This morning something was wrong. My dog Millie knew it even before I did. As my eyes first came into focus, there she was staring at me with a sad appeal in her eyes. When I headed to the bathroom she was attached to my heels. “Good grief.” When I made my way to my truck, she was still clinging to me. She was NOT going to let me leave without her. “OKAY, WHATEVER! Get in the truck. Lay down, and shush!” At times this animal has seemed on the verge of speech. The UPS and Fed-X drivers are on a first name basis with her. Even when they aren’t delivering something to our house (which is rare) they pull into our driveway just to converse with her and give her treats. She knows how to work a yard.
As we were pulling out of our driveway, I got it. I knew what was bothering her. It was still dark outside at 7:00 A.M. and it was supposed to be light. Moreover, the sky flashed and boomed with great explosions. Her little dog heart knew intuitively that things were amiss. “Okay, Millie, I guess it’s you and me today girl.”
Recently I’ve been retreating to an upstairs loft I have in downtown Enid where I indulge, at least for a while, in the exquisite quiet if affords. There was a passage of Scripture I was considering this morning; it contained this verse:
The reproach of exile is a burden on them. (Zephaniah 3:18)
Apparently, today my teacher is a Golden Doodle. It dawned on me that it is dark out there in our culture as well and it is supposed to be light because its Creator, its ultimate Ruler is The Father of Lights.
As cozy as my gig is here in this bastion of conservative America, my little human heart (the one created in God’s image) tells me that in a very true sense, we humans as a whole remain in exile. We are not home yet. The Kingdom has not fully arrived. Our deepest and most immediate problem is that this is not a burden to us on most days. Our affluence is sufficient to insulate us from the more grievous expressions of our captivity. Really, is capitalistic-derived comfort the ultimate byproduct of God’s will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven?
Our American commitment to the pursuit of freedom and personal happiness seems to blind us to what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. Somehow, as children of light, our vision must come into focus, seeing the roots of unrighteousness for what they are, acknowledging the profound degree to which humanity is enslaved, and then most importantly, entreating God to liberate all of creation into his Life.
What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God? What does it really mean to spend all that one has and purchase that field which conceals the priceless treasure? Is this our story? To begin with, I believe this kind of seeking is going to require, at the very least, an honest appraisal of how dark our society really is. I believe on that day, when the children of light comes to terms with the earth’s vacuum of light, the tides of the battle will shift. I believe this world’s rulers and principalities’ days will be numbered when the Body of Christ collectively says, “The reproach of our exile is a burden upon us.” Then, armed with a new kind of motivation, a different kind of praying will emerge, praying that has the character and the intentions of God at its core.
In The Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd Douglas, the story of the importunate widow is highlighted. Recall she is the one who relentlessly pursues a verdict in her favor from an utterly uncaring and unjust judge. The author hits upon the notion that to receive the desired outcome (in our case—The Kingdom of God) one must have bloody fists, resulting from relentless knocking at all times, never losing heart (Luke 18).
We receive the encouragement to do this from verses 7 and 8:
Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. (Luke 18:7-8)
Paul tells as much, too:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
As illogical as it may seem (God being sovereign as He is), asking and seeking are integral to the expansion of God’s kingdom. As inconvenient as it may be, our petitions are essential to the ongoing removal of our reproach. Until every tongue confesses and every knee bows, reproach remains; God is not finished setting captives free. May He grant us what we need to live and to pray as citizens of His Kingdom, indignant until his will on earth finds its fullest as-in-heaven expression.
However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
The God who created the universe and breathed us into existence does not need our prayers, as if these prayers are somehow what have been missing all along. Not at all. God invites us to participate in the Kingdom because it is a family business. He wants his heirs to take ownership and participate for the sake of their own joy. It is in this co laboring we come to know Him…and this is eternal life.
Father, as we pull out of the driveway, when we lay our heads down on our pillows, may we all get it. May we be bothered that darkness remains and that there is unwarranted reproach upon your name. Strengthen us to persevere as those who will seek your Kingdom, knowing the ambition originated with you and can only be sustained by you. May our hearts persevere until every tongue confesses that you are their Lord and willingly bows before you. Amen.
Today’s post is actually born of Matthew 14:22-33, Peter’s walk on water. Peter provokes me to think about being “between” from the vantage point of a “Father-oriented” heart.
It’s tempting to think Peter’s brief experience of walking on water was just a fluky thing born of a brash and compulsive nature. I don’t think so. I believe for a brief period of time Peter’s life was defying natural laws because in that space between the boat and the Lord, he was exercising a childlike take-Jesus-at-His word kind of faith, which innocently presumes all things are truly possible with Him. I want that. Don’t you?
Wouldn’t it be a shock to discover some day, that from heaven’s perspective, there for a brief moment on that lake, we were being given a glimpse of “normal” faith in action; instead, we write it off as an isolated, one-off miracle which really has no bearing on us today. I don’t want that shock. I would guess you don’t either.
After having found some lies hiding in it, I have come to think of my heart as a filter—a “Father filter.” To care for my heart as I must, keeping it clear for the Spirit to move in, it is essential that God remains in clear focus as my Father. I am not talking about a firm religious conviction that God is like a Father. I am talking about relating continually and presumptuously toward Him as my Father. I have discovered that if I can live in this state—in which His tone of voice is encouraging, not condemning, and I see His smile, not His frown—I am more likely to hear His invitation to get out of the boat. And–in that posture–I will be more inclined to respond positively.
Our perception of God is the most important thing about us. It determines, more than anything, how the issues of our lives play out (Proverbs 4:23). It also determines what we see ourselves between. If we see Him as harsh, frustrated, or angry, we will likely see ourselves sinking down, overwhelmed by our circumstances—always between a rock and a hard place. If we see Him smiling, saying, “Come now, little one, you can do this,” we will see ourselves between opportunities to know Him more intimately, and we will find ourselves being transformed from glory to glory.
Father, clean out the filters of our hearts so that nothing will prohibit Your Spirit from conveying to us your kind expression and tone. May we, like Peter, join you in whatever the new “normal” might look like. When You bid us, “Come,” sustain us with that childlike faith which Peter knew as He walked on water. Amen.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
This psalm is a meditation on indulgence in and deliverance from envy. Asaph, the writer, gives us a first-hand account of his battle with this formidable foe. Prior to his liberation, his wits had devolved to the level of a beast. He made a wise move though: he carried his troubles to God. There, as he worshipped in the sanctuary, he found his footing, and everything came into focus. In the place of worship he learned the objects of his coveting were illusory. Most importantly, though, God himself was enlarged in his perception, becoming more than sufficient compensation for grievous circumstances.
Are battles with envy a familiar battleground to you? They have been to me. In the midst of the battle, however, I was not at all honest about them. In my first major skirmish with this enemy I think I too had devolved to the level of bestial perception.
When I was 37, I was on the outside of my family circle, watching my (now ex) brother-in-law take his place as the son my father never had. Adding to the drama: while my personal vision of a simple life, working with my hands within a Christian community was imploding, my brother-in-law was about to realize his dream of becoming a somebody in this world as the heir-apparent to the business enterprises owned by my Dad. My father needed a succession plan and my brother-in-law was it-by-default since I had vowed to never work for my Dad. I was descending; my brother in law was ascending. I was jealous.
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Like an ignorant beast, I failed to appreciate how this vow of avoidance had been driving my life. This vow (of self preservation) had even infiltrated and found a home inside my spiritual vision. I did not perceive my true motives until, like Asaph in my bitterness I was pierced (as he put it).
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Those who have glimpsed my heart wonder why I seem to camp around the theme of suffering. It is because, without the pressure God permitted (or created, I don’t know) through suffering, I would still be living in deception as to why I charted the course I had for my life. Without the pressure arising (from the financial vacuum created by my vocational path, the strain of immediate and extended family relationships, a failing business, body, and vision) I do not believe I would have experienced the goodness of God to the degree I have.
Most painful to me was the notion that my Father in heaven was somehow underwriting my demise. God’s passive (yet intimate) involvement in my debacle tortured me: “Why God? Oh why!” I know that God, as the causal agent (where suffering is concerned), is theologically incorrect in many circles. This is uncomfortable since many of my friends live within these circles. Yet, I cannot side step the fact that I was in a very dark place, which my Father in heaven had either orchestrated or permitted. Neither can I sidestep the fact that pressure, in its various forms, appears regularly in the stories of those who have known God intimately. My conclusion, though out of step with many, is that suffering is integral to child rearing. Even Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered (see Hebrews 5:8).
In that season my sanity was stretched as I tried to envision my package of troubles evolving into any kind of Romans 8:28 good outcome. Sadly, envy and bitterness were having a heyday in my heart. In my body, soul and spirit, I was hanging by a thread while my brother-in-law was feasting off of the fatted calf. Regarding this and a litany of other matters, my soul was screaming, “WHY GOD!” The silence was deafening. I was actually developing a morbid curiosity, thinking, “Okay, this is going to hurt, but I will at least have a front row seat for the spectacular crash that is surely forthcoming.”
Shame too was dog piling. I had had enough dealings with God by this time to know Him as incredibly loving and faithful. My thinking was disastrous and I knew it. I was deeply ashamed. With this backdrop, given my stinking attitude, my simple prayer was, “Please, please, do not let this season pass without showing me what it is you’re after.” My confession was, “Surely, Lord, I am a dumb beast.” My request was, “Please lead me out of this valley. And—if possible—please soften the landing of my impending crash.”
God’s word of deliverance to me was not at all what I expected. While I chaffed at the injustice of my circumstances, wanting relief, wanting vindication from those whom (I perceived) had marginalized and abused me, a scripture passage stuck in my mind. It was Romans 12:18:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Immediately, the Spirit highlighted the fact I had serious ought in my heart toward a few people. I was indignant at the abuse I believed I had suffered at the hand of these vermin. I perceived reconciliation happening if and when these scoundrels returned to me with adequate sorrow for their crimes. My hurdles were: a) I also knew reconciliation was priority #1 with the Lord b) that it was possible and c) that it did depend on me (not them). I knew exactly what I was being asked to do and it was the most unfair, unjust, impossible directive conceivable! What I feared had befallen me: I was to take up my cross and follow Him.
This is an example of just how unlike my ways are to God’s. The Lord made it very clear: restitution for any crimes (real or imagined) against me, by them, was between God and them—not me. That situation (if it even existed) was off-limits to me! I was to deal with one thing and one thing only—my own deceived heart, which was ensnared in unforgiveness, envy and bitterness. (Note. Sadly, like a Pharisee, my heart was totally convinced of its righteousness and innocence. Foolishly, I wanted a trial where justice would be served: I knew a jury of my peers would exonerate me on all counts.)
Again, like a beast that had forgotten that it was God with whom I had to do, I was either unwilling or unable to see these things until I obeyed the mandate to make peace with all men (well… two of them to start with, anyway). It is not the time to tell the account of those reconciliations, but suffice to say they happened within weeks of receiving the Romans 12:18 mandate.
It was an astonishing watershed affair to experience God pouring his grace and mercy into one circumstance after another, especially into my parched soul. So, what launched this turnabout? I believe it was because the Lord had never taken his hand off my life (even in my extreme mess), and that as I reached up for his help, He was waiting and ready to deal with the root issues which were driving so many of the hurtful ways in my life. When I determined to obey, something alive immediately began growing in my heart. I could then acknowledge, with Asaph (with great confidence):
Nevertheless, I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me into glory.
Though I despise the misery brought on by tests and trials, I cannot edit them from my story—or from my theology. Without suffering’s assistance in coming to the end of my rope (body, soul and spirit), I would never have known God’s presence in my descent or at the crash site. Really, what could I possibly exchange for the value of coming to personally know God’s love and faithfulness, even when it was expressed by way of the severe mercies He dealt me? Without these chapters in my story, how would I even have a story? How would I have come to sing with Asaph?
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Was my suffering just the reaping of what I’d sown? Was it a customized cross, designed to crucify certain aspects of my personality which were, in their own way, killing me? I confess: I do not know the precise answers to these questions. I strongly suspect, in a mysterious way, both are true. I believe at all times and in all ways (especially in the darkest messiest times) the Lord is faithful to His Word and that truly all things can work toward our good if we are willing to obey. My claim is: the messy chapters of my spirituality have culminated in an ability and willingness to say (often in the presence of contrary perceptions and feelings):
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all His works.
Obedience in this circumstance required that I let go (die to) my right to justice on my terms. It also required I let go (die to) my vision for my life. Whether my interpretations mesh theologically with others or not, I cannot control (therefore also becoming something I must relinquish). Regardless of its popularity, this type of dying (or relinquishing) is what I perceive Jesus calls us to do when He commands we take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Him.
Lessons learned? As far as it concerns us, God wants us to take responsibility for our own hearts. We are to watch over our own motives, dreams and ambitions with all diligence. We aren’t called to do this for others. God will make far more headway with them anyway when we let Him be Lord by letting go of our judgments against them. This will do, both their hearts and ours, worlds of good.
By the evening of the day when I made restitution with the second party, God met my wife and I in a supernatural way that involved prophecy—something I had seen sorely abused. Imperfect as prophecy is, I heard the Lord say some things through people that could have only come from the One who searches men’s hearts.
That evening I was given a prophetic word that God was going to return to me the borrowed axe head which had been dropped into the river, which when recovered would be mine exclusively (from 2 Kings 6:1-7). The person offering this word reported that this passage had just dropped into his mind (much like the Romans passage had in mine), that he had no earthly clue what it meant, that he was just the messenger. Like Mary, I held that word in my heart, wondering what it might mean.
Although I had no ambition to reclaim my rightful place of inheritance as a first-born son, it was accomplished in spite of me. Allow me to explain. The extreme pressure of this season revealed my so-called “righteous” motives were co-mingled with motives of self-preservation, which protected me from feelings of rejection—which my Dad provoked. My vow to never work for him, when honestly restated was: “Over my dead body, will I ever, by God, let my Dad (or any other person) hurt me with their rejection. No way! No how!”
I was in relationship with God, but if I was going to go on with Him as a disciple, I had to break this vow, return to my earthly father, and see how life would play out in a place and in relationships I had been fleeing in fear—my whole life. If Jesus was to be Lord, things beneath the surface, like inner vows and roots of bitterness could not be allowed to drive my life as the father of lies would have wanted.
Without it being at the forefront of my ambition, God arranged it such that I would take my place as a first-born son in the family business and in our extended family. I have served as its president for the better part of the last two decades. God prospered the business and our family in this interval. Favor has relentlessly followed me in this unlikely, unanticipated chapter of my life. More importantly, love prevailed.
In that same space of time an estranged son and his father reconciled much of their turbulent (really non-existent) relationship. My father accepted Christ just before he died of cancer in 2002. The borrowed axe head indeed became mine. Even greater applications of this prophecy are accruing to my heart as I am living in greater harmony with my own identity-in-Christ. Indeed, He has done (and is dong) exceedingly abundantly and beyond my wildest expectations.
This is why I reject doctrines that excuse believers from suffering, trials, tests and discipline. While they admittedly provoke some fear and trembling, none of these words, understandably, have negative connotation to me.
Father, you would have us hear Your counterintuitive words of deliverance. Oh Lord, permit our trials to break our darkened hearts such that Your redemptive power and light pour in, setting us free from all the things that would blunt our understanding of your loving ways. Liberate us from the delusions of our own righteousness. Break us down such that our only foundation is You. Proceed, Lord, creating in us clean hearts that give You Your rightful place as Lord in every facet of our lives. All for the sake of Your beautiful, glorious name and Your unending kingdom. Amen.
It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. (Matthew 17:2)
What I know of God’s heart tells me this statement is more about His fondness of sheep than His predisposition toward wrath. But the Bible police will disagree. They will tell you (with zeal) this is how God feels about heretics – those Catholics, mystics and charismatics (and the rest of them) who are not as well aligned with scripture as they. As one who fell in among charismatics 40 years ago and has also shared space with main line evangelicals, I have been in gatherings (as the undercover heretic) where my brethren had their guns drawn and were firing freely upon the family. The phrase shock-and-awe comes to me.
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Matthew 17:3-4)
Even if my family pulls their Calvin-made 5 -shooters, I must forgive them each and every time. Neither they nor I have a clue what we are doing. I have thought about rebuking them for this nasty habit but I am sure I would learn a brand new definition of holiness if I did. And the still small voice whispers, “And Rob, in your imagination, have you not aimed a howitzer back in their direction?” My conscience replies (meekly), “Ugh, yes Lord. I see your point.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. (Matthew 17:5-6)
As one exposed to what I think of as charismatic realities and excesses (I would never call them heresies), I have heard a good deal of commanding; “I command this spine to come into proper alignment!” “I command this business to come into proper alignment.” (Proper alignment is a big deal with charismatics.) Regrettably, my own experience has been that both the spines and the business’s have remained immune to the commands. Deficiency of faith? It all depends on who you ask. However, I do know of one business that seemed to prosper when one of its leaders asked God to allow them (himself and his coworkers) to find favor with Him and man – confirming the work of their hands. This leader thought aligning his heart with God’s word was the right move. (See Psalm 90:17 and Proverbs 3:4)
Jesus mission was to reveal the Father and make a way back to Him. The Spirit and the Word want men to see the Father. Jesus anticipated that we would continue His mission when He ascended. However, if we move to some high ground and aim our doctrinally accurate sniper rifles at others who believe in Jesus as God’s Son we are thwarting God’s mission – we are at at cross-purposes with the Spirit of Reconciliation. How many who do not yet know Jesus have looked upon the Church (with some hunger for reality stirring in their hearts), seen our rigid and judgmental ways and said (stumbling), “No thank you.”
If there were something that we should hang a millstone around and cast into the sea, it is religion – that spirit that rejects Christ and sets itself above others as the truly aligned ones. Certainty needs devalued. The best place for all those who name the name of Jesus is upon our knees, asking God to forgive us for the stumbling blocks we have been (or are) to the little ones around us. Humility is the only alignment that really makes sense to me.
Father, may patience, kindness and mercy have their way in our hearts. By way of Your Life in us, undo all that we have done (and are doing) in Jesus name that has misrepresented You. Amen.
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Genesis 32:24-31
Who challenged who is uncertain, but Jacob and a Man wrestled until dawn. Jacob concluded that his opponent was God himself. The average wrestling match lasts less than 10 minutes. This match must have gone on for hours. Wrestling drains all a man’s strength. Living life in opposition to God does so as well.
While high school wrestling has three periods, our sessions with God are innumerable. Some of them go on for years. The prolonged duration of many of our sessions is due to our forgetting that it is always God with whom we are wrestling.
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 12:13
We strive with our bosses, our families and our circumstances, accumulating frustration, discouragement and resentment. These inner-strivings left unresolved can metastasize and lead to emotional and even mental illness, tearing our selves and our families to shreds. In a world where an all-knowing, all-caring, all-wise God reigns, where all things work together for good, where we are called to be thankful for all things, is it not clear that it is with God with whom we are actually striving? How many times have we groused, protesting the very thing God is trying to use to deliver us from our self-lives (which he knows lead to death) and in the process, fail to realize his presence and intimate involvement? (For a dramatic audio-visual depiction of our heart-wrestling match with God, Google the one minute segment of “Captain Dan and the Storm” from Forest Gump.)
About this match with God: He knows all our moves before we make them. We know that he can end the match at any moment yet he chooses to wrestle until dawn. It makes me think that even if it’s a tussle, he likes living in close quarters with us, face to face, even getting soiled with our dirt and sweat. How shocked we will be when we discover that we were staring God in the face all along in those moments of protest and complaint!
While God may seem like an opponent, it is only because we don’t acknowledge his sovereignty and goodness in our affairs. Isn’t it the lie that we can live life on our own terms, in our natural wisdom and strength that God is really opposing? Isn’t he really challenging our right to rule our own kingdom? If God is to build his kingdom, he must have the beachhead of our hearts.
As we live life, in the unseen reality of God’s economy, where redemption and reconciliation and healing are hidden in every circumstance, we need to know what hold we should use with God in our ongoing and inevitable matches. In light of who our opponent is and his intentions, I believe the best hold we can put on God is not a Full-Nelson, but a full surrender – a dispositional hold that really consists of an acknowledgment of our desperate need for him to become our life. We perceive God as many things—from the repairer of the moral breach to the provider of blessing (and a hundred others secondary things), while he intends to simply become our life, which is something infinitely more.
I see the kingdom of God as that seen and yet-to-be-seen domain of God where we are not just submitting to his rule by living according to his precepts. Our full surrenders make new space into which the kingdom can expand. In these spaces, which we vacate as lords of our own lives, Jesus begins to reign and to put things in order. Christ’s very own life begins finding expression in our deeds and even in our countenance.
God’s righteousness, peace, joy and liberty get birthed into the world via the womb of the human heart. We, his kingdom children, are animated once again (as we once were in un-fallen Adam), courtesy of (once again) the breath of God. It is the second Adam, Christ in us, who is the hope of all kingdom glory. Our full surrenders facilitate Christ becoming our all in all, which is the thing that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God uses to restore things (especially us) to his original intention in Christ. Truly, in our losing, we win.
Father, may we lose consecutive matches with you, sufficient in number to acquire our own limps—those keen reminders of the futility of human strength. May we soon become exhausted in our attempts at living the Christian life in our own strength. We pray that as we realize that you live in us and that, in our circumstances, we are actually seeing you face-to-face, that we may cross the rivers before us with our new identities in Christ, joyfully living out our destinies, expanding your kingdom as we go about our lives with you and with one another. May our eyes see the sun rise on a new season of kingdom expansion. Truly, Lord, we are blessed that you know our names and that we know yours. May your will be done on earth, in our hearts, as it is in heaven. Amen.
A stone? What was Jacob thinking? Of course he would have odd dreams! Regardless of his pillow choice, this was one whopper of a download, compliments of the Sandman.
Would you like to have an encounter with God like this, something that would establish and confirm you, a promise-laden word that would direct and motivate you? If you are prepared to jump at this offer, here’s some spiritual-investment advice; “Hold steady.” In today’s MwM post, I will offer a complimentary side-by-side comparison of our deal with God and Jacob’s, which will explain my counsel.
I confess, it is tempting to want to see angels in my dreams and hear words in my sleep and to find physical places on earth where I could point and say, “That place is sacred because God met me there” so that I can then say, “I will always remember that day!” There is nothing wrong with these things. I know people who have had encounters with God at least as dramatic as Jacob’s. However, those who have and who go on to walk with the Lord do not look back on those events as the sustaining forces of their lives, they look forward to ongoing encounters with him.
While we look in awe at Jacob and the Old Testament Bible characters, I think they look down upon us, that great cloud of witnesses, and look forward to the day when we take a closer and more appreciative look at the covenant we have now with God. In truth, the great men of old knew they were only getting a foretaste of something that was to come. Jesus once confided to his intimates:
Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them. (Luke 10:24)
Why would Jesus say this? Wasn’t this demeaning to his forefathers? It might seem so unless, like Jesus, you knew that you yourself were the fulfillment of all God’s previously spoken words however they were expressed, be they dreams, visions, fire or wind.
We have so much Jacob would have loved to possess. We have new hearts that have been cleansed, rendering the need for animal sacrifices unnecessary. He didn’t. While Jacob was a nomad living in fear of marauders, we are not. Instead we’ve been joined together in one body in Christ. At Bethel, a ladder bridged heaven and earth for angelic travelers. Real estate equipped with heavenly portals is admittedly rare, but we should not mourn. While Jacob had an isolated visitation from God, we have become the temples of God. Our hearts have in a real sense become Bethels in their own right, where the overlap between heaven and earth happens to be our very own (significantly overlooked) hearts. Of all places! We are now conduits between heaven and earth.
I believe there is a day coming for Christ’s Body, whose members have all been sovereignly joined into existing networks, when our vastly superior identity and covenant will dawn upon us and we will jointly say: Surely the Lord is in this place, and we did not know it!
God’s kingdom has come and is coming; its expansion will always rest on the mysterious revelation of Christ in us, the hope of glory. That human beings—instead of temples, places, or events—have become the habitation of God is the scandalous, mysterious truth we have yet to corporately embrace. Someday in our future it will come into full view that it is Christ alone on whom the Kingdom is being built.
Every haughty human idea, which discounts Christ alone, which has exalted itself above the knowledge of God, is destined to bow its knee to Jesus Christ. We are not incorrect in saying that these vain, godless philosophies make up the spirit of this age. One thing between our current status and a kingdom growth spurt is the darkness that still blinds the Bride of Christ. We will have to humble ourselves and acknowledge that many of these haughty ideas are lodged in our own hearts where we have insisted on putting our temporal spin on eternal things so that we can manage and control them. Seriously, can we harness the wind?
Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
To Peter (and, I believe, us) Jesus said:
“When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” John 21:18
Let’s wrap up our cost-benefit analysis on the deals we have with God. Jacob was negotiating. “If you’ll do this, then I’ll call you my God. And, if these conditions are agreeable to you, then I’ll give you a tenth of all that I have.” The if-then spirit of this negotiation is alien to the new covenant we’ve been offered by God in Christ.
God does not promise us earthly treasure if we do this or that. He does not bless us because we adhere to Old Testament calendars and precepts. The old covenant, with its Law and traditions, were all completed in Christ. Everything that was promised in those old agreements is now available to us around-the-clock and around-the-calendar in Christ. Those who tie anticipation of blessings and prosperity to the faithfulness of their tithe are undermining the grace of God and the fullness of Christ as all in all. How can Christ be our all in all when we feel we must always do more and more to lay hold of his blessings?
While Jacob’s deal has been negotiated for 10%, Christ will require 100% of us to receive and live out the free gift of grace he’s given us. The cost will seem like nothing one day. He offers us an eternal inheritance that includes a new identity in Christ. That is much more than his promise to Jacob! On the merits of Christ alone (without a single if), he still says:
I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
I believe that when our hearts grasp the now-ness of our current deal, our stories will consequently reflect the now-ness of our Father’s kingdom intentions. When this happens, something will shift in the battle God is waging through us for this earth. When we hear the Body of Christ say with increasing unity, “Surely the Lord is in this place (our hearts), and I did not know it,” the winds of warfare will shift and the kingdom of God will expand in an unprecedented way—as it was forecast to so long ago.
Father, While it is surely ongoing, help us to see that there is something far better than the comings and goings of angels as we realize the import of the Holy Spirit’s immediate presence in our lives. Help us to look in awe at our own hearts and to realize our eyes are truly blessed to see Christ, the mystery of the ages. Help us to see that in Christ, we have been established and affirmed, motivated and directed to see that we are co-heirs with Christ, is our elder brother and our all in all. Help us grasp that in Christ, there is nothing that can be added to the fullness of what we have right now, in this very moment. May our weary hearts breathe those long and overdue sighs of relief and say with great joy, “Surely the Lord has been in this place.”