Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, May 31, 2013

From 'The Pursuit of God'

Now if faith is so vitally important, if it is an indispensable must in our pursuit of God, it is perfectly natural that we should be deeply concerned over whether or not we possess this most precious gift.  And our minds being what they are, it is inevitable that sooner or later we should get around to inquiring after the nature of faith. “What is faith?” would lie close to the question “do I have faith?”and would demand an answer if it were anywhere to be found.

Almost all who preach or write on the subject of faith have much the same things to say concerning it. They tell us that it is believing a promise, that it is taking God at His word, that it is reckoning the Bible to be true and stepping out upon it. The rest of the book or sermon is usually taken up with stories of persons who have had their prayers answered as a result of their faith. These answers are mostly direct gifts of a practical and temporal nature such as health, money, physical protection or success in business. Or if the teacher is of a philosophic turn of mind he may take another course and lose us in a welter of metaphysics or snow us under with psychological jargon as he defines and re-defines, paring the slender hair of faith thinner and thinner till it disappears in gossamer shavings at last. When he is finished we get up disappointed and go out “by that same door where in we went.” Surely there must be something better than this.

In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith. Outside of a brief fourteen word definition in Hebrews 11:1, I know of no Biblical definition, and even there faith is defined functionally, not philosophically; that is, it is a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence. It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is. We will be wise to go just that far and attempt to go no further. We are told from whence it comes and by what means: “Faith is a gift of God,” and “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This much is clear, and, to paraphrase Thomas a Kempis, “I had rather exercise faith than know the definition thereof.”

From here on, when the words “faith is” or their equivalent occur in this chapter I ask that they be understood to refer to what faith is in operation as exercised by a believing man. Right here we drop the notion of definition and think about faith as it may be experienced in action. The complexion of our thoughts will be practical, not theoretical.  

In a dramatic story in the Book of Numbers faith is seen in action. Israel became discouraged and spoke against God, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. “And they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Then Moses sought the Lord for them and He heard and gave them a remedy against the bite of the serpents. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all the people, “and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” Moses obeyed, “and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num 21:4-9).

In the New Testament this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers.  “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Our plain man in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that “look” and “believe” were synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing.  And he would understand that while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.

When he had seen this he would remember passages he had read before, and their meaning would come flooding over him. “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Ps.34:5). “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us” (Ps.123:1-2). Here the man seeking mercy looks straight at the God of mercy and never takes his eyes away from Him till mercy is granted. And our Lord Himself looked always at God. “Looking up to heaven he blessed, and brake, and gave the bread to his disciples” (Matt.14:19). Indeed Jesus taught that He wrought His works by always keeping His inward eyes upon His Father. His power lay in His continuous look at God (John 5:19-21). 

In full accord with the few texts we have quoted is the whole tenor of the inspired Word. It is summed up for us in the Hebrew epistle when we are instructed to run life’s race “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” From all this we learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.

Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God,” and never ceasing that heholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult,but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous Person, quietly and without strain.  Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window.  A.W. Tozer, in Chapter 7, “The Gaze of the Soul"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

From 'The Practice of the Presence of God'

Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for GOD's sake, which we commonly do for our own.

That it was lamentable to see how  many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.

That the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, [Gal. i. 10; Eph. vi. 5, 6.] and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.

-- Brother Lawrence, "Fourth Conversation"

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Andew Murray on Divine Healing

"But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then  saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed and go unto thine house"  (Matthew 9:6).

In man two natures are combined. He is at the same time spirit and matter, heaven and earth, soul and body. For this reason, on one side he is the son of God, and on the other he is doomed to destruction because of the Fall; sin in his soul and sickness in his body bear witness to the right which death has over him. It is the twofold nature which has been redeemed by divine grace. When the Psalmist calls upon all that is within him to bless the Lord for His benefits, he cries, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, Who... forgiveth all thine iniquities, Who healeth all thy diseases" (Psalm 103:2-3). When Isaiah foretells the deliverance of his people, he adds, "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity" (Isaiah 33:24).

This prediction was accomplished beyond all anticipation when Jesus the Redeemer came down to this earth. How numerous were the healings wrought by Him who was come to establish upon earth the kingdom of heaven! Whether by His own acts or whether afterwards by the commands which He left for His disciples, does He not show us clearly that the preaching of the Gospel and the healing of the sick went together in the salvation which He came to bring? Both are given as evident proof of His mission as the Messiah: "The blind receive their sight and the lame walk.., and the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11: 5). Jesus, who took upon Him the soul and body of man, delivers both in equal measure from the consequences of sin.

This truth is nowhere more evident or better demonstrated than in the history of the paralytic.  The Lord Jesus begins by saying to him, "Thy sins be forgiven thee," [Matthew 9:5] after which He adds, "Arise, take up thy bed and go." The pardon of sin and the healing of sickness complete one the other, for in the eyes of God, who sees our entire nature, sin and sickness are as closely united as the body and the soul. In accordance with the Scriptures, our Lord Jesus has regarded sin and sickness in another light than we have. With us sin belongs to the spiritual domain; we recognize that it is under God's just displeasure, justly condemned by Him, while sickness, on the contrary, seems only a part of the present condition of our nature, and to have nothing to do with God's condemnation and His righteousness. Some go so far as to say that sickness is a proof of the love and grace of God.

But neither the Scripture nor yet Jesus Christ Himself ever spoke of sickness in this light, nor do they ever present sickness as a blessing, as a proof of God's love which should be borne with patience. The Lord spoke to the disciples of divers sufferings which they should have to bear, but when He speaks of sickness, it is always as of an evil caused by sin and Satan, and from which we should be delivered. Very solemnly He declared that every disciple of His would have to bear his cross (Matthew 16:24), but He never taught one sick person to resign himself to be sick. Everywhere Jesus healed the sick, everywhere He dealt with healing as one of the graces belonging to the kingdom of heaven. Sin in the soul and sickness in the body both bear witness to the power of Satan, and "the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the Devil" (I John 3:8).

Jesus came to deliver men from sin and sickness that He might make known the love of the Father. In His actions, in His teaching of the disciples, in the work of the apostles, pardon and healing are always to be found together. Either the one or the other may doubtless appear more in relief, according to the development or the faith of those to whom they spoke. Sometimes it was healing which prepared the way for the acceptance of forgiveness, sometimes it was forgiveness which preceded the healing, which, coming afterwards, became a seal to it. In the early part of His ministry, Jesus cured many of the sick, finding them ready to believe in the possibility of their healing. In this way He sought to influence hearts to receive Himself as He who is able to pardon sin. When He saw that the paralytic could receive pardon at once, He began by that which was of the greatest importance; after which came the healing which put a seal on the pardon which had been accorded to him.

(All material above quoted from a PDF version of "Divine Healing" by Andrew Murray -- formatted by Katie Stewart)

Many people I know and respect echo Murray's view of healing.  Everybody is going to die, and we are going to die of something.  I would like to think God would have to hit me with a semi to take me home, though that is not necessarily the case.  Saying that sickness is not to be "borne with patience", ever, sounds extreme to me, but I have been wrong before.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From 'Till He Come'

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I do remember well when God first visited me; and assuredly it was the night of nature, of ignorance, of sin. His visit had the same effect upon me that it had upon Saul of Tarsus when the Lord spake to him out of heaven. He brought me down from the high horse, and caused me to fall to the ground; by the brightness of the light of His Spirit He made me grope in conscious blindness; and in the brokenness of my heart I cried, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" I felt that I had been rebelling against the Lord, kicking against the pricks, and doing evil even as I could; and my soul was filled with anguish at the discovery. Very searching was the glance of the eye of Jesus, for it revealed my sin, and caused me to go out and weep bitterly. As when the Lord visited Adam, and called him to stand naked before Him, so was I stripped of all my righteousness before the face of the Most High.

Yet the visit ended not there; for as the Lord God clothed our first parents in coats of skins, so did He cover me with the righteousness of the great sacrifice, and He gave me songs in the night It was night, but the visit was no dream: in fact, I there and then ceased to dream, and began to deal with the reality of things. -- Charles Spurgeon

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Monday, May 27, 2013

A Quote From 'Soul Heights and Soul Depths'

The Christian life is tortuous and chequered in its course. The royal path to glory is a divine mosaic paved with stones of diverse lines. Today, it is a depth almost soundless; tomorrow, a height almost scaleless. Now, a shadow drapes the picture, somber and rayless; then, a light illumines the camera, brilliant and gladsome. Here, the “song” is of mercy, sweet and entrancing; there, it is of judgement, sad and mournful. “When men are cast down, then you shall say, There is lifting up.” But, a divine Hand, veiled and invisible to all but faith’s eye, shapes and directs the whole; and, assured of this, the believing soul is trustful and calm. -- Octavius Winslow

To the Raccoon Clan and Random Raccoonteurs,

I am on vacation this week. At least I am not at my regular work.  I am scheduling a series of quote-of-the-day posts.  I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day, pausing to give thanks for the liberty we enjoy, both to God who is sovereign over all and to those who offered their lives in freedom's cause. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Broken Things

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. -- Mark 14:3

An alabaster jar filled with a rare and expensive liquid would be, I'm sure, a beautiful thing.  It is one of those things we might buy for ourselves and never quite find the right occasion to use it.  Once the flask is broken, no matter what we do, it will never be quite the same.  We have a life, and it's filled with the Spirit - whether we realize it or not.  Of course, we like our lives to be whole and complete.  We like to keep things neat and pretty, to have it all together. 

I seem to have a lot in common with the critics who were there at Simon's house around the table:  There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

I have some friends who have a ministry.  That's about all they have.  The wife is afflicted with a auto-immune disease like lupus and suffered though a recent bout with cancer.  She was, at one point, a highly-paid corporate executive, but she walked away from that and poured all of her money, time, and energy, without any reservations, into their work.  She has no insurance to cover her medical bills or the expensive drugs she has to take to keep her alive.  They are essentially welfare cases.

To old hard-headed, hard-hearted, self-sufficient, self-reliant me, that's all but criminal.  It's a waste that somebody as talented and intelligent as this woman -- whom I have known since she was a high-school student thirty years ago -- should be praying that the government would approve her request for help buying the medication she needs.  This is just stupid. 

What good is a broken bottle, a broken body?  That's what I'm looking at.  The woman in Simon's house was standing there and, from Luke's account, weeping with the empty jar.  Everybody focused on that worthless broken thing.  Nobody was looking at Jesus.  That's where the costly anointing oil had gone.  Nobody noticed the sweet fragrance filling the room, emanating from the Master. 

My friend's life is in pieces.  She was very like that alabaster flask, physically perfect, dainty, delicate and exquisitely beautiful.  Now she is a husk, an empty shell, bloated, crippled, ruined, hopeless, ready just a few months ago to die, all but indigent and homeless, forced to live with other friends, unable to care for herself. 

But my attention is on her rather than on Him.  I'm missing what poured out of that beautiful cask and where it went and what it did.  The woman in Simon's house did not want everybody's eyes turned on her.  She was probably mystified to think that anyone would mind what she was doing when Jesus was reclining there.  All of her being, like her treasure, was given to Him.  If I'm not careful, like those poor Pharisees, I'll miss the point.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rules of the Rock

You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. -- Leviticus 20:22
Here at THE ROCK, we have two basic rules. Rule One: OBEY ALL RULES. -- Barney Fife
God does not say, "I am going to kick you out of the house if you don't shape up."  The cosmos is ordered and operates according to rules that are built into the network of interactions.  Matter forms into elements with properties that we can understand and make use of.  Matter and energy are the perceptible, passing forms of the is-ness that undergrids it all.  This is true up and down the spectrum as mentioned yesterday.  The rules rule.  The house will evict you when you are no longer fit to live here -- which, by the way, is the opposite of how I sometimes think about physical death. 

If we align ourselves with the truth and operate in right-standing and honesty, we can live in the Land of Promise.  The warning God gives comes in the midst of a section about sacrificing children to Molech, practicing witchcraft, dishonoring parents, and pursuing illicit relationships.  We cannot be people of God and live deluded and deceived.  We cannot be the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ while living a lie. 

I really think the whole world is about to experience a huge upheaval as a consequence of living in the illusions of Science! and humanism and license.  Islam's fundamentalism is clashing with the West's decadence.  Both are lies, colliding in the same way that lies of democracy and monarchy collided in the French Revolution.  The results will probably be about the same.  Muslims are burning Sweden.  The English Defence League is rallying against Muslims after the beheading of an unarmed British soldier on the street in Woolwich by Somali immigrants Muslims of Nigerian descent born in Britain (according to another report).

Reality is not a wall we hit so much as the laws that govern the attempt to abruptly penetrate granite with flesh. 

I feel like singing, "This world is not my home/ I'm just a'passin' through/ My treasures are laid up/ Somewhere beyond the blue."  You know, though, one of the reasons I have separated myself somewhat from organized Christianity (which ought to be an oxymoron) is that I don't find most churches and most Christians attempting put aside their illusions either.  Christian fundamentalism, for all its good points, seems content with a one-off revelation, sort of like some who wave the Constitution and shout about "constitutional rights".  The Constitution doesn't give me any rights; it only recognizes them.  I don't have those rights because I am an American citizen but because I am a human alive on the blue planet. 

The Bible is the same way, encoding or encrypting the truth, pointing us at the rules, and showing us the Word.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:14-17).            

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Loose Lips

You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.  -- Leviticus 19:14

It is an illusion to think that anyone ever gets away with anything.  We may speak ill to or of the deaf – or more likely – “behind the back” of someone.  No other human may ever hear what we mutter in the attics of our houses or our heads, but it is heard just the same.  It is a vibration in the spirit as a radio signal is a vibration in the electromagnetic spectrum, at least as real and with as much effect.  This may be disturbing to contemplate.  It kept a weary old man awake a while thinking about it last night.

Our smallest acts and idle words, our very thoughts are known in that highest of courts in heaven, be they righteous and honest or deceptive and dark.  It cannot be otherwise.  We can argue that much of it is trivial, and it is.  Most of the time our words lack the force of thought to propel them any distance and are so much worthless nonsense.  The worst that can be said of it is that it wastes our time or distracts us.  There are days when I think someone has cursed me.  I’m the usual suspect.  My words may have no effect on another, but they quite likely put me out of communion with the Father. 

Whether we realize it or not, our intentional and purposeful words -- of love or lust, goodwill or envy, are said before the Lord, and, possibly, before angels and demons.  Cursing a deaf person may do him no actual harm.  Putting a stumbling block in the path of a blind man may not trip him up.   Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight (Proverbs 26:2).  I believe that, and I believe that the righteous and the godly are generally given protection from curses.  If, however, a curse has a cause, that is, if someone is deserving of it (we can't deny that many are) and does not “abide in the shadow of the Almighty”, as Psalm 91 says, it could harm them. 

The blind and deaf are not limited to the physically handicapped.  Those who do not believe are spiritually disabled.  They see and hear only with the eyes and ears of the flesh.  As Christians, we have to be careful not to cause them more trouble.  As Rick reminded me so effectively the other day, “They know not what they do.”  We do not know when they will find their way onto the right path, the way of repentance, life and grace, and we certainly do not want them to stumble and fall or be hindered in some way by us if and when that happens.  Christians are often the biggest stumbling blocks non-Christians encounter.  Some of that is just a smokescreen and an excuse to live like the devil, but it is up to us to do our best to make sure it is never a valid criticism.  Peter said:  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Well, I could have saved myself some typing and just copied verses from First Peter.  

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  (1 Peter 2:12)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

Or, like Peter, copied Psalm 34 (vv12-17):  

What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Drawing the Line

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them! But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? -- Solzhenitsyn

It gets a little scary when I realize that what I see on the outside is much more a function of what is going on on the inside than most of us would like to think.  As long as I project evil onto another person, a party, group, movement, nation, etc., I do not have to draw the line in my heart.

Christianity gets mixed up with the "ands", polluted and syncretized to the point that much of the preaching and teaching we hear is about how bad other groups are treating us -- a great deviation from what Jesus taught and how He lived.  But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:25).

That is, in all men save the Savior Himself.  The rest of us have a line of demarcation.  There is no wall, no fence, no guarded barricade.  We wish often that a great wall did exist, topped with razor-wire, preceded by a piranha-filled moat.  It would make it harder to sneak across.  That is not the way it works.  As easy as it must be to come over to the right side, it is just as easy to stray back to the wrong.  We have the Word to illuminate the path and the low-voltage shock-collar of conscience to let us know when we are a toke or two over the line.  Faith, hope, and love, like herding dogs, will try to keep us from wandering, and while they can't follow us into our little realm of wickedness, they always welcome back when we repent.

There are parts of us, preferences, pleasures, and parasites, that we have to abandon to the darkness.  I was playing with my grandson's Thomas the Tank Engine train set.  Each little car and engine has a magnet front and back that attracts to the opposite pole magnet on the appropriate end of another piece.  I'm always fascinated by the feel of two south poles pushing away from one another.  Some things are repelled by the light and comfortable only at the other pole -- beyond the shadow's edge.

The answer to Solzhenitsyn's rhetorical question is the bad news, but the good news is that we do not have to deal with our hearts of darkness solely by our own efforts.  Jesus broke His own pure heart, had it pierced that mine might be circumcised and saved, by grace through faith.
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Go Read Mrs. Voskamp

... when there’s a dad with his heart running liquid down his cheeks ...

How often do we find a line like that?

Today, grieve and pray, rave and rage, it is all we can do; it is what we have to do.  Tomorrow we live and forever remember.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sweeping Changes

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers. – 1 Kings 19:4

I can’t imagine having a psychiatrist as gorgeous as Ingrid Bergman.  It would have to drive a man crazy.  But Bergman plays a psychiatrist in Hitchcock’s Spellbound.  In the climactic scene Bergman’s character, Dr. Petersen, confronts the perpetrator of a murder, Murchison, another psychoanalyst, and informs him that she can prove what was done.  Murchison has a revolver and threatens to shoot her.  Petersen says he will not since he can claim insanity for the first murder, but murdering her in cold blood to cover up his crime would be the act of a sane man for which he would be executed.  She walks out the door, and the sane man turns the gun on himself.  The black-and-white film is splashed momentarily in red.

Elijah is under the broom tree because the evil Queen Jezebel threatened to have him killed.  So he escaped and asked the Lord to let him die.  Does that seem right to you?  The fact is that Elijah had been through a lot in the course a couple of days.  He had destroyed the priests of Baal in a confrontation on Mount Carmel.  His prayers had brought rain and broken Israel’s extended drought.  He had outrun Ahab’s chariot from Carmel to Jezreel , because “the hand of the Lord was on” him.  Having exerted himself to the utmost both physically and spiritually in a brief time period, the prophet was exhausted, and he fell into despair. 

I have found, as I grow older, something I did not believe when I was young -- that there is a limit to my physical endurance.  It doesn’t matter how spiritual a person is, we can get so physically worn down that we, like Elijah, can think that it’s all over.  Nor is it unusual for Christians to go from great victory to great defeat, from triumph to terror, just as Elijah experienced.  From the exultant heights of victory over the false prophets of Baal, Elijah descended.  The broom tree was probably Retama raetam, a bushy shrub that has showy white flowers at certain times of the year and grows in dry stream beds or in rocks, sand or gravel on hillsides where almost nothing else bothers to exist.   

It must have been a solitary, a desolate place where Elijah stopped for a little shade, but he was not alone, and, for all his fear and foreboding, he did the right thing.  He spoke to God.  The Lord is never surprised that we get ourselves in trouble.  He isn’t going to brush us aside for sitting down under the broom tree.  But He waits for us to acknowledge Him, even if, like the prophet, we sound pretty lame about it. 

While the broom tree may be a place of hopelessness in one sense, it is very much a place – an altar, we could say, where we are altered, a place of conversion to a new point of view, if not an entirely new life.  It speaks of the Cross, for Christ told us to take up our crosses daily, to lose our lives rather than try to save them.  That is really what Elijah does.  He refuses to let a wicked tyrant execute him to restore the lost honor of a false god, but he willingly offers his life to the Lord, surrendering at the broom tree as Jesus did on the barren, gravelly hillside called Golgotha.  Coming to the end of what we can do is the means to encountering God’s grace and His Person in a new and life-giving, life-altering way. 

The broom tree is something we all experience, some more often than others, when there are challenges or disruptions or threats in our lives that are too big for us to handle all alone.  We must refuse to surrender our lives to anything or anyone except the One to Whom they belong.  We can trust Him to keep us in Christ.    

Thursday, May 16, 2013


And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches.  For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts. – 2 Kings 3:16-17 (KJV)

And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’  For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ (ESV) 

Is it important whether the Lord’s message was to dig trenches or that He was going to fill the existing dry streambeds?  Given my time constraints today, I’m not sure I can do justice to this passage.  The ESV is reasonable in the context because the armies which were dying of thirst were in pursuit of the Moabites.  From reading Lawrence who warred in that region, it was common to move forces from seasonal pool to seasonal pool.  It’s unlikely that an experienced native commander would strike out across places where he was unlikely to find water.  The combined forces of Judah, Israel, and Edom had followed a circuitous route in an attempt to take the Moabites by surprise.  Seven days of marching found them stranded in a barren area.  They were set up to be forced to surrender to their enemy or perish by dehydration.

The prophet called upon was Elisha, as this appears to have happened not long after the catching away of Elijah by chariots of fire.  Elisha was reluctant to assist the backslidden king of Israel, Jehoram, the son of the evil Ahab and Jezebel.  Edom at that point was a vassal state to Israel, as Moab had been prior to this episode of rebellion.  Judah, under the righteous, though somewhat excessively tolerant Jehoshaphat, was not much better than a thrall.  Israel appears to have possessed the most potent military in the region.  It was the presence of the godly king of Judah that caused Elisha to trouble himself enough to summon a musician for some pickin’n’prophesyin’.  

While, as I said, the ESV makes sense, I am inclined to follow the more traditional and very common interpretation that requires some preparatory action on the part of man.  I think they were camped in or near a wadi where they might normally find a stream, but I think, too, that the Lord instructed them to dig ditches in the wadi. 

There are times even on the right road when all our hope dries up.  We can find ourselves unable to carry on toward our destiny though we have followed a correct and wise path.  Instead of trying to move forward, we might consider going deeper.  Notice that the prophet did not instruct them to excavate the hilltops or the mountainsides, but to delve in the valley, in the place where they had expected to find sustainment and refreshing.  Just because it looks dead and dried up on the surface does not mean we might not find some life if we dig a little deeper. 

We should not be too hasty to move on from the place to which the Lord has led us, and we should not be deceived by outward appearances.  Our homes and churches, marriages, families, occupations, all these are places we should expect to find help and hope and support.  That isn’t always the case, unless we are prepared to have a little faith, stand our ground, put in a little effort and dig some ditches in the desert. 
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