The Depths of the Sea

I’m no exploration buff. Can’t say I’m particularly well read (or even read, at all) when it comes to boldly going where no man has gone before. Instead, what I think I know, I know from the media. My sense of “where we’ve been” and “what we know” comes more in sound bites and brief news stories. But if I’ve been tracking anywhere near accurately, then I think it’s a correct statement to say that we know as much, if not more, about deep space than we do about the deep sea.

My sense is that it has been easier, or at least we’ve been more focused toward, launching things far into space than we’ve been able to explore the bottom of our oceans. You’d think, given that oceans are here on earth and other galaxies are not, that with all we’ve been able to see of other galaxies, that we must have nailed the ocean thing and discovered and observed all there is to discover and observe. But again, if I’m keeping tabs correctly, that’s not the case. Apparently, there’s still a lot we haven’t seen at the bottom of the ocean. It’s not so easy to get to the depths of the sea.

Which is probably why something I’m chewing on in Micah this morning tastes so sweet.

Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

(Micah 7:18-19 ESV)

The depths of the sea! That’s where my sins are. Essentially beyond reach. Effectively so far out of sight they’re gone. Eternally cast away so that if east could meet west then they could be retrieved. That’s how our God rolls!

Pardoning iniquity. Passing over transgression. Delighting in steadfast love. His just anger over sin giving way to His even greater compassion for sinners. So that He provides for the sins which separate us from our God to be trod under foot. He purposes to make a way for iniquities to be cast into the depths of the sea.

What was it like for Micah to receive and record his revelation? To go from prophesying about the terrible wrath Israel deserved for their spiritual adultery to promising that God would show “faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham” as He had sworn to them from days of old (7:20)? To call out their wretched wickedness yet also foretell of rescue and redemption? How could both be possible? How could God be just and yet be their justifier?

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

(Romans 3:21-22 ESV)

Paul says that all have sinned, that all fall short, but that all can be justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ (Rom. 3:23-26). That the Babe in the manger we look upon at this time of year was born to be a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice, for our transgression against a holy God and against those created to bear His image. That His finished work on the cross tunneled an expressway to the depths of the sea as a transport for sin, accessible to all by faith.

If our sin had been cast into the heavens, there’s a good chance someone would be taking pictures of it with Hubble or some exploratory satellite. Instead, when we confess our sin–past, present, and future–He is faithful to remove our sin and cast it into the depths of the sea. Never to be seen again. Never to be brought up again. Forever removed through the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Praise God that He has called us to look deep into the heavens which declare His glory (Ps. 19:1), but has put the depths of the seas beyond our reach as a reminder of how fully He has dealt with our sin problem.

O what a Savior!

O come let us adore Him!

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Of the Truth

The celebration nears. The remembrance of a birth is less than two weeks away. For many it’s about family and traditions, with little significance beyond that. For others, it includes the heart-warming folklore of the “No Room Here Inn,” a nostalgic reflection more than an awe-invoking remembrance. But still for others, we who believe, we try to battle the din of the season and try to prepare our hearts to, at least at some point, recapture something of the hush of that holy night. Something I read in John’s gospel this morning helped with some of that preparation.

Then Pilate said to him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”

(John 18:37 ESV)

Why was Jesus born? Why did Deity take on flesh? Why did the King of Heaven enter the world of men? Why did the Almighty condescend to be birthed as a baby? To bear witness to the truth. To testify concerning reality.

If there’s anything we need in this world today it is a dose of reality. Jesus, said, “That’s why I came.”

To bear witness to the reality of God. A God who has no delight in vain, empty-hearted religious practice. But a God who so loves the world that He sent His Son to redeem vain worship. That’s the truth.

To tell it like it is concerning sin. That those who commit sin are slaves to sin–and that everyone commits sin. But to also tell it like it can be. That He came to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb of God to deal with our sin–to pay sin’s wages and to break sin’s bondage. That’s the truth, too.

To authenticate that, having been created by God in His image, we were made for eternal life. And that eternal life is found in knowing the Creator. And that to know Jesus is to know the Creator. And that, even now, He prepares a place for those who know Him, so that, one day, where He is they might be also. More truth.

And to proclaim that all that needs to be done for people to know their God, and to be true worshipers, and to be freed from sin’s chains, and to participate in eternal life, has been done. Jesus bearing witness with His last breath on the cross, “It is finished.” Also the truth.

Jesus came into the world to speak of truth . . . to demonstrate truth . . . to define truth.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”    ~ Jesus

(John 14:6a ESV)

But not everyone listens to His voice. Not everyone sees the light. Not everyone receives and experiences the taste of reality. Only those who are “of the truth” listen to His voice.

And a hush falls over me as I hover over this truth. That if I’m hearing His voice . . . if I’m picking up something of what He’s laying down . . . if I’m nodding my head in assent and, by His power, releasing my heart to His rule . . . then I am of the truth.

Not a cause for boasting. No basis for me to take credit. No merit for me to claim. For I was lost and not even looking. I was in darkness unaware of light. I was dead in trespass and sin, but then, made alive . . . and that by faith alone. And this crippled, wayward sheep began to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Because, through the finished work of the cross and by the grace of God, I was delivered from darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s Son, joining those of the truth.

That’s why He came into to the world. That men and women could be of the truth. That’s why He took on flesh, walked as a man, died as a sacrifice, rose again victorious–to redeem for Himself a people who hear His voice.

Listen!  Can you hear it?

O come let us adore Him!

What amazing grace! To God be all the glory!

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They Bound Him

The humiliation would only intensify. The Prince of Life would stand before whitewashed tombs full of dead people’s bones and be questioned about His teaching. The King of all Nations would be dragged before a mealy-mouthed Roman governor and challenged about His kingdom. Then, the Prince of Peace would be verbally abused. And it would escalate, Jehovah-Rapha, the God Who Heals, would be beaten–His flesh torn, His wounds openly displayed for the curious to behold. And finally, the LORD of LORDS would so humble Himself that He would submit to death, even death on a cross.

But what grabs me this morning, is how the humiliation of Jesus began–they bound Him.

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.

(John 18:12 ESV)

It hit me like a ton of bricks this morning, they bound Him. They tied up God. They fastened chains about the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

And I think it so caught my attention because of what else I had read before opening John 18.

In Job was I reminded that God has charge over all the earth. So much so that, if He chose to, He could “gather to Himself his Spirit and His breath” and “all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15). Jesus could have held His breath, and the posse in front of Him would have dropped to the ground lifeless. He had already caused them to eat dust when He identified Himself to them as the I am (18:6), but had He wanted, He could have returned them to dust. But He didn’t. Instead He continued to sustain their very breath. And with that breath, they bound Him.

In Jonah I again took note of the God Jonah feared (kinda’), “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). The God who could hurl a great wind upon the sea to slow down His fleeing, disobedient spokesman (1:4). The God who would appoint a great fish to swallow up and save His prodigal prophet (1:17). The God who had power to appoint a specific plant to grow in a specific place in order to provide a sulking saint with a bit of shade (4:6). The God who would also call deploy a worm with a huge appetite to eat the plant, and then turn up the sun’s thermostat in order to instruct His reluctant evangelist (4:7-8). And this is the God who, before mere mortals, held out His wrists. And they bound Him.

How come?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

(John 3:16-17 ESV)

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(John 1:29 ESV)

Just as Abraham had to bind Isaac before laying Him on the altar, so God the Father ordained that God the Son should be bound in order to be offered as the once-for-all saving sacrifice for all men and women. The Son, submitting to the Father’s perfect will, surrendered to being tied up those He had made so that He might redeem and re-make them. Deity, born as a babe and willing to be bound in flesh, would further humble Himself, allowing Himself be bound by chains. And this, so that He could make provision to break the chains of those bound by sin.

They bound Him.

O what a Savior!

What amazing grace! To Him be all the glory!

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Shelter and a Shepherd

While there may be debate as to who exactly they are, it seems pretty clear to me where they are. Those “coming out of the great tribulation” might specifically refer to believers martyred after the opening of the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9) or, generally speak of all believers who have suffered through trial while on earth. Either way, I think I’m on solid ground when I think that their experience recorded in Revelation 7 is but a glorious “spoiler alert” of heaven for all who, one day, will be absent from the body and present with the Lord.

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

(Revelation 7:15-17 ESV)

Here’s how William MacDonald summarizes the blessings which are theirs:

Perfect nearness: They are before the throne of God.
Perfect service: They serve Him day and night in His temple.
Perfect fellowship: He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.
Perfect satisfaction: They shall hunger nor thirst anymore.
Perfect security: They will never again be struck by searing sun nor scorching heat.
Perfect guidance: They will be led to springs of living water by the Lamb Himself
Perfect joy: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

And what grabbed me this morning, as I hovered over this insight as to the current experience of those who have “gone before”, was the Shelter and the Shepherd.

He who sits on the throne will dwell among them, He will shelter them with His presence. Literally, He will tabernacle among them. He will pitch His tent over them. And that tent will be the awe-invoking, face-to-the-ground-compelling, worship-illiciting glory of His presence.

However strong the sense of His presence here on earth has been, when faith gives way to sight, that presence will be tangible . . . unavoidable . . . and altogether delightful. We will bask in the radiance of His emanating glory. Though He never leaves the throne, He will ever cover us. The resplendent rainbow that surrounds the throne (4:3) will be light upon our face. The flashes of lighting, and the rumblings and peals of thunder, that come from the throne (4:5) will be music to our ears–an irresistible invitation to join all those under the shelter to declare the holiness and worthiness of our God.

And if heaven were only about such shelter, that would be more than enough.

But there is also the Shepherd–the Lion of the tribe of Judah who we will behold as a Lamb, “as though it had been slain” (5:6). Our Redeemer in the midst of the throne–the One worthy to “receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12). And He will be our Guide. Not only welcoming us into Divine presence, but leading us to springs of living water. The Source of eternal life will be the Shepherd for eternal life.

He will tend His flock. Furnish them with pasture. Supply every need of their eternal souls. Fulfilling His promise that He would give them life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

Shelter and a Shepherd. The experience of those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ.

Shelter and a Shepherd. The hope of those who remain, known even now, though dimly, by faith through the Spirit who indwells us.

Shelter and a Shepherd. The promise of eternity.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Cause or Effect? Yes!

The love of God . . . that’s what I’m noodling on this morning.

Continuing my reading in John 16 as Jesus prepares His disciples for the worst night of their lives and the best day to follow. And in that preparation He continues to reveal to them the mystery of the relationship and the dynamic between God the Father and God the Son–a dynamic they will be able to participate in when they are indwelt by God the Spirit.

And in His final words Jesus talks of the love of God in a manner which grabs my attention, prompting me to chew on the question, “Is the love of God a cause or an effect?” To which I find myself answering, “Yes!”

” . . . for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” ~ Jesus

(John 16:27 ESV)

Was the disciples’ love for Christ the cause of the Father’s love for them? Or, was it the effect, their love for Christ being the evidence of God’s Father’s love for them? Did the Father love them dearly because they loved His Son? Or, because they loved His Son, is that how they knew the extent of God’s love for them?

Yes.

There could be no loving Christ apart from God first loving the world and sending His Son. No way that those dead in trespass and sin could, on their own, muster up an ounce of life or light to embrace the One sent to rescue them for the darkness and bondage of sin. No way that those who by nature were enemies of God would even consider His gracious provision apart from His loving prompting. But God, because of His great love toward us, made us alive together with Christ even when we had no thought, much less any merit or desire, to reach out to Him.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

(1John 4:9-10 ESV)

As my old King James reminded me often, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1John 4:19). Our love for the Son is the effect of the Father’s love for us.

But does the Father not also love those who, having been redeemed by the precious blood of the Son, desire to, on an on-going basis, love the Son? Is not our love for Jesus also the cause of God’s abiding love for us? I’m thinkin’ . . .

The Father delights in those who delight in His Son. He is pleased with those who heed His words, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Lk. 9:35). Our love for the Son, in a sense, compels the Father to increasingly pour out His love of us.

“And He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him and manifest myself to Him. ~ Jesus

(John 14:21b ESV)

Being loved by the Father allows us to love the Son. Loving the Son returns the love of the Father. And that love comes in knowing Father and Son in increasing measure through the Spirit.

Cause . . . and effect.

By His grace. For His glory.

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No Silence in Heaven

Sometimes it’s something I never really noticed or seen before that grabs my attention during my morning readings. But often my morning meal is like sitting down again with an old friend. What captures my imagination has done so in the past. What sets the awe-o-meter off has set it off, again and again, before. Such is the case this morning as I enter heaven through Revelation 4. And again I notice that while what is seen is almost inexpressible, what is heard is inescapable.

I know you shouldn’t read Revelation literally, but what if Revelation 4:8 is literal? (Isaiah 6 makes me think it could be.)

If it is, then there is no silence in heaven.

Instead, in glory there is a never-ending, audible rhythm. One which I take note of at least once a year when I “come up” with John and behold again “what must take place.” I’ve noted it before. By faith, I’ve heard it before. And, as my mind tries to process it, I’ve written on it before.

Sharing some thoughts from 2011 . . .

———————–

We’ve all heard them. You hear them coming . . . you literally feel them if they are idling next to you . . . and you hear them going. I’m talking about those vehicles that have some humungous sound system in them which pumps out a drum-thumpin’, bass-driven beat. You can’t exactly make out any words . . . you’re not really sure that there’s any music attached to it . . . but the rhythm . . . oh, you are so aware of the rhythm. Boom, boom, boom . . . endlessly . . . boom, boom, boom . . . often annoyingly . . . boom, boom, boom. But guess what, I’m wondering if from now on, it might be, for me, boom, boom, boom . . . prophetically. You see, they came to mind as I read this morning about the rhythm of heaven.

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne . . . And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!'”

(Revelation 4:2-3a, 6b-8 ESV)

Oh, how I love getting to the point in Revelation where I vicariously, through John, see the door open to heaven and the Spirit inviting me to “Come up here” (4:1). When I get to the point where, by God’s word, through the Spirit’s illumination, with some sanctified imagination, I tip toe around paradise “taking in the sights.” Talk about, “Behold, your God!”

And this morning, I’m reminded that it’s not just what I will see . . . but what I will hear. That there is a rhythm of heaven . . . a back beat that will throb through that place where God’s throne is set up . . . a reverberating echo that will provide a backdrop for all that goes on for all eternity. And it won’t be some muffled “boom, boom, boom” . . . no . . . it will peal with the clarity of the grandest bells, “Holy, holy, holy!”

I may not understand a lot about these four living creatures . . . but that they are created angels is apparent . . . and that they’ve been doing their a cappella thing for quite awhile, I get (cp. Isa. 6:1-3). And, what I also understand about them is that they have been given a “repeating tag line” to declare before the throne for eternity. I imagine it as a song . . . a song that they sing day and night . . . a truth that captures the essence of Him who sits on the throne . . . a declaration that they never cease saying. It is the rhythm of heaven . . . “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Think about it . . . it never stops. The nearer you get to the throne, the louder it gets. And unlike my friends with their boom-boxes-on-wheels, this soul-stirring beat will never get annoying . . . this throbbing sentiment will never get old . . . these pulsating words will always be fresh . . . “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!”

This morning, I hear the rhythm of heaven by faith. Through the Christ-conforming work of the Spirit in me, my ears are becoming more attuned to the heartbeat that emanates from before the throne of God. The old, old, song continues to beat with a new, new freshness as I grow in appreciation of the nature of God–thrice holy . . . residing in unapproachable love . . . yet accessible by His grace and through the cross of His Son. He who was . . . and is . . . and is to come . . .

Oh yes! He is to come! The distant booming of the angel’s 24/7 back beat gets louder as the day approaches. The theme becomes grander the longer we serve Him in anticipation of that day when we too hear the Spirit say, “Come on up!”

“Holy, holy, holy” . . . can you hear the rhythm of heaven?

———————–

No silence in heaven. Always a rhythm.

Heard by His grace. Declared for His glory.

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When God Watched Over Me

You wonder if Job’s just getting tired. Apart from the chronic pain sapping his strength, there’s the incessant drip of his miserable comforters telling him to ‘fess up and admit that what he’s going through must be because of the wrong he has done. The protracted debate wearing him out as they say, “God is just, therefore the degree of your suffering must be an indicator of the degree of your sin,” to which Job repeatedly defends himself contending, “No, I am righteous, surely God’s made a mistake somehow. If only I could talk with Him then I’d straighten things out.” Back and forth they go.

And at some point, I imagine, Job lets out a deep sigh and with a loud cry laments, I just want to go back to the good old days–the days when God watched over me.

And Job again took up his discourse, and said: “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when His lamp shone upon my head, and by His light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.”

(Job 29:1-4 ESV)

In chapter 29, Job lists what marked those days of the past “when God watched over me.” The days when God’s protective hand was active. The days when His leading was clear. The days when Job was in his prime, knowing blessing upon blessing–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–from the seeds he had sown. The days when God’s friendship was felt in his home. Those days . . . oh, how he longed for those days.

And it’s so easy to relate. I’m guessing we all have had seasons where we longed to be in a previous season, an easier season. Bad days that make us long for the good ol’ days. Days of barrenness and loneliness when we long for the days when we were full and surrounded–not just with other people, but with God Himself. Times when we wonder, is God still watching? When we being to question whether God is still leading as we stumble through the desert. When we’re tired, our eyes are dim, and we wonder where the light has gone.

But as I hover over Job’s lament, I find myself thinking, “God’s still watching over Job.”

Job was God’s boast before the enemy: “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” “He’ll curse You,” taunts Satan, “if you let me at him and remove the blessing he’s known.” Go for it, says God, “Only against him do not stretch our your hand” (1:8-12). God is still watching over Job though the enemy is permitted some latitude in Job’s life.

And after Job loses everything and yet continues to bless the name of the Lord, God’s lamp shines on Job’s head again as He displays Job before Satan as a trophy of righteousness through faith. But again Satan says, so what? “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face.” God, still watching over Job, replies, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life” (2:3-6).

Job went through nothing that God did not permit. Nothing touched Job that hadn’t already gone through God’s fingers. And while Job suffered, it was not evidence of a God who had stopped watching, or caring, or protecting. Not because the friendship of God had left the tent. These were still the days “when God watched over me.”

Job didn’t know the back story to his story. Wasn’t privy to the drama behind the scenes. Couldn’t have imagined the spiritual battle which enveloped his circumstance. But these things were “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

The days when God watched over me . . . those are these days.

Days of all sufficient grace. Days for His everlasting glory.

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