying more like transcending.
Less like fear, less like an ending...
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the
pain and hurt
look less like scars.
Just a little while ago.
I couldn't feel the power or the hope.
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing.
Just a little while back.
I was desperate, broken, laid out.
Hoping you would come.
And I need you.
And I want you here.
And I feel you...
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the pain and hurt.
look less like scars.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars.
And more like character.

I need to be honest here. I am certainly not suggesting that I was able to see the character building as it was happening in real time. In fact that is the point. Some of it was not apparent until today. But, like Sara Groves says, "healing changes are very subtle". But they are happening. God is trying to mold us and make us what He wants us to be.

And here is the key: God is "forever faithful".

I can't (or don't want to) go in to any more details. But I can say at least one thing at this point in my life. God is forever faithful.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Passing of Time

Is it just me, or was it just a few weeks ago that we celebrated our Lord's birth? And then last week was the glorious celebration of His resurrection. Right?

Time is flying by! I can't believe it sometimes. Perhaps the the reason that the passing of time is on my mind is that this week-end was my birthday. Well, actually it was the 46th anniversary of my one and only "birth" day. but you get the point.

My firstborn is almost 23 years old. My youngest is 20. How did that happen?

I don't know for sure why this birthday has me being a little reflective. But it does. And this passage is on my mind:

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away. My life is no longer than the width of my hand. An entire lifetime is just a moment to You; human existence is but a breath.” We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.
Psalm 39:4-7

Maybe all of this reflection is a byproduct of the Spiritual Journaling that I am doing as part of some accountability activities that I am doing for my best friend Dave. [By the way, Dave, how are you doing on your journaling?]

But this I know. I am only here for a short time. And I am focused on the only things that I can really have any influence on. And that is my Spiritual legacy.

How will my kids remember me in another 46 or 47 years? What will they tell their children about me? Will it have had an eternal impact? What will they say about “Dad”? What will they say about “Grandpa”?

I know what I want them to say. I want them to be able to say that I was a man of God. A man who honored Him in all he did. A man that was an attractive example to his children of what it meant to be a Christian.

So back to the passage above. It reminds me that a lifespan is short and fleeting. And it reminds me to put my hope in the Lord. So that is what I am doing. I am keeping my hope in the Lord.

So what about you? I don't know when your birthday is. And I don't know how old you are. But I can tell you that time is zipping by for all of us and I want to encourage you to put your hope in the Lord. Or, keep your hope in the Lord.

And whenever your birthday is... “Happy Birthday!”

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


There is a big drive for solitude and meditation in Christian thought today. I have run into that train of thought in discussions with many of the guys I interact with as part of my Christian walk. It also came up in discussions at a Bible Study that my wife and I are enjoying.

Morton T. Kelsey says the following in his book, Adventure Inward:

“As long as my mind is raging with thoughts, ideas, plans, and fears, I cannot listen significantly to God or any other dimensions of reality.”

I have postulated in times past that there are some generational aspects to how we, as individuals, worship God in the quietness of our own hearts. Many times I have heard this time of devotion referred to as a “quiet time”. But, like many folks in the younger generation, I can’t stand it when it is too quiet. My daughter is typical of many. She can study, watch TV and listen to her iPod while talking to me on her cell phone. I can’t do all of that like she does. But I need some kind of background noise.

I am not a big fan of quiet “quiet times”. The joke in my family growing up was that the reason I never wanted to be quiet or alone was because my conscience would speak to me in that solitude. And that was not a good thing because of all the misbehaving and trouble I got in!

But there’s that word -- Solitude. Is solitude a requirement in order to have intimate times with God? I don’t think so. At least I hope it isn’t. Because I despise solitude. I find nothing inherently Holy in quietness and solitude.

Music is one of the ways that I worship and reflect on God in times of personal devotion. The Holy Spirit speaks to me most frequently through the words of hymns and, more recently, even some contemporary Christian music. My new Zune has become an integral part of my “quiet time”. Although it is not all that quiet. You can’t listen to “Then Came the Morning” by The Cathedrals with the volume on low! You have to let that one play at a volume in your earphones close the decibel level of a 747 jet taking off from Bush Intercontinental Airport.

So, here is one more thought to share with you. It is from Andrew Murray’s book, With Christ in the School of Prayer. He says:
The desert initiates us into the life of the spirit by helping us to discover who we most deeply are. To follow Christ means that we must let go of excessive attachments to passing pleasures and possessions, to ploys of autonomous power, to tangible goods as if they were ultimate. Christ asks us to abandon our idols, whatever they may be, and to love Him with our entire being.”

I couldn’t agree with that more.

I just think it is a little easier with a soundtrack of good gospel music!

What do you think?