Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

Archive for the ‘Daily Bread’ Category

John 7:12-13 Red and blue Jews

Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people. But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. John‬ ‭7:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬

Even at the time of Christ there were red and blue opinions — wide gaps between people’s perspectives. Is he good or not? How can two opposite perspectives both have validity—or both be wrong?

From a natural perspective, those that thought he was good may have affirmed: He healed he sick. Taught with authority. Loved the children. He hasn’t spoken badly of anyone. He has respected the law and our nation. There is something unique in his lack of self-promotion. He seems genuinely humble. Even if he does not yet smite the wretched Romans ruling our country, he seems like a good man.

Those who objected could have contended: He deceives the people! All the good things you listed may be true but underneath is something more sinister. People’s allegiance is swinging to him and yet he is not one of our leaders. We must have a united front against the outsiders and he threatens to divide. In fact, he wants us to love our enemies and do good to our neighbors! Not only is he soft, he’s taking down our walls. I even heard he spent time with those half-breeds, those mixed-up infidels the Samaritans. The more he wins people’s hearts with his ‘goodness’ the more he leads them astray.

Today’s political spirit would want us to be white or black, right or wrong, good or bad. The way we express our view on an issue is how we disclose our values — something of worth that is neither right nor wrong. My values are personal and private and as a result may be obscure. At times they can be a mixed bag — I value freedom of expression, unless yours differs from mine. And sometimes I’m a poor communicator which requires time and patience to understand each other as we slog through supercharged words that may mean entirely different things to each of us. I may call myself a Christian, but if I ask my friend the atheist what “Christian” means, he has a different definition. But there is a way to get to the heart of the matter: fire exposes that which will endure.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke‬ ‭12:49-53‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

As I have read about the American Civil War, I’m impacted by the deep the divide between people — to the extent that brother would fight against brother. The rancor and vitriol expressed on the political stage feels very similar to the public debate I hear today in America. At that time the fire of war, death, and destruction came upon our country — separating. When the storm clouds cleared, all agreed: hating each other was not the answer. From the soil plowed with destruction emerged tender green shoots of humility. Fire is not fun for the flesh, but it did its job.

But if I dig deeper in the heart’s soil I find the values that create such differences. How can these two competing views at the Feast of Tabernacles come up with wildly different versions of who Jesus is? What people want from life, from relationships, spouses, employers, and those who govern make up our values. If our heart is set on physical peace, personal prosperity, predictability, on a life we have built for ourselves — then Jesus is a threat. He instructs us to lay up our treasure in heaven and hold lightly to earth’s goods. He puts that very desire at risk, let alone the political consequences of diluting Israel’s hard line. On the other hand, if our heart is set on the peace that comes from a relationship with the Prince of Peace, his forgiveness, and the hope of a life beyond this broken world, then Jesus is speaking my language. In fact, I feel a strangely compelled in my spirit to listen, follow, emulate and love him. What if he is the messiah?

It’s no surprise that our values and views differ from each other and create lively debate. And the debate is good, especially when mixed with a heart to love truth. Is it possible to know which position is right? To know what is true? Jesus says it is. A little later in verse 17 he says:

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John‬ ‭7:17‬ ‭NASB‬‬

The ability to know truth is connected to the will. The will is connected to what I value. I endeavor to value God and his people above everything else. Whether by choice, or by fire, the substance of my values will eventually emerge.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭133:1-3‬ ‭NIV

John 7:5 Seeing the unbelievable

For even his own brothers did not believe in him. John‬ ‭7:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Imagine those closest to Jesus — his mom, dad, and brothers. Although they initially did not choose to follow him like the disciples, they had a unique front-row seat to observe Israel’s messiah. Jesus’ public ministry to Israel began when he was about 30 years old. But the presence of God was dwelling in him since his birth. Israel had the Ark of the Covenant in the temple. Mary and Joseph’s family had the real Ark in their living room. They observed the presence and goodness of God every day in the innocence, vulnerability, and authenticity of a family member who had not experienced sin or personal shame.

There are so many things I could imagine about his childhood years. Family life for Jesus must have been unique in a few ways. His brothers were younger than he was and played with friends the same age in their neighborhood. Jesus’ potential playmates had been murdered by Herod. I’m curious how his siblings processed the stories their family and friends told of this slaughter—how they made sense of it, and why Jesus was one of the few survivors? And from another perspective, what did Jesus do with it? He was perfect in empathy — did he grieve over how many lives were lost because of him? Even in these odd circumstances, the family stories, the honesty, kindness, and goodness seen in him, it was still a leap for them to consider him the messiah.

The gospels do not say much about Jesus’ childhood other than at twelve years old he unexpectedly stayed in the temple in Jerusalem as his parents journeyed home. Luke adds: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” But the one thing that stands out to me is that he was normal enough, looked enough like everyone else that they were not convinced enough that he was the messiah.

His brothers lived and breathed around the living Word—they were physically the closest—yet they still missed seeing him! If they were not persuaded, what should we expect of others? There is something about familiarity that inhibits faith. Even Jesus acknowledged it. After recounting a parade of miracles to John’s disciples, Jesus said:

And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling (or taking offense) at me.
Matthew 11:6 NASB

Yet, many were still stumbled. In John 6 after the miraculous sign of food being multiplied, others said:

Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:41-42‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When he returned to the town in which he grew up and spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth:

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” …and He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:22‬, 24 ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The crowds then promptly took him to the edge of a cliff to throw him off!

There are many things which color my personal view of Jesus today — most notably my self-appointment as a connoisseur of all things Christian. (Does such a position even exist?! — Not really, but it’s easy to set myself up as judge of the good and the bad in the church.) If I were to travel back in time to Palestine, I’d surely be able to identify Jesus and see him for who he is, right? The challenge I have every day is to cease projecting my view of Christ into all that I read and encounter and instead allow the Holy Spirit, the family of God, real-life experiences, and fellowship with the living Son to inform me. Although my new Spirit DNA compels me into his image, sometimes I get this backwards and fashion him into mine.

The Jews’ view of the Messiah fell into this same trap. Here was the actual Messiah, yet few could recognize him. Why? They wanted him fashioned into their image and to meet their lofty expectations.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Or as someone famous once said: A prophet does not receive honor in his own town or country. Today, the same is true.

What if in reality I am touching, tasting, encountering the divine every day? What if I am experiencing the supernatural, the signs of God, the proof of his existence, the promise of my future, today — but miss it because — it looks so familiar? At my core, I consider myself ordinary. Oh, maybe I’m slightly more achieving and capable in some things, and much less in others, but the degrees are really inconsequential. And in the old man’s ongoing quest to cast everyone and everything into my image, I come to the conclusion that that which I am encountering could not be any more significant than plain old ordinary me. What if instead, every morning I wake up and hit the reset button and I see the sunrise as a miracle? My body and its marvel of organization and complexity as a wonder as I take every breath? The planets, seasons, ecosystems, depth of emotions and joy that I feel as traits which reveal my Father? When I look at my wife, I see in her the love and tenderness that my good God has given as a gift to me every day. Holding hands as we fall asleep, I feel the presence of God close in this woman. We reflect the image of God as the body of Christ. So many ordinary yet extraordinary things. I heard a preacher once say, “When you eat a chicken dinner, don’t swallow the bones.” In other words, there is good, and nourishment aplenty, the breadcrumbs of his presence everywhere, but don’t be stumbled if you have to distinguish between what nourishes and what doesn’t. Just remove the bones. Don’t disqualify Christ because he must use the restroom like the everyone else. Or if he sneezes and you are annoyed at the way it sounds. Or dislike his hair because it isn’t groomed very well.

With spirit eyes I may see the amazing. And rather than mold what I see into a perspective that is purely mine (my box seems like a very nice box) allow the Holy Spirit to unfold what my vision by itself is unable to. When John was baptizing and saw Jesus approach, his spirit eyes saw, “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” But later in prison, he sent his disciples to ask, “Are You the One?” Jesus still called him the greatest born among woman. If John suffered lapses in his vision, then I should expect that I will as well.

The reality is that I am unable to see clearly until the Holy Spirit clears up my vision. Just like Jesus’ brothers could not see what Peter saw (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Matthew 16:16) I cannot see unless my Father opens my eyes. The good news is:

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. John‬ ‭16:13-15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬

Proverbs 12:18 Weaponized words

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 NASB

I can feel the deep emotion reflected in this verse. A wounded spirit is not in the same category as a broken limb or a cut finger. “Speaking rashly” according to Strong, is from batah; a primitive root; to babble; hence, to vociferate angrily — pronounce, speak (unadvisedly). I have vented these one-sided conversations with, or on others, working hard to authenticate myself. I’m human. But Solomon takes it further to say, “… like the thrust of a sword.” The speaker’s intent is to damage and hurt. Words are powerful and no one wounds like the wounded. I have been on the receiving end of another’s outburst. Once the words start rolling off their tongue, it is like a dam breaking—there’s no way to stop the flood of emotion, hurt, and misunderstanding. I can live with a one-sided conversation, but when the sword strikes my person, it feels violent. Cruel. Using words thoughtlessly and without control is like a highly pressurized hose that someone turns on without holding it… it flops and flails wildly and everyone nearby gets soaked. Getting wet is one thing, being sliced and diced is another.

The words that come from my mouth reflect the experience of my soul and spirit.

For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:34-36 NASB

My heart and mind is often the battlefield, the violent intersection of bad or good, sickness or health, poverty or prosperity, darkness or light, or even demonic or angelic. How my soul processes the taunts, bullying, and belittling of others, or their subtle nod, praise, or recognition defines who I am. Since Adam’s fall in the Garden, the odds have been substantially tilted toward my adversary’s goal of damage and irretrievable well-being of my soul. Until Christ.

Words which scar and mar, may also be used for health and wealth (of soul). Solomon makes the connection earlier:

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Proverbs 4:20-22 NASB

The word “wise” is from chakam; meaning Intelligent, skillful or artful — cunning (man), subtle, wise (hearted). The picture of intentionality. Purpose. Assessing a situation and responding in a way that brings out the best good.

I need healing. We all do. The head on collision I had with sin caused internal injuries I am still recovering from. Yet, I receive grace as I sit at my Savior’s feet — a great love he pours like a stream of oil into my heart and mind. Even into my memories. Although healing is my Father’s gift to me, I may clothe myself in his wisdom which becomes a bubbling fountain of refreshing that I may share with others at the perfect Spirit-directed moment. When I hear your pain, see the expression of your loss or confusion, or even despair, I may pull from the treasure he’s placed again and again in my soul and share it with you. And you with me.

“The wise” are those that are skilled, observant. Healing others’ wounds could be a full-time job, if I opened my heart to it. Starting my day at His throne helps me center on and receive from my source of life for the day. Rather than be a consumer, I want to be a producer. Rather than be an observer, a player. Field rather than sidelines. Action rather than inaction. In the morning I aspire to have my needy old man nailed to a cross and buried six feet under. My new man hears words such as “You are a mighty man, a warrior, nothing can snatch you from my hand, you are chosen, I knew you before you were born, everything you need is yours for the asking” and on it goes… When I’m not consumed with myself, I notice you. I hear and see just what you need. I speak the word, and you are healed. Yes, you’re beautiful. Capable. I understand the pain you feel, but let’s get over it and experience something else now.

Although the tongue may be weaponized, my God uses it to heal and make whole:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NASB

Proverbs 12:17 People recorders

He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.
Proverbs 12:17

The Emphasized Bible says:

He that whispers faithfulness declares righteousness, but a false witness is a fraud.

A witness comes from the Hebrew root meaning: to return, go about, repeat, do again. Only recently do we have iPhones and the instant ability to record events. A recording takes away the interpretation, bias, perspective, and time — which affects a person’s memory. When a court is establishing an account of what happened, the judge or jury must rely on those who saw and recorded it in their memories to recount the event. A witness is someone who “does again” and repeats what he or she saw.

An iPhone has no motive to lie about what I recorded. People do.

Is it any wonder that when qualifying a witness an attorney will explore a person’s biases, motivation for coloring an incident a particular way, their history at telling the truth, and try hard to poke holes at their account? The honesty I choose to live every day and my commitment to the truth affects the way I observe my world. And when a person is more committed to an outcome (that they desire) than to honesty, it too affects his perception of what happened. It’s incredible to consider, but if I rehearse something enough in my mind, I will believe it, even if it never happened.

Take the sunrise, for example. One man will yawn and slowly breathe in the smell of coffee, sit back and enjoy the incredible miracle of the color palette adorning his sky. Not only is it a thing of great beauty, it represents a new day. A fresh start. While looking, he hears a chorus of voices within singing of the majesty of his Father who created this moment just for him. In another city a few miles away, another man looks up and sees the clouds overhead. Tired, weary, and bitter, he curses the city he lives in. How can there be a God in this hellhole? Today is another day to get ahead of others before they get ahead of him.

Whose version of the sunrise would you believe?

As if by repetition in order to make his point, Solomon says later:

A faithful witness will not lie, but a false witness speaks lies. Proverbs 14:5

I desire my eyes and memory to be open to the reality of what is happening in my world today. For all the bias and hurt I carry, I want the incredible interaction with my good God to be that which comes out of my lips, telling all who will listen to: do again.

Proverbs 12:16 Emotional maturity

Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. Proverbs‬ ‭12:16‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Rotherham’s translation says:

A foolish man on the same day lets his vexation be known, but he that conceals an affront is prudent. Proverbs 12:16

Annoyance is universal, my agitated response doesn’t have to be.

Vexation is such a visual word, meaning: to irritate, annoy, provoke, to torment, trouble, distress. From the Latin to annoy, harass, shake or jolt. The Hebrew is translated: to provoke or anger. A fool’s response to it is immediate or “on the same day.” The word comes from a root meaning to be hot; a day (as the warm hours). When I express annoyance, it is often without a filter, on my timetable, and with little regard to its appropriateness or affect.

In contrast is the person with the discretion to overlook or conceal a matter. The Hebrew means to cover, or to clothe, from a primitive root meaning, to plump, i.e. Fill up hollows; by implication, to cover (for clothing or secrecy). When I’m insulted or ridiculed, the natural gut-level response is for me to strike back, but putting a lid on that emotion is a choice. It’s deliberate.

It’s natural for a child to grow and develop both physically and emotionally, but unlike the body, which matures on its own, the soul grows by my choices. I must learn how to feel deeply and express those thoughts in a way that is a benefit to those close to me. A newborn feels the pang of hunger and bellows his displeasure. The cry finally stops when mom fills his tummy. Eventually that cry matures to words, “Mom, I’m hungry.” And even later in life, “I’m pretty hungry now, but let’s keep working a bit longer till we finish.” Our feelings and emotions are complex. Translating hunger, nausea, dizziness to words takes practice, the same as communicating the feelings of friendship, acceptance, betrayal, and mistrust. Gaining a mastery over my emotions takes a lifetime.

When I am vulnerable and expressive, it is a gift — from me to God, and to others. When I express my emotions, they are a window to my soul, and when shared with those that are close to me, it connects us more tightly. My adversary would like to shut down any expression, yet Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Light, filling my person, must escape! Rivers that flow in must flow out. Expression is a kingdom virtue and my Father wants me to live out loud.

Discretion is also a kingdom virtue. I know some extraordinarily emotionally intelligent people. They are able to discern theirs and others feelings and navigate the soul like an ice skater circles the rink with grace. I want to be like them when I grow up. I want to better be able to distinguish between the nuances of what I express and the impact it has. As I do, I may more easily navigate this world, make friends, diffuse situations, and build relationships. Connecting with heart and emotions to my spouse is like having emotional sex that fuses our lives like molten metals making the perfect alloy. To excel in this emotional intelligence often means I need to slow down the natural, gut-level response to insult, or even legitimate complaints, and respond with grace.

As I navigate my world, I see how vast the spectrum of sensitivity and discretion is between people. Yet, no matter where I start in Christ, he gives me a promise: the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23). Even if my natural disposition is to show my irritation, and attempt to control or manipulate others with it, the Spirit invades this space and covers me. He conceals the things that would embarrass and belittle.

Annoyance may be universal, but so is my Father’s grace which enables me to choose a better way.

Lessons from the Dust (or Today’s Job)

October 9, 2018

On Sunday, my wife and I met at our good friends’ house, a couple we have known for many years, and commemorated the anniversary of the wife’s struggle with cancer. While listening to her, she said with no uncertainty that it was just recently that she has become self-aware, humbled, and resolving life-long issues that have come to the surface from this journey, including a long standing fight with feelings of abandonment. This was contrasted with another moment on this same day she took a very earthy look at her ordeal and said at one point “I don’t care what good things or inner healing is being accomplished, I just want this pain to end!” Something she said she later regretted. These two moments were so revealing and teaching to me.

The call from the dust.

It’s hard to separate the natural human trauma of an illness, such as cancer, and the needed compassion, comfort, friendship in the ordeal, with the bigger picture of “what is going on here?” They are definitely two perspectives, and the second may only be broached by the most trusted friends. At one point I mentioned to our friend that her experiences (pain, confusion, demands, feelings of a closed heaven) were hers. And ours. She is connected to others who love her. She’s part of the body of Christ. My experience in prayer has been that in the fire, she may shout for joy. She is closer to God’s heart and goodness than at any other time. She is not abandoned, but cherished closely. There is something about living in extremity that unlocks a grace, honor, riches, and glory in the kingdom that is like no other time. These experiences are confusing. Humbling. Misunderstood. How could my Father who knows me let me travel such a path? Yet it is because we are so close, so treasured, that we are singled out. What a contrast. What a juxtaposition of extremities.

Reading in the book of Job, I see a similar story line. God’s question to Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job?” It was an invitation to the fire. And the fire came. And there Job sat, in the dust. Waiting. Wondering. Then came friends. Reasoning. Blame. Assumptions. Everything was tossed at Job, even the kitchen sink. And within that righteous, God-loved man, bubbled up offense. Impurities. Character traits which distracted and diluted the intense love of God in his life. To the surface they came. Aren’t I righteous? Don’t I deserve better? And considering God the opposer (in the face of his three friends), or less severely, the quiet onlooker (in the face of the fourth), he advocated for himself. The very impurity that held him back. There is something so totally holy and pure about the love of God — and I believe his blessing, true blessing in our lives is to experience him without the color, shading of a misinformed perspective or belief about me or him. But there is a deep risk associated with God engaging in this type of purification with his kids. Without the essential tie, connection, bond, and trust with the Father, an experience like Job’s could end badly. Very badly. The possibility of ending badly for Job is the same possibility that our friend faces. Yet, the reward is worth the risk.

I repeat, the reward, is worth the risk.

And she says after a year of this hell hole: I finally learned some things. I’ve come to term with things I never would have before this point. The goal quite possibly was not simply to endure pain in the flesh without meaning, but to be and live as the most precious one of the Lord. It’s not a pretty process. Vulnerability and exposure at every level. But… “I’ve finally come to terms with some things.”

We must embrace the now. The process. The feelings and where they lead. Yet no matter what percolates up from our heart, it must be mixed with the goodness and purpose of God. For me, I left my job in my mid-forties, wanting to resolve the “calling of God” on my life that I received when I was a teenager. I embarked on what turned out to be a very bitter journey, trusting in my faith and dedication to God. I believed he would provide. Period. I wanted to know my calling. I allowed my faith to be stretched to the breaking point in what I considered a test of my faith. If I could simply endure past these seemingly unresolvable financial issues and plunge into the fiscal abyss, he will honor my faith. And plunge I did. And my faith indeed broke. It wasn’t God that flinched in my game of chicken, it was me. Self-righteous me. Proud faith-exalting me. I broke. I was humbled. At that point, I too threw away all my Christian idealism and embraced his grace and the moment. I embraced my need to work. To engage — with my best — in the world around me offering my flesh with no strings attached. I no longer demand “a calling.” He has called me. I will live in his love. I went through a similar hell-hole when dating my wife. My very identity as a man was revamped. He put me on solid footing and delivered me out of so many delusions. But then, as it was later, through fire. Purification. The love of God in action. He, willing to let me misunderstand him for a season, acted on my behalf so that I could know him without the barnacles of life and my adversary that had so tenaciously clung to my body and mind. My tender Heavenly Father is very good at renewing me.

Where is God?

The second thing which stood out was the fact that our friend and her husband said they had not experienced the presence of God in this trial — until recently. Why? Why does God feel distant?

First, he is not distant. It’s only my perception of his proximity that I’m experiencing. But could it be that I don’t want to experience pain and I want him to change it? Obviously, our friends do not want cancer. Nor would I. At its core it represents the adversary and sin that he’s introduced in the earth. Yet, am I entitled to healing? Of course healing is a possibility — I see that when I read the Gospels and hear testimony in the church. But am I entitled to it? Well, it’s the children’s bread. Just like I’m promised life. And food. And every other good thing that is not always there when I feel like I need it. Yahweh. “I am… healing.” Of course he meets my need and I expect it. But when it doesn’t happen, what do I do?

This is something common to every man. Including Christ. Didn’t he plead in the Garden: “If it is possible, remove this cup from me?” It is possible. Nothing is impossible (it was Jesus himself who said this). Yet the answer was no. Not now. He had to go through this particular door, down this particular path. And it still lives in infamy. What he did, I’m not sure I still fully grasp. Yet it was horrible. And the taking of my sin (and separation from God) upon him is something that will abide with him — FOREVER. He was delivered. He was raised. He did recover. He is now the victory for all of us. But, he still did not want to do it. Just like Job did not want to, nor our friend, nor me.

It’s about timing. We don’t know how long and we would like to do everything in our power to change it. We want to change what the Father has put his own time (and goals) upon. Cancer? Death? Yup. But just like he established boundaries around the experience for Job, (you may not take his life), He has boundaries around every other experience of his children as well. It’s just that those boundaries are stumbling. I would never think that God would allow this kind of suffering or death.

So the thing that is standing out to me is this: When I am feeling desperate, wanting to change my circumstances, wanting to change God’s mind, wanting to claim my entitlement as a son, I become agitated and resistant to the present. Yet, the presence is in the present. It’s not tomorrow. It’s now. Is it any wonder my perception of his closeness is affected?

The turning of the tide

I love the stories of his amazing healing. Of those who have been raised from the dead. There just about every story imaginable that could describes the love, rescue, and salvation of my God among his people. The testimonies of God are deeply impacting, begging us to “do again.” His grace for my now is incredibly amazing. And when his purpose is accomplished, and his work is done within me, he, like in Psalm 18, stokes his fury against the messenger he used and obliterates him. He tosses out the tormentor which kept Job in the dust. Smoke comes from his nostrils. He is a man of war and comes to my aid. And then addresses Job’s three friends who didn’t have a clue about true righteousness of God found in this holy man. Then he returns the fortunes and favor to the man he loves. Rest. Peace. Trouble lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning. We need green pastures. Still waters.

The lesson

Our life belongs to him. Embrace the moment. Listen carefully. Be attentive to what he is saying. Be teachable. Humble. Recognize that a protected part of my heart is having it’s defenses disassembled. The very things intended to keep this type of influence out. He’s scaling my walls. Enduring the process is not an option.

But will this trouble come at the expense of his presence? His closeness to me? It may. But I don’t believe it must. It’s only when I demand something to which I feel entitled.

Our lives come with gift-wrapped opportunities every day. Yet it’s easy to look at that opportunity as the threat. Need speaks. But what is it saying? To escape? Or better, to grow? One thing is clear, his Spirit and presence will lead us in this. He’s a tender Shepherd, a Wonderful Counselor. We never are forced to consider him the adversary, just because the real adversary is given a moment.

The dust speaks.

Inheritance and vulnerability

Then the LORD said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Numbers‬ ‭18:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

What does it mean to have God as an inheritance? There is something unique about the tribe of Levi. When the nation of Israel was reborn under Moses the twelve tribes had grown into a very large family, but they were only familiar to indentured service to the Egyptians with no place to call their own. After escaping Egypt, the distribution of land and property in Israel was important in establishing their identity. Yet, in parceling out an inheritance, one tribe was singled out for exclusion. Why Levi? Moses and Aaron were from Levi, so their closest relatives were affected when they were excluded from owning land. Yet instead of land, beginning with Moses, they were entrusted in attending to the Presence, without which there would have been no escape from Egypt or distinction from any other nation on the earth.

At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.) ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭10:8-9‬ ‭NKJV ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are earthly things which distinguish me from others. I empathize with the Levites, on one hand from the perspective of their possessions, they seem to have been short-changed. I can imagine the Levites feeling a sense of being left out. What does this mean for the livelihoods of their children and grandchildren? Yet, they also had a unique inheritance: God himself and whatever belongs to Him.

Earlier God spoke a similar promise to Abraham:

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Genesis‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

So what does it mean to have God as an inheritance? An inheritance is something received when someone dies. That which is owned is given. It’s not complicated. But there is one small problem: God doesn’t die, man does.

The Pulpit Commentary says: Just as the priests (and in a lesser sense all the Levites) were the special possession of the Lord, so the Lord was the special possession of the priests; and inasmuch as all the whole earth belonged to him, the portion of the priests was, potentially in all cases, actually for those who were capable of realizing it, infinitely more desirable than any other portion. The spiritual meaning of the promise was so clearly felt that it was constantly claimed by the devout in Israel, irrespective of their ecclesiastical status.

A twelfth of Israel received no land, no physical inheritance on the earth. They were given the duties of the priesthood and the temple — or the Presence. From generation to generation the Presence, and attending to all the details of the Presence, belonged to this tribe. When Israel gave their offering, their wealth, the best from among the flock, the Levites were the recipients. What was given to God, was given to the Levites.

The Old Testament stories are reminders, or shadows, of something more real — the substance which is casting the shadow. The Law was a tool for running a nation and preparing them for the reality which is found in Jesus Christ. Today, I am part of a Kingdom of Priests. I am a Levite. I’ve been asked to give up land, possessions, father and mother, sister and brother, and seek his kingdom first. Jesus said that all that belongs to the Father he has given to the son. And in Romans, Paul makes it clear that I am an heir, and a co-heir with the son. The people of God are no longer centered around the physical nation of Israel, we are centered around the Christ. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” I’m not seeking land, I’m seeking God. And in this pursuit I still must ask, what does it mean to inherit God?

Relationship.

I can imagine the scene I experience after dying, then opening my eyes… and I see him. He looks at me and says, “Here I am. I am yours. I’m your reward.” What do I have? If I’m a Levite what do I have? As I was walking at lunch this week and meditating on this, the thought impacted me: God is giving himself to me. What he is, he offers. He is not human, or flesh. He’s something so outside of my ability to comprehend, yet, he gives himself to me. The first thing I feel incredibly is — his vulnerability. God becoming vulnerable to me. He opens the sensitive, hidden, valued, personal and individual part of his heart to me. Exposed. Able to be hurt or even devastated. If I have any doubt about God’s ability to be thrashed, I simply look to Gethsemane and the cross — he aligned as one with the man Christ and experienced that devastation. The natural view of God is that He has all power. Power gives one the ultimate ability to avoid being vulnerable. Yet with God, power means just the opposite — he has an ability to give himself, freely, sincerely, without being hidden, authentically. Power is exposure. Omnipotence is vulnerability.

This morning, I’m reminded that the distinction and duties of the Levites didn’t apply to all Israel. Yet they stand as a symbol to everyone who honors and loves God that earthly success is not the end game — knowing and loving Him is. I’ve felt a unique call to pursue him, and feel very much like I’m an attendant in his sanctuary. I’m one whose inheritance is God, and I am his inheritance. There is a mutual belonging. Just like the health and well-being of the nation of Israel was seen in the ministry of the Levites — the better they did— the better Israel did, I have felt a compelling to live out a similar vocation or duty to be fully devoted and given to him — in vulnerability. In the garden, the clothes were put on. In his presence, they come off again.