Travelers, Tent-dwellers, and Troublemakers

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“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

 – Psalms 116:1-2 NIV –


Men of dust, doubt, and deceit. Hardened men — men of blood, accustomed to pagan rites, gory battles, and rampant immorality.

This was the world of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And yet God chose them. Why? Certainly not because of their piety — we’re talking about a group of polygamists, liars, and cowards.

But He still chose them. Out of millions of people, he put his favor on one undeserving man, commissioning a journey that would transform a childless old man into the father of a spiritual nation.

He appeared to them, one by one (Abraham: Genesis 12:7, 17:1, 18:1; Isaac: Genesis 26:24; Jacob: Genesis 32:24). He spoke to them, came to them in dreams, and visited them in visions. He made promises to them.

He put tears of laughter on the face of the century-old Abraham.

He vowed faithfulness to the promised son Isaac.

He wrestled until dawn with the stubborn heel-grabber Jacob.

As I recently finished reading through Genesis, I realized that many people today have it all wrong. Some see the God of the Old Testament as a severe Judge who finally mellows out and becomes more loving by the time the New Testament era arrives. But I found this idea to be the farthest thing from the truth.

In all His majesty, holiness, and justice, the God of the Old Testament is the same unchangeable God as the gracious Deity of later Scripture. His mercy didn’t begin when the calendar switched from B.C. to A.D.

Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
    For His mercy endures forever.

– Psalm 136: 26, NKJV, emphasis mine –

You see, I believe that many people have difficulties with the severe punishments for sin recorded in the OT stem because of one common misunderstanding: We do not realize the seriousness of sin.

When we realize that one sin — even the “tiniest” sin we can imagine — is so serious that it incurs death on the sinner, we start to see that no punishment in the OT is less than any one of us deserve.

The wonder is not that God had so many people punished. The wonder is that He chooses to spare any of us (Romans 9:14-24).

We think of ourselves too highly. We see innocence where there is corruption. We see purity where sin has already crept in. We set up a mock trial, usurp the judge’s bench, and think we can pass the sentence to excuse our human frailty.

Who are we to do this?

When we finally see what every last one of us deserves, only then are we ready to see the true character of the God of the Old Testament…and the New.

“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love. Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified; but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.”

– Thomas Brooks –

This is why Genesis was more beautiful to me this time than any other time I have read it.

I don’t claim to understand how deeply my sin grieves my heavenly Father, but I know this: when I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I grasp a little bit more of the astounding mercy of God.

Jacob gives me hope. A thieving, lying, cheating polygamist, as stubborn as they come, received grace from the God of his father and grandfather:

“Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

– Genesis 32:9-12, NKJV, emphasis mine –

These men were not cardboard patriarchs. They had skin that burned, hearts that hungered, and souls that strayed. They were real. They were like us. Yes, these desert dwellers of 4,000 years ago had to answer the same question as we do today: Do we believe God or don’t we?

God, in His great mercy, set His love on them and granted them the grace to believe.

And the desert dwellers became saints of God, believing His promises of a Seed to redeem them all (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 3:16-19).

They didn’t have all the answers. They made a mess of many decisions. They saw God Himself one moment and were scheming up their own solutions to His promises the next.

But He chose them.

And, man by man, He drew each of them close and poured out love on a sand-covered, sin-grimed wanderer. So when I read the Old Testament, I’m not confused by plagues or punishments. I’m astounded that God chose to set His love on a bunch of clueless tent-dwellers and make them His.

It reminds me of what He did for me — a person just as clueless, just as unworthy, and just as much a saint of God — through the sacrifice and triumph of the Promised Son, the Seed of Abraham.


“The high heaven covereth as well tall mountains as small mole hills, and mercy can cover all. The more desperate thy disease, the greater is the glory of thy physician, who hath perfectly cured thee.”

– Abraham Wright –

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Where Are You?

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The first time two souls went running,

What if nothing had gotten in their way?

If the briars and blood were all the answer

In the garden ruined by rebels that day?

On ground first stained with brother’s blood,

What if no curse was ever spoken?

What if murder was the natural thing,

Sure sign of power, not of true things broken?

Globe fast hurtling through space,

What if nothing held its spin in check?

If not a drop of care or thought

Was given to this blue-green speck?

Hearts wrung, strung along on faith

Constructed on dreams of sinking sand.

What if these were all to hope for,

Our wishful thoughts the only plan?

But God said, “Where are you?”

And rebel hearts must quake,

For none can hide the dark inside,

Or restore to new, or life awake.

Again, the call, “Where are you?”

Still-broken souls rejoice,

For a Judge to call means justice lives,

At least there’s meaning in the void.

But He once cried, “Where are you?”

And that time t’was God who died.

“Oh Father, You’ve forsaken me”

True justice and pure grace collide.

By the tomb she wept, “Where are you?”

By Mary’s side He was alive,

And Thomas, doubting, inwardly echoed,

The question that Mary had cried.

To the clouds Christ soon ascended

And now clouds await His returning shout

To His Bride, “Where are you?”

At last the joy destroying doubt.

Still He repeats “Where are you?”

Till all His sheep are in.

God’s call delivering the sentence,

God’s own answer absolving sin.

Unsurpassed

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Trying to figure out God is like trying to catch a fish in the Pacific Ocean with an inch of dental floss

– Matt Chandler –

I’m staggered by this.

That God is the Center, the only One worthy of glory.

And for Him to seek this glory is not arrogant–because what is arrogance but viewing yourself as higher than you are? That’s not a problem for God–there isn’t anyone higher!

What glorious kingliness, to be perfectly Love, Light, Truth, Beauty, Justice, Power!

Nothing surpasses Him.

“Lord, I come before You
To honor and adore You,
For who You are and all that You have done.
Lord, I am not worthy,
My heart is dark and dirty.
Still somehow You bid for me to come.

So clothe me in humility,
Remind me, that I come before a King,

And there is nothing,
There is nothing,
More precious, more worthy.
May I gaze deeper,
May I stand longer,
May I press onward to know You, Lord.”

– “There Is Nothing,” by Laura Story –

So then, no wonder He cannot give this glory away.

“I am the Lord; that is my name;
 I don’t hand out my glory to others
or my praise to idols.”

– Isaiah 42:8, CEB, emphasis mine –

One distant speck of a planet, less than a fleck of dust in a galaxy, a breath, next to nothing in the midst of a horde of starry swirls, monstrous asteroids, and revolving planets.

And in this miniscule dot of a planet, there are tiny fists that dare shake at the cosmos.

People. A filmy shudder of vapor, a breath of passing wind. Yet we humans somehow dare to lift our chins in defiance. Somehow, we dare to declare ourselves as gods, as the deciding force of the universe.

“You have always been because what it is that you are is God, or Divine Intelligence, but God takes on individual forms, droplets, reducing its power to small particles of individual consciousness.”

– Gary Zukav –

God in heaven laughs.

How could He not?

The sheer absurdity of His created creatures, who to Him must be like the tiniest insects in strength, lifting our powerless fists in uprising.

And meanwhile, His power makes all things hold together. It is not possible–but what if God were to allow another to have His glory? Would not the very foundations of the universe crumble? Would not this fabric of existence unravel in an instant?

In the face of our pitiful, obstinate mutiny, how easy it would be for Him to lightly press down His finger and smudge away that microscopic creation from the page of His story.

Yet He doesn’t. Instead, He steps down and takes on the frame of one of these dust specks.

The God of galaxies, Lord of stars spangled like diamonds across heaven’s velvet. The Controller of planetary spins and brilliant fireball-suns and crashing tsunamis and quaking subterranean plates.

Be still, speechless, breathless at this:

This God came to us.

To us.

Does this crumble your ego? It should. What He chose to do should make us quake.

Because the Alpha, without beginning, was born out of a teenage womb into a pile of manured straw.

Because the Omega, endless One, died, bearing the brunt of the Father’s justice.

God in skin–raw, ripped, bloody skin.

Becoming a human, He used that moment to atone for the vileness of those He created.

With the same breathing-out that filled the lungs of the first man, the first to raise a fist against Him

With that breath, He cried out, having bared His pure heart to the dagger of His Father’s fury. He breathed out, one last exhalation.

A shout of cosmic victory. “It is finished!”

He warned that praiseless lips would make the rocks cry out. The stones and mountains did–shaking and roaring and cracking with the darkness that fell, vibrated to pieces by his cry of triumph.

God with us died for us, because of us. Right there, on a man-hewn plank of wood.

Who else was pure enough to be the sacrifice?

Who else was man enough to suffer with us and for us? To intimately know us?

Who else was God enough to overcome even death?

Because, this God is so beyond our strength that Death itself was no match for Him. He rose.

He rose!

I really can’t comprehend this.

I can’t grasp how high He is, how clean and glorious and marvelous He is in comparison to us. I don’t think my human eyes can hold that much light or fathom that depth of spectrum. My human heart can’t seem to grasp how much of His atoning pain was because of my rebellion. My ears can’t hear all of Love’s harmonies, though I hope the music will grow stronger as I journey. My mind can’t expand enough to allow God’s thoughts to enter.

I can only bow.

Mr. Chandler’s right. I feel strikingly like I’m holding an inch of dental floss.

Maybe less than an inch.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?”

– Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Thank you to Gale Titus and Public Domain Pictures for today’s spacescape!

The Wall that Crumbled

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“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1:9, NKJV, emphasis mine –

It’s not often that a verse that I’ve read a million times,  heard all my life, comes out at me in a new light.

But today it did.

I was listening to the Word of Promise Bible on my computer, following along in my own Bible. 1 John began and the words flowed along quickly, chapters filling my ears.

And somewhere in the second or third chapter, I was still scribbling in my journal about 1 John 1:9.

So familiar it’s almost trite. It’s the verse of assurance, an appendix to the Romans Road.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them.

Simple as that.

Confess and He will forgive.

But those two adjectives that describe Him—why haven’t I stopped to see before?

Faithful. Well, that’s not surprising. If there’s anything I rest my life on, it’s my God’s faithfulness.

But the other trait—justice.

Not only is He faithful, but also just to forgive our sins. Yes, merciful, but the very noble, unswerving justice of His nature means He cannot do other than forgive our sin.

He cannot, will not deviate from the path of overwhelming grace—Jesus came down, stepped right into abominable, writhing humanity.

If He pressed on in joy to His cross, will not God also give us all in Him?

The King of heaven bowed His bloodied head and then with the greatest outpouring of grace-power cried,

“It is finished!”

Yes, gone. Done. Accomplished. Finished.

So it’s not just a merciful impulse or a split personality idiosyncrasy that insists on forgiving desolate sinners in spite of stern justice.

But here, His justice forgives.

In Christ, there is no wall between justice and mercy.

That wall crumbled in that earth-quaking noon darkness, when God bowed and the universe’s Ruler subjected Himself to death. When the last breath rushed from bruised lungs, even the rocks cried out and trembled at the dying breath of their Creator.

And that justice-mercy barrier shattered to pieces.

And there’s nothing else that will satisfy God’s justice than to look on me with favor.

To do less, when Christ has offered so great a ransom price, would be to deny His own justice.

Nothing else will be true to His character, nothing else in line with both bottomless grace and flawless integrity.

This sin-laden girl will live, and live abundantly, because God laid Himself down and died.

I will rejoice, because Jesus swallowed up my oh-so-deserved sorrow.

Mercy looks on me and smiles.

But Justice—what will it declare to this trespasser who dares run into the throne room?

Unlike Esther, not uninvited.

What response, to a trembling soul on its knees? The King on His throne rises, looks on with love.

And the soul that dared throw itself on this Ruler’s mercy, who knew like that Persian queen of old that this was the only chance for life—to throw herself on the mercy of that great One on the throne.

And Justice holds out the scepter of welcome and declares life to the suppliant.

Live! Live!

And on my knees, I lift up trembling fingers and touch the extended hand, the hand of a King bearing the eternal scars of a criminal.

A sinner’s hand touches that of the Sinless King.

Justice and Mercy meet there, in a faith-touch that takes power right from Him. But He does not ask who touched Him, not this time. He looks down with eyes I can’t fathom, love I can’t measure. By His touch, sees all of me.

Yet I am forgiven, invited into His fellowship.

Made joyfully alive, unconditionally accepted, completely whole.

At His feet.

Thanks to Consuelo Suarez for a great photo from Public Domain Pictures.