Finding Contentment: More Thoughts From A Christian Biochemist
Jesse L. Smith â€˘ YishayLee@gmail.com
An idea or thought alone can do little to improve one’s sense of well being – but a relationship can. You could spend an entire lifetime considering the theoretical possibility of another’s existence, but it would only be an intellectual exercise without ever knowing them. The following are a collection of thoughts encouraging you to find rest in the arms of the One True Lord.
Index String Theory……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 1 Anti-Newtonian Fluid……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….... 2 Coffee And A Flurry………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….....4 A Man’s Pride………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………5 Fellowship By The Fire………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….7 True Love…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………....8 A Higher Love………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………10 Sustained By Love………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..11 Charlie’s Growling……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….13 The Beauty of Randomness………………………………………………………………………………………………………….14 Genesis Does……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….16 The Nautilus Glory…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….…17 Pray For One Another………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….19 In The Gym………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….20 Vampires In Reality……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..22 The Red Dragon…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..23 Raw Material………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………25 Dusty Genesis………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………26 God’s Country………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………28 Super Pinch Pot……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………29 The Cyclone…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………30 Jacob’s Trouble……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………32
String Theory Dad took the three of us kids into the kitchen with a pseudo-serious demeanor that made us wonder what he was up to. He was playful like that, and by his gestures and body movements it was easy for us to tell that this was some kind of game. Leaning down as if to communicate some deep and wonderful secret he told us, “Did you know that there are invisible strings that hang from the sky all around the world?” Our immediate response was something like, “Pffffffff…… Sure Dad, Whatever.” His eyes then widened with his best look of feigned shock and said, “Oh no, no, it’s true. In fact, there are strings hanging from the ceiling in this very room.” The three of us were not going to be gullible over this, and so we defiantly (yet playfully) said, “OK – Prove it then!!” Picking up a standard number 2 pencil and rubbing it up and down with his thumb and pointer finger my Dad responded, “I will… watch me drag this pencil across the floor with one of the strings.” He then looked up towards the light in the room, and with great focused concentration moved his head until suddenly ‘spotting’ something. Reaching out into space he ‘plucked’ what was presumably one of the strings and began to ‘wrap’ it around the pencil, tying it into a knot. At this point the three of us were thoroughly heckling my Dad and laughing at the whole ridiculous routine. For a 7, 9 and 11 year old – we were a pretty tough audience. Dad interrupted our hilarity with “Wait! Watch this…” Carefully placing the pencil on the floor with the ‘string’ in his right hand, he slowly moved his hand across the floor…. And the pencil followed!! “What?!! Gimme that pencil!” The three of us instantly began analyzing the pencil for any suspicious additions. There was nothing…. Just a regular pencil. “Wait a minute… what’d you do to it!!” we demanded. Of course we weren’t about to fall for that stupid ‘string’ thing, but Dad had definitely done something to cause the pencil to move across the floor. Searching for an explanation we immediately began advancing possible theories to explain the phenomena… and then we remembered – Dad was rubbing the pencil!! “That’s it!”we reasoned, “Some kinda static electricity thing…” We grabbed the pencil again, rubbing it up and down and saying, “But how…?” Dad watched us for a while rubbing the pencil viciously and trying to stick it to things, when he could no longer contain himself and burst out laughing. The joke was clearly on us. “Hahahahha…” My Dad was turning red with laughter, and we knew that this was our cue to start feeling dumb. “I Blew the pencil across the floor!” His entire routine was elaborately conceived so that we would ignore the most obvious explanation for what had happened. If we didn’t buy into the whole ‘string’ thing, we would almost surely buy into the pencil rubbing routine. Our focus was so distracted from our Dad’s face that we failed to notice or even consider that he was blowing the pencil across the floor! We were forced by deceit into considering evidence that was really very far fetched, and completely beyond the knowledge of the average kid to evaluate. Thankfully, Dad was kind enough to tell us the truth BEFORE we spent a long and fruitless search into the subtleties of static electricity. 1
It would be really sad if I had spent my whole life remembering that pencil move across the floor and studying to find the answer, only to end up like some of the people the Apostle Paul spoke about, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” -2 Timothy 3:7 Like my Dad in his game, there are plenty of forces in real life that are constantly distracting us from the most important things to consider. These demand our intellectual time and investment, and they are so far beyond the scope of the average individual that we are compelled to accept them as true. Paul warned the church of his time about these things saying, “…avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” -1 Timothy 6:20-21 You will find in the end that the faith of JESUS is a much better investment than any opposition of science… when you focus on His face you won’t end up feeling dumb in the end.
Anti-Newtonian Fluid Long before Bill Nye the science guy there was Mr. Conn, my freshman year teacher in high school. He mastered the art of ‘borderline insanity’ as a teaching method before anyone else… and it worked. Before every class period he could be heard throughout the campus screaming at the top of his lungs, “FREE Education!!! Come get your FREE education!!!!” Most of the students bemusedly entered the door of his classroom as he stood by with his dress shirt partially untucked, untrimmed beard, and wild glancing eyes. Most of us pretended not to be entertained when he unfailingly returned every greeting with his favorite line, “Hao, Kimo Sabe Son”. One day Mr. Conn brought out a large and shallow metal pan filled with a nasty looking murky gray substance. Walking down the aisles between the desks he urged us to “Touch it!!”, and you could hear students squealing “Eeewwoooo!!” as the globular fluid plopped from their fingers back into the pan. “HaHaHaaa….” Mr. Conn expressed like a diabolical megalomaniac as he raced with the pan to the front of the room and placed it on the floor. He then positioned a chair in front of the pan and mounted it. Standing in a diving position above the pan we all wondered, “Is he really going to… no way…”, when he leapt off the chair. All of us shielded ourselves for a spray of nasty sludge throughout the classroom as Mr. Conn landed in the pan… but there was nothing!! Not even a single drop of the substance had left the pan! In fact, the entire surface of the material hardened on Mr. Conn’s impact so that it behaved as if it wasn’t a fluid at all. It wasn’t intuitive that there could be any kind of fluid that would actually harden on the force of an impact. But that was what the day’s lesson was all about, anti-Newtonian fluids, which Mr. Conn had so effectively demonstrated for us. In many ways, God is like an anti-Newtonian fluid. Just like our understanding of fluids, every culture around the world has an intuitive understanding of God – that’s wrong! Just like that murky fluid Mr. Conn presented to us, God is also mysterious and can’t be comprehended through human intuition. In fact, He is so unlike us that our natural inclination is to be repelled and avoid Him all together. The only time in history that God audibly spoke from the dark 2
clouds over Sinai to mankind, man’s response was not one of gratitude but of sheer terror. Instead of drawing near to God, the people stood far away and asked Moses to go up and speak to Him instead. Moses describes the scene in Deuteronomy 4:11, “And you came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.” If all of the fire, smoke, and darkness didn’t send a clear enough message to the people about God, the boundaries around the mountain God instructed Moses to set up did! Anyone who dared break through the boundaries to run up the mountain would surely die. But in spite of what God has told us about Himself, we choose instead to trust our own intuition about Him. We feel that the best way to approach God is by force – breaking through the barrier through our own goodness, discipline, and works. But just like that anti-Newtonian fluid, our approach is actually preventing us from drawing near to Him. After all God is Holy, Righteous, and Pure, and who are we to approach a God like that based on our own goodness? If we wouldn’t dare to presumptuously approach a monarch based on our own self-worth, why do we with God? There is a way to approach God, but it doesn’t come intuitively to us. Scripture tells us in Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright within him: but the just shall live by his faith.” When we approach God, we are not meant to gain access based on any quality of ourselves, but based on a quality of Himself – which is mercy. This is something that Israel, and most every culture and religion has failed to understand about God. Paul wrote to the Romans about this saying, “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were the works of the law.” –Romans 9:31-32 The moment we make our relationship with God more about our qualities than His qualities, is the moment we will no longer be able to access Him. God has made a way for us to draw near to Him, to know the Beauty beyond the darkness – and that way is Christ. Christ is the Living expression of God’s Mercy to all who will place their trust in Him.
Coffee and a Flurry During college I had a steady diet that consisted of pizza, burgers, and Ben & Jerry’s. Oftentimes the most difficult task after a rough afternoon in Organic Chemistry was deciding between the merits of Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. I would eat the whole container for dinner and then celebrate the occasion by sleeping it off in my dorm room. If I ever ate any vegetables, they were part of the toppings on my pizza (but of course I preferred just pepperoni). Aside from the fact that I once nearly passed out in an early morning Organic Chemistry lecture after downing a quart of chocolate milk and a pastry – I was convinced that my diet was perfectly reasonable. After all I had the benefit of my education for nutritional insight. The way I saw it, all of our nutritional needs boiled down to carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. Since sugar is carbohydrates in its purest form, and beef is proteins in its purest form – so long as I popped a vitamin supplement every morning my diet was awesome! My nutrition teacher tried to convince me that we needed to eat plants because they probably had ‘phytochemicals’ we needed - but I laughed it off thinking it was just an excuse to go green. Whatever, I thought – if doctors don’t need to put it in an IV bag for patients that can’t eat, then I don’t need it. So I merrily continued along in my miserable diet without recognizing the havoc it was wreaking on my body. Because my college routine was so varied, and I had to walk miles to all my classes every day, it was difficult to notice any connection between my diet and body – but this all changed when I began an 8 to 5 schedule at work. At lunchtime I fell into the tradition of topping off every meal with a flurry (alternating Oreos and M&M’s) and washing it all down with a large coffee. This gave me a nice happy boost as I returned to work after lunch – until about 2 pm. Suddenly the mice were difficult to handle and the pipettes just didn’t want to obey as I slouched over the lab bench. As this was completely unacceptable, I found that the controlled conditions of the workplace were perfect for a human experiment on myself. I began to vary my diet every day and make mental notations of my corresponding energy levels as the day progressed. Of course my beloved daily flurry and coffee were the last items to be considered: they were nutrition in its purest form! But inevitably the 2 pm crash would always come, so I reluctantly removed the flurry in favor of sweetened coffee. This helped, but one day during lunch as I was sipping my candy coffee I read an article about the correlation between adult onset diabetes and sugary drinks…. and suddenly I stopped sipping and thought, “Nooooooo!” In an instant all of my dietary woes were revealed to me – as I had never before considered the effects of my diet on blood sugar levels and my corresponding energy. The rationale for my dietary hedonism was gone, and now I could either continue on a blind path towards destruction or seek change. Pouring my coffee down the sink was the beginning of my repentance, and over the next several weeks I began to make drastic changes in my eating habits. Instead of being motivated by my taste buds, now I was motivated by a desire to feel healthy and energetic. The difference between the two approaches was radically different – with radically different results. At first it didn’t seem like it would be true, but it became increasingly obvious that it was better to 4
forsake the instant gratification of my taste buds for continual energy throughout the day and a healthy complexion. My diet changed so radically that for a period of time I omitted all refined sugars from my diet – which didn’t seem possible before for the sugar tooth I was. But it felt so good to be healthy, I was willing to give up anything to maximize and maintain it. Unfortunately it is natural for us to be motivated by a desire for instant gratification, both physically and spiritually. The reasoning behind “If it tastes good eat it”, or “If it feels good do it” seems perfectly sound to our thinking. So strong is our desire to satiate every fleeting inclination that we will build entire philosophies around justifying our habits. But like me and my diet, we are often rationalizing ourselves into destruction. Scripture warns us in Colossians 2:8-9 to “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” God is like our Nutrition teacher – and He knows exactly what we need to be healthy and happy. After all He made our taste buds and our bodies, and understands all of our tastes and desires. To trust in Him and follow His ways is to know His fullness –
A Man’s Pride “A man’s pride will bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” –Proverbs 29:23 In between the double-double cheeseburger, shake, soda, and mountain of fries piled onto a red cafeteria-style tray – the 15 minute lunch breaks we had at IN-N-Out Burger were perfect for some of my deeper meditations. Like – what great benefits we had as employees… and why most of us gained 15 pounds in the first few months of working there. But occasionally while shoving down the last handful of fries some bright idea would hit me. Fries aren’t exactly your typical source for inspiration, but one day that last fry convinced me that the best thing for me to do after work was… buy a car!! At the time I was living in Point Loma, San Diego and going to college at UCSD in La Jolla. School was about to begin and it was going to be a long commute. I was riding my mountain bike everywhere and hated the idea of having to find a shuttle to school with my ‘bike burden’ and book bag – so buying a car seemed a perfectly logical step. I had enough money at least for a down payment and had a credit card for a few years – so what possible issues could there be? All I needed was a ride to a nearby car lot and then I would never need the bike again! I got off work at about 3 pm and looked at my mountain bike… one tire was a little underinflated but I thought to myself, “All I need is for it to get me to a car lot….” So, I straddled the bike jeans and all and started riding towards La Jolla – knowing for sure that there was a big car lot just north of La Jolla… in Carlsbad. It took a little longer than I thought getting to La Jolla but I thought to myself, “No big deal... I am almost there!” At the northernmost point of La Jolla I realized that the only way to advance further north was by the freeway… I was a little hesitant about riding on the shoulder but I thought to myself, “No big deal… It will only be for a little while.” As I began riding I could feel the penetrating stares of 5
drivers as they passed by but I shrugged it off thinking, “Whatever, they don’t know me… and pretty soon I won’t be riding a bike at all!” The car lot didn’t come soon… and the freeway descended and ascended through valley after valley for what seemed like forever – until finally I got off at an exit to ask how far it was. The answer I got wasn’t too good… it was still another 20 miles away!! I got back on my bike and briefly considered turning around… but now it was a matter of pride. The motivation in those IN-N-Out fries wasn’t gone yet… After all, if I just got there I would never need a bike again! I leaped back on the bike with a gritty (albeit stupid) resolve and arrived at the car lot in a sweaty mess as dusk was setting. But I didn’t care – I was there to buy a car! I walked frazzled and wild-eyed into a Toyota dealership with the intention of buying a pickup truck. The salesman did a double take of me but (kindly) asked me to be seated where we began discussing my options. After communicating my basic information about a possible down payment, work, and school, he disappeared for a while and ran a credit check. I sat thinking to myself, “Wow – I did it! Goodbye bike! Haha…” The salesman came back with a smile and said, “Good news… you ALMOST qualify for a loan!” After explaining to him that there was no way I wanted anyone to co-sign for a loan he had the audacity to suggest that I try the FORD DEALERSHIP next door! I walked toward the ‘Found On Road Dead’ dealership a couple paces with the Toyota salesman watching from behind, undoubtedly wanting to use me as an experiment to gauge the competition. Once again pride kicked in as I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me… I would rather ride the bike ALL THE WAY BACK!!” I turned around and the Toyota salesman said inquisitively, “So… did you talk to them?” I sort of grumbled a “Nah…” and then got back on the bike. It was less than comfortable on the shoulder of Interstate-5 in the nighttime with lights glaring from behind me on a mountain bike with a semi-flat tire… but then it started raining!! The IN-N-Out fry motivation was long gone now… so I had to rejuvenate myself with a large shake and western bacon cheeseburger at Carl’s Jr. I got back on the road and thought it would be about 2 in the morning before I got back to Point Loma… when a brief siren sounded with sharp headlights behind me. A female policeman approached me with wide eyes and a flashlight pointed in my face and screamed, “ARE YOU HIGH ON CRACK??!!!” The fact that I was soaking wet on a mountain bike on the freeway at nighttime didn’t help my case for sanity, so I cleared my throat and tried to give a calm and perfectly reasonable explanation for my circumstances saying, “Well, you see I am a student at UCSD studying Molecular Biology and…” She briefly interrupted saying, “DON’T YOU TRY TO TELL ME YOU’RE SMART!!! – DIDN’T YOU SEE THE SIGNS SAYING ‘NO BIKES OR PEDESTRIANS’?” I honestly hadn’t seen any of those signs… but she decided to give me a little grace because there was a small section of I-5 where bikes were allowed near La Jolla… even though that was about 20 miles away. The policeman kept her decibel level high throughout most of our conversation, and said – “OK… PUT YOU’RE BIKE IN BACK!!” It turned out that she was headed toward the police station in Point Loma of all places – and was giving me a ride all the way back! As we headed back she pointed out other people on the road saying things like, “SEE THAT PERSON? THEY ARE 6
OBVIOSLY DRUNK AND ARE ENDANGERING OTHERS BUT I CAN’T STOP THEM… BECAUSE OF YOU!!” I understood that I was being intentionally and justifiably razed by this officer, but knew also what a great kindness she was extending to me. Later that night as I crashed on the couch with sore joints I considered how merciful God had been to me. He knew exactly what I needed to break my own spirit of pride and self-reliance, and begin to trust in Him more than myself. I wish I could say that I completely learned my lesson that day – but God has a way of ever drawing us closer to Him.
Fellowship By The Fire In relationship terms we were old now – all in our late twenties and early thirties, something we were vaguely conscious of as the sand crunched beneath us on a late night in Santa Cruz. People often go to the beach to find solace in the ambience of the waves and gentle ocean breezes, but for us it only seemed to emphasize what we didn’t have. Maybe it had that effect for all the couples walking at the shoreline, but for our group of bachelors it was just a reminder of time marching on without us. The stars shone brightly in the sky that night, and on the beach for miles around the flickering of distant bonfires could be seen standing out in the darkness. We weren’t headed in any particular direction, but in the distance we saw an isolated fire burning brightly with no one around it. For a while we used the fire as a beacon to guide us in the dark, but our curiosity rose when no one came to it. Arriving at the fire we were shocked to find it blazing with fresh wood underneath as if newly made. The cool ocean air was starting to penetrate our clothing, so we weren’t about to waste the opportunity in front of us. The three of us sat around the fire and its warmth soaked in us and chased away the cold. It was a perfect moment, where the sounds of the beach, the stars in the sky, and the fellowship of brothers all seemed to confirm one thing – there is nothing else you need. We were all Christians who loved God, but until that moment we were consumed with the cares of life. What we felt as we walked along the beach were the concerns of a temporary existence, but in that place of fellowship we were experiencing something far greater – something eternal. A couple thousand years before a group of men not unlike us had a similar experience as they sat on a fishing boat all night at sea. The Lord had risen from the dead and appeared to them, but since that moment everything was back to life as usual. There was nothing more exciting than to be with JESUS – everyday was an adventure that would unfold with miraculous events. But now that He was gone all the old concerns came rushing back in – make money, find a wife, raise a family. Peter was already a married man with a fishing business when JESUS came into his life, and he left the business to follow Him as a disciple. Now back on his old fishing boat like nothing ever happened, he couldn’t help but feel empty inside when they couldn’t catch anything. All of this changed in an instant when they heard a voice from the shoreline yelling, “Children, do you have any meat?”
It didn’t take long to figure out it was the Lord when after obeying His voice to cast their nets on the other side of the boat they immediately swelled with fish. Jumping overboard into the frigid water, Peter swam to the shoreline where he saw a fire of coals burning with fish and bread. At that moment, the fish he previously worked so hard to find no longer meant anything to Peter – all that mattered was being with the Lord. The disciples pulled the net loaded with fish to the shore where fish were already baking, and JESUS asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” Fish or the Lord, the answer was easy for Peter, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Three times Jesus asked Peter that same question, and He responded the same way after Peter’s response, “Feed my sheep.” When my brothers and I sat down at that fire on the beach, like the disciples concerns over fish, our concerns over relationships seemed silly in the presence of the LORD. God prepared us a place on the beach just as He had prepared a place for the disciples on a similar beach long ago, and what were relationships to God? When JESUS provided all those fish in an instant for the disciples, He made it very clear that it was no problem for Him to provide. But beyond His ability to provide relationships, did we value relationships more than Him? On that beach in Santa Cruz, there were many couples walking along the beach – but every single one of those relationships would one day end. In the presence of the LORD in our fellowship by the fire, we had a beautiful relationship in JESUS that would never end.
True Love The people stared in wonder at the emaciated prophet hanging on the roughly hewn timber before them; His blood trickling down the sides of the cross and pooling at the bottom. The very people who ate of the bread He multiplied, and were healed of diseases, and heard the prophetic voice were all in attendance. Many shrugged to themselves, “He saved others… but Himself He can’t save.” Others angrily exclaimed, “If He were really a prophet He would come off the cross – then we would believe Him.” All of this only served to distract them from their deepening sense of guilt as the sky grew dark above while Jesus remained all but silent on the cross. During the trial and crucifixion He spoke almost nothing – no angry protests of self defense, no cursing at the world, only a quiet submission to whatever judgments were laid upon Him. This disturbed the people greatly – and hoping to antagonize Him into a fit of vile cursing they soaked a rag in vinegar and shoved it into His face when He asked for water. If He cursed them it would make them feel more justified in their actions, but instead Jesus looked up and said, “Father, forgive them – for they know not what they do.” What does true love look like? If Jesus is the example that God has given us of true love, then it is the most selfless expression of affection possible – that is vulnerable to the point of death. The love that Jesus expressed was not only without reciprocation, but it angered the people to the point of murdering Him. In a world where cruelty is a way of life, the Love that Jesus expressed was threatening and made people question His legitimacy. Normally ‘loving’ behavior was the way of con artists who were only interested in manipulating others for 8
personal gain. Convinced that Jesus was a deceiver the people condemned Him to the judgment of the cross – and expected His true character to emerge in the final moments. Instead Jesus loved them to the point of death, knowing that they didn’t understand His heart for them. It is sad that as much as our world longs for true love, we can’t believe it when we see it. Our understanding of love is so mired in selfishness and self serving ways that it is impossible for us to conceive of anything else. Human relationships are so mired in this distorted thinking that what we call ‘love’ is really no different than ‘taste’. All of us have different tastes, and we say that we ‘love’ whatever appeals to our particular appetite. Our concept of love revolves completely around ourselves – and relationships with other people are no different than our ‘relationship’ with pizza or ice cream. Once other people no longer satisfy our taste, we say that we no longer love. If a person no longer provides us with a sense of self-affirmation, we no longer love them. Or if a person fails to gratify our selfish desires any longer, we no longer love them. Unfortunately most of us are never are able to experience true love – because we are never able to get past our own desires. An expression of true love is only giving – and expects nothing in return. Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love, “Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil…” Common expressions of love – an embrace, or a kiss, are empty gestures unless they are backed with true love. If an embrace or kiss is made with the intention of satisfying a personal desire then it is no longer an expression of love at all. Of course what this means is that our society is hopelessly lost, because for the most part our relationships revolve around the satisfaction of our own desires. This is especially true in our conception of sexuality – what God intended to be the greatest expression of true love in marriage we have turned into a meaningless act of self service. Instead of an exchange of love between two people in a lifetime commitment, we use others as tools for gratification and bolstering of self. In order to find true love, we must be willing to surrender our control. As long as we are in control it is impossible to receive love – because love requires vulnerability. Many people would rather choose to be in a thousand different relationships and have control than be in a single loving relationship without control. Once you have truly opened your heart to another person you can be deeply wounded by that person – but at the same time that is the only way to experience the intimacy of true love. That is why God designed marriage the way it is – Love can only be experienced within the safe haven of a lifetime commitment. Marriage is symbolic of the covenant relationship that God wants to have with each one of us – a commitment backed by true love meant to last forever. But just as in a human relationship, we can’t enter into that covenant until we truly open our heart to Him. What Jesus spoke to the church at Laodicea He is still speaking to us today, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” –Revelation 3:20 There could be no greater picture of the intimacy of true love-
A Higher Love Underneath the night sky the fields around me could only be seen as a shadowy profile, and for a while it felt as if I were suspended in space while I ran through our local country. The only source of light came from the stars above, and for a time they were my only reference point. Normally the motion of the shrubs and gravel beneath me would give a sense of how fast I was going, but with only the canopy of stars stretching out to the horizon visible on all sides – it seemed as if I was completely motionless. My legs were moving, and the cool air filling my lungs with every step, but I may as well have been running in place. I thought about everything going on in my life, the relationships, drama, future goals… and for a while it all seemed strangely irrelevant. When I was forced to measure my progress by something much higher than me – it changed how I felt about what really mattered. Oddly enough, the vastness of space around me didn’t leave me feeling lonely and insignificant… but loved. Even though the greatness of everything around me emphasized my own smallness, I wasn’t despised for that smallness… but Known. It was as if I was just a single grain of sand among all the seashores of the earth… and yet every craggy little detail was understood, familiar, and even treasured by the Maker of them all. I wasn’t the first to feel this way by simply looking up into the night sky, but the emotions flooding my soul have doubtless been felt since the beginning of time. David wrote about it in Psalm 8:3, “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?” It was not so much the greatness of creation that moved David… but the knowledge that he was loved by the Creator. We hear about the love of God all the time, and for many the very idea has become a trivial and empty repetition. When you have heard it enough times it can begin to sound generic and even patronizing… as if the love of God were only a last resort encouragement for those who have nothing better. But when you actually know that love in a real and personal way… everything changes. Although the ‘principle’ of love itself is general and universally understood, it must be experienced personally before it has any meaning. Love is tirelessly written about, sung about, and spoken about… but it never gets old because it is continually experienced afresh and anew. If Love was only an idea or concept that could not be experienced – we would have little poetry, songs, and films dedicated to the subject. Once you personally know the love of God, you will understand the passion that has driven people like David to write endlessly about a subject that is only an abstraction for many. Love has a way of changing the perspective of those who are in it – and we use phrases like, ‘lost in the clouds’ or ‘riding on air’ to describe them. For those who are in love, everything in their reality revolves around the one who they love. The things that were important to them before suddenly lose much of their importance. Where the opinions and thoughts of others had great weight in their lives, those same opinions and thoughts mean little next to those of their Love. It is not that they don’t care about others anymore… in fact Love has a way of 10
softening even the hardest of hearts to others. Their priorities in Life however revolve entirely around the person they love – and their desire is always towards them. When it comes to God, the Apostle Paul put it like this, “For whether we be beside ourselves(experiencing His Love), it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constrains(captivates) us…” -2 Cor. 5:13-14 Also for those in love, the circumstances that are normally troubling don’t seem to be so intense. Financial difficulties, uncertainty about the future, and even physical pain are softened in the embrace of that person. There could be no greater authority on the truth of this than the Apostle Paul, who was beaten, shipwrecked several times, persecuted, and rejected by friends, said, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” -2 Cor. 4:17 The only way Paul could ever have called the things he went through ‘light’ was because he was in love! Like my run that night, Paul was focused on things greater than him, and was consciously aware of God’s love for him in every moment.
Sustained By Love “We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there any among us that knows how long…” –Asaph, Psalms 74:9 The aroma of the evening sacrifice wafted throughout the city as dusk began to fall every day – but it wasn’t the aroma alone that was special. The priests with their beautiful linen garments would perform the services of the temple in the eyes of the people, and the high priest would pass the golden entrance through the purple, blue, and scarlet veil engraved with angelic figures – but alone it was just a tradition. Deep within his soul Asaph mourned, knowing that there were few people left who remembered how it used to be. It wasn’t so much the traditions and the performance of ceremonial rites that made Israel so special among the nations – but it was an intangible factor. You couldn’t really touch it, but you could feel it in the air – an atmosphere that always accompanied these events. The feeling that it evoked was like the tingling sensation in the flesh after bathing – crisp, refreshing, and renewing. An indescribable Joy seemed to hang in the air among the people as a sense of childlike innocence settled on them. You could hear it in their voices, the laughter and upbeat conversation. It wasn’t like that anymore – the ceremonies that had been in place for generations remained, but that certain quality was gone. Now they were just tasks – duties that had to be performed in the name of tradition only. The tears Asaph shed were not for himself, but for the younger generation who didn’t truly know the LORD God of Israel. Now the Spirit of the LORD was a rare treasure almost completely absent from God’s people – and Asaph cried knowing that most of the people didn’t know that they had lost their true inheritance. What remained was a hollow shell of what used to be, and all the children knew was that empty shell. From the people’s perspective, everything was as it was since Moses gave the commandments – the same words, knowledge, and traditions. 11
What had happened? Israel was born a nation of slaves – the lowest of all people on the earth. Disregarded and despised by all people, the God of Heaven however took notice of them. Never before in the history of the world did God make Himself so plainly known to a people, who shook the ancient world with plagues and mighty wonders in delivering them. He brought them into a wilderness and audibly spoke to them through thick clouds hovering over Mt. Sinai. The God of all creation entered into an intimate relationship with the lowest people of the earth, and gave them statutes and ordinances to maintain that relationship. Who could imagine having a relationship with the God of Heaven? And what wouldn’t you be willing to do to maintain that relationship? Like a marriage, that relationship began with a people in love with their God – who loved them when they were at their lowest point. But the people didn’t understand that the core of any relationship is love. There are certain duties and obligations that married people share, but those are performed always and only because of love. The rites and ceremonies of a married couple may involve Friday night dates, or always being home by a certain time, or even washing dishes together – but without love these become empty gestures. A married couple can grow distant, and their love grows cold, even though there has been no adultery or abuse in that relationship. This is what happened to Israel’s relationship with God – even though all the rites and ceremonies remained intact, the love had grown cold. Like a marriage where there is no longer any intimacy, all that remained in Israel was an empty shell of a relationship. Like Israel, many people in the church today have lost the intimacy with God that was once far more common. While we still attend church, take communion, give in offerings, and do all of those things people associate with ‘Christianity’ – most people only know an empty shell of what it was intended to be. There is nothing that compares to knowing the intimacy of God through the Holy Spirit, and without it Christianity amounts to no more than empty ideas and routines. The apostle John spoke to the church of his day saying, “Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” -1 John 4:13 The Holy Spirit is the substance of our relationship with God, and He was meant to be with us continually – filling us with joy, peace, and gladness. There is nothing that we can do to deserve Him, but believe in the One who loved us at our lowest point. JESUS died and rose again so that we could enter into an intimate relationship with the God of Heaven, and that relationship is sustained by love.
Charlie’s Growling Charlie burst through the front door and immediately began spinning with excitement as he violently knocked furniture around in his chaotic path. It had been years since my family had a dog in the house – and Charlie wasn’t the best icebreaker for us. A giant Great Dane and Rhodesian Ridgeback mix (that is, the dogs they use to hunt lions with in South Africa), this mammoth of a dog looked like a miniature horse galloping around the living room with a saliva trail dripping in its wake. My sister stepped in and calmed the monster down saying, “Ohhhh good Charlie, be good now… “ and told us, “He is just a big puppy.” Charlie was of all things ‘house trained’ and needed a host family to take care of him while my sister went on a backpacking trip across Europe. My sister assured us that Charlie had gotten along very well with all her housemates at college, but there was one minor issue that would make his stay with us a little different – he hates men. My dad had grown up with dogs and was more than confident that he could be friends with the animal in no time. I however was a stranger to canine psychology and was only familiar with cats – all I knew was “pet cats, and pat dogs” – or so I had heard anyway. My dad’s approach to winning Charlie over was to arm himself with an arsenal of doggie treats, but mine was play. Of course, I really didn’t know how to play with a giant dog that hates men – or any dog for that matter. Later that evening I attempted to initiate play using a method that usually worked well with cats while Charlie sat at the end of a long hallway. From my room in the hall I spied around the corner at Charlie until making eye contact – and then Charlie whipped around and met my stare with great interest. I quickly withdrew myself before slowly looking around the corner again to meet Charlie’s widened eyes… who then gave me an intense guttural growl that let me know my approach was all bad. At about 3 AM the next morning I awoke to heavy breathing on my face – and realized as I stared into the darkness that Charlie was staring me down in my sleep! As my eyes tried to focus he once again released a furious growl that made me think my head was in danger of immediate removal. Suddenly I thought staring at Charlie was probably a bad idea – so I closed my eyes and woke up the next morning with my head still intact! As the weeks passed Charlie eventually warmed up when he realized my intentions toward him were playful, and that he had a worthy opponent in the wrestling matches he would constantly initiate. It was a little scary wrestling the giant considering our first meeting, but I soon discovered that my sister’s words were true – he really was just a big puppy on the inside. In order for me to get to know Charlie I had to look beyond the foreboding exterior and see the puppy he really was on the inside. It was particularly hard for me to see him as a puppy because of the way he responded to me as a man. Something about his experience with men in the past gave him a certain perception about them that wasn’t going to be healed overnight. It was necessary for me to be patient and careful with Charlie in order to build a relationship of trust. Just like Charlie, the people we are on the inside can be very different from the image we
portray to the world. Without realizing it, we all have defense mechanisms that affect our behavior around others when we feel threatened or insecure. In order to have peace in the world and among ourselves, we need to be willing to look past the defense mechanisms that characterize so much of our behavior. Some of those defense mechanisms can be violent and even dangerous – as demonstrated by Charlie’s growling. The inside of a person however is always more important than the outside – and God is always interested in Redemption. Jesus looked at the same people who would eventually crucify Him with compassion, “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” –Matthew 9:36 Jesus laid down His life for you and I because he loved our souls, and saw how lost we were on the inside. The condition of our souls never justifies our behavior, but Jesus became our example of how to love anyway.
The Beauty of Randomness From the first moment I saw ‘Bear’ I couldn’t help but laugh – she was the most scraggly looking kitten I had ever seen. Her coarse black fur with brown highlights could not be smoothed through petting, but always returned to its naturally disheveled state due to her incessant desire to roll in the dirt. Her tiny rat-like head stood sharply in contrast to her giant mutated paws with several extra digits in addition to an extra ‘tit’ that added to her eccentricity. Behaviorally she was very un-catlike, but tried her best to imitate the exquisite standards of ‘cat-dignity’ exemplified by our other ‘puss-in-boots’ cat named ‘Gypsy’. Even when Gypsy sat motionless she projected an aura of dignity with her white breast erect and confidently facing the world as she scanned the environment with head raised and wise perceptive eyes. When Bear tried to mimic the pose she only looked silly with her tiny head and oblivious eyes staring into nothingness. Bear’s efforts to be a normal cat were a constant source of amusement – and she never quite mastered the art of ‘going to the bathroom’. She would meticulously dig a hole in the ground, only to ‘go’ next to the hole and then carefully bury the empty hole. I never lost my fascination for Bear, and for years she was a source of after-school entertainment as I discovered all of her personality quirks. I found that if I petted her under the chin while she lay on her back that she would become ‘paralyzed’ – falling into a deep unconscious state that would last for a minute or two. Being the mischievous kid that I was I would drape her limp body over my shoulders while she was in this state, and when she suddenly ‘awoke’ would invariably fly into a rage for having been so exploited. Part of what made Bear so fun to play with was her easily excited temper. When she grew older and became extremely fat her belly would swing back and forth like a pendulum as she walked. I couldn’t resist jiggling her belly as she walked by – and with all the fury of her enlarged ‘bear paws’ she would strike into my flesh. It was too fun to resist – and over the years I learned how to tease her without taking too much damage (even though my forearms 14
were thoroughly scarred by the end of 7th grade). Bear was only content if she had drawn blood at the end of a play session, and even if I turned to run away she would chase me in wild pursuit until flying into the air and ‘scoring on me’. Of course my mom never fully approved of my constant torment of ‘the beast’ as I called her, but my play relationship with Bear became something that she herself would constantly initiate. Needless to say our entire family fell deeply in love with Bear, and she received recognition in the family as if she were another sibling. If bear was sleeping on a certain chair in the living room, that was ‘her chair’ – and to remove her would invite the reproach of my protective mother. Bear received so much attention by our family that her disheveled fur eventually became silky smooth to the touch, and she was easily one of the softest cats I have ever encountered. Toward the end of her life it was deeply endearing when she would walk from a high fence onto my shoulders, having developed a deep sense of trust through all the years of play. With all of Bear’s quirks, idiosyncrasies and deformations – there is nothing that I or any of my family would have wanted to change about her. The very characteristics that made her so special could also be regarded as no more than ‘assembly line defects’. We could think of Bear as being no more than the product of the random assortment of chromosomes and traits during cell divisions and the chance meeting of a million possible sperm and egg – but with God nothing is only random. Scripture says in Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.” What this means is that even in chance, there is Order – and even in randomness there is beauty. As individuals we may see ourselves as nothing but a collection of random defects and assembly line errors – but those very qualities make us who we are! As much as my family loved Bear, there is no comparison to how much God loves each individual. God’s heart is gladdened like my own when we know the truth of this, and come to rest on His shoulders.
Genesis Does The magazine opened up with a black page containing well defined letters in a crisp white font saying, “Genesis Does”... followed by two white pages with bold black lettering, “…What Nintendon’t.” The ad heralded the beginning of the 16-bit era of video games, and the screenshots of the new games made Nintendo’s 8-bit competitor look pathetic. What previously could only be experienced with quarters at an arcade was now available in the living room, and it made Nintendo’s technology laughable. I couldn’t have been happier at the ‘stick it to Nintendo’ attitude of the ads, because up until that point Nintendo had monopolized the industry with an exclusive licensing agreement with software developers. Now Sega had a new system, AND the rights to other developers: thus beginning one of the fiercest company rivalries in history. For a while the ‘Genesis’ dominated the market, until Nintendo unveiled its own 16-bit answer – the “Super Nintendo”. Nintendo was extremely clever in designing and marketing the new system, which boasted capabilities that Sega’s system didn’t have – “Mode 7” graphics and superior audio. The first commercials for the system showcased games like ‘Pilotwings’ that dazzled with scaling, zooming, and rotating sprites. The colors the system was capable of displaying made the Genesis look like a box of crayons, and the music made the Genesis audio sound like a cheap 70’s synthesizer. There was no need for Nintendo to mock the Genesis openly, as its ‘shock and awe’ marketing style silently implied that the competition wasn’t even worth noting. The flash and dazzle of the new kid on the block was undoubtedly captivating – but tucked behind it all was a processor only half the speed of the Genesis. Why Nintendo chose to include a slower processor in their system, who knows – but it made for a spectacular clash of personalities in an ‘equal, but different’ videogame war. The Genesis was capable of producing faster games with more on-screen action like the arcades, and the Super Nintendo was capable of producing games with pretty visuals and sounds. There was no more appropriate a mascot for Sega’s system than ‘Sonic’ the hedgehog – whose raw speed and multiple layers of parallax scrolling still impress to this day. However, the Genesis entered into something of a ‘personality’ crisis in its later days, and attempted more to imitate the special effects of the Super Nintendo than focus on its own unique abilities. The colors and audio of the games began to suffer, as the ‘imitation-style’ games began looking like washed-out Super Nintendo games with crackly audio. It really is tragic, because nearly 20 years later all those special effects that dazzled so much back then don’t mean much anymore. What really matters now is also what really mattered then – that the games are fun. Ironically, the best games on both systems years later are those that were designed to make full use of each system’s unique capabilities. The programmers for those games understood what each system could do best – and focused all of their energy on those aspects. What resulted were truly amazing games that could not be imitated on other systems, and are still popular today on systems that don’t have the same hardware limitations. If the Genesis was like a Boxer, the Super Nintendo was like a Ballerina… 16
Many of us are like the Genesis or Super Nintendo – both capable of producing amazing things but are caught up in an identity crisis. I remember seeing a picture in the 90’s of a developer at Sega of America with a Super Nintendo in his cubicle! Like that developer, sometimes we lose sight of our own abilities through competition with others. Like the Genesis, many of us are no longer walking in our own gifts and instead walking in the cheap ‘imitation’ gifts of others. As long as we do that, we just want to quit all together – because we feel like we have nothing worthwhile to offer. It takes a lot more energy to emulate others than to be ourselves – with worse results! The moral of the story is to simply invest all your energy into ‘being you’ – with all of its rawness, whether people like it or not. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church saying, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” -1 Cor. 12:17 When we are functioning as God intended, our natural glory shines brightest, and others are most blessed.
The Nautilus Glory “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differs from another in glory.” -1 Cor. 15:41 Far beneath the surface of the ocean where man is incapable of surviving a deeply mysterious creature hovers silently in the waters. Horrifying to human eyes, its face appears to be little more than a tentacled mass resembling human entrails. To the left and right of this mass a set of large circular eyes stare vacantly and expressionless into the darkness around it. These are the only visible aspects of its form – as the rest of its fleshy body remains stuffed into a bulcky shell that somehow fills itself with gas to regulate its depth. Although we may not be able to appreciate the nautilus on first glance, its shell itself represents an ancient Greek symbol for perfection. The design of the nautilus is a perfect hybrid of aesthetic form and function. The chambers of its shell are concentrically arranged in a logarithmic spiral with each chamber varying from the previous according to the parameters of an exact formula. These chambers allow the nautilus to alter its buoyancy and survive at a range of depth unlike any other creature, as if it were a living submarine. So prized is its shell for beauty that its very existence has been threatened by humans seeking after it. Based on an initial comparison with other creatures the nautilus may be dismissed as a mistake – an error of God while experimenting with creation at the beginning. After all the nautilus has no external beauty like the lions of land or whales of the deep. The mistake that we make however is in the very act of comparing – as we were never meant to compare any of God’s creations. Instead God has tasked us with discovering the incomparable glory that each of His creations uniquely have. There is nothing in all of creation that can possibly compare to the nautilus – its beauty and mystery are unrivaled and untouched by any other creation. If the nautilus could worship, it would raise its tentacles to God declaring, “I will praise you; for I am
fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.” –Psalm 139:14 As humans our natural tendency is to compare ourselves with one another, and as the generations have passed our corporate identity always points to an ever changing generic ideal that we are all supposed to strive for. This is sad and unfortunate, because like the nautilus true greatness often remains undiscovered and hidden from the public eye. For those who believe in God as the creator, greatness and unfathomable beauty is all around us – in every soul, in every blade of grass, in every created thing just waiting to be discovered. It is impossible to discover that beauty when we have a narrow ideal of what beauty and greatness is. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning this mindset saying, “…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” -2 Cor. 10:12 Like the nautilus, our self esteem should not be derived from comparisons among ourselves – but from the understanding that we are the matchless and unique creation of an amazing God. However we are not called to discover our own glory, but rather to discover the glory of those around us. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:27, “It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search out their own glory is not glory.” God has not created us with mirrors to observe ourselves, but rather with eyes pointing outward to observe others. The moment we become consumed with ourselves is the moment we become dysfunctional and unable to serve others as God intended. We are to accept on faith that we are glorious as individuals – and let others praise us. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27:2, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” God has designed us to be one body with infinitely varying members within it. There is no cause for envy or jealousy when we understand this truth – because we are all part of the same body! Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning disputes over ‘who was the best preacher’ saying, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” -1 Cor. 3:22-23 Because we are all part of the same body, we can look at the gifts around and claim them as our own – all are yours. Instead of being threatened by those gifts, we ought to rejoice in them as if discovering a new feature of ourselves. The world can tell that we are Christians by our love for one another, and there is no greater command than this, that “nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” –Philippians 2:3
Pray For One Another There was an awkward silence after the pastor of our small church invited members of a visiting youth group to the front of the room to pray for the rest of us. It wasn’t an open invitation for prayer that our pastor was making, but an order to receive prayer from these kids. Immediately I could sense a feeling of outrage and pride both in myself and other church members – these were just a bunch of kids. It was an older congregation with very few new believers, and most of us had been walking with God for at least ten years. Most of these kids however, while enthusiastic had only just recently come into a relationship with Jesus. As I sat among the rebellious congregants the Holy Spirit began to minister to me about my inability to receive from other believers. I had been in ‘prayer lines’ countless times before, where members of the church would receive prayer from visiting pastors and evangelists. In many of these meetings I watched in amazement as people I knew were healed, filled with joy, and received prophetic words as hands were laid on them. I couldn’t deny that something real was happening to these people that couldn’t be explained away by psychology or self deception – and I had to try it for myself. Of course when it was my turn to be prayed for invariably nothing would ever happen. As the years passed I became frustrated when people I knew all around me left some of these meetings filled with joy and excitement – but for me it was just so-so. I began to ask God what my problem was and thought about every area of my own personal walk with Him. As far as my prayer life was concerned I couldn’t have been praying more and had learned to be in constant dialog with God throughout the day. I spent a fair amount of time reading the Word, and as far as my conscience was concerned I felt there were no glaring areas of disobedience in my life. I loved to worship God – and could consistently tap into a deep sense of His Presence as I sang to Him. But for all I had, those around me were clearly experiencing something greater in these meetings. During one meeting a deeply anointed evangelist laid hands on me as I prayed to God asking to receive from Him – and there was a long pause as he kept his hand on me as if to say, “I have something to give you… why won’t you take it?” When he left I knew what my problem was… I could receive from God personally, but not from God in others. In my mind I knew that I could receive from God because He was absolutely pure and untainted with human imperfections. But as far as people were concerned – they were all flawed and even the most anointed evangelist was still just a man. On the day however that those kids stood alone in the front of our rebellious church my spirit groaned within me as the Holy Spirit rebuked me sharply saying, “Who are you to look down on them?... They ARE Me.” Instantly the scripture flashed in front of me, “Insomuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” –Matthew 25:40 I had always viewed that scripture only in the context of giving, and never in the greater context that every believer literally represents Jesus Himself. Scripture says in Romans 8:9, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” 19
I suddenly realized that the reason I could never receive from others is because I was trying to receive from a person instead of Jesus in that person. Feeling ashamed for my thinking I got up from my seat in the church alone while everyone else remained seated. I stepped in front of a little teenage girl who I knew in my heart genuinely loved Jesus – and as I closed my eyes I prayed, “Lord, when this girl touches me I am going to receive from her as if you were touching my Yourself.” The moment this little girl touched me I felt a wave of God’s Power hit me unlike anything I had ever felt, and my knees buckled. Filled with God’s Joy, I left that day with a new appreciation for the Body of Christ. Jesus is still on earth today through all of His people! When we really believe the truth of this, every single believer becomes an amazing asset for ministry towards one another – and the scripture that says, “…pray for one another, that you may be healed” takes on a whole new meaning. (James 5:16)
In The Gym I have always hated working out in public places. There is something about the gym that seems to intensify our self-consciousness and awareness of others, and consequently it has to be one of the most superficial environments. After one workout I opened the door of a gym to leave as a woman with a purple streak of hair was about to enter. Few women are able to appreciate the dilemma that this situation places a man in. The options are to either, A: Walk past the person and risk being perceived as rude, or B: Hold the door open and risk being perceived as a creep. I decided that option ‘B’ was the best way to proceed because it was better for me to take any damage than her. As she walked by while I held open the door she wagged her head like a cobra and said, “I know YOUR kind…” Later on I explained what happened to my sister and she exclaimed, “Well, you really can’t blame her.” Intrigued and a little bewildered I responded, “What? What do you mean I can’t blame her?” In the most matter-of-fact tone possible she expressed, “Well, you were at a gym. And all guys at gyms are ‘douche-bags’.” This was quite a revelation for me. I couldn’t believe that all I needed to be awarded the status of ‘douche-bag’ was a ‘Y’ chromosome and physical presence at a gym. What that meant is if I was friendly there was a good chance I would be considered a douche-bag, AND if I was a jerk there was a good chance I would be considered a douche-bag. All in all though it was relieving to think that I made the ‘right’ decision in holding open the door – because a friendly douche-bag was probably better than a jerk douche-bag. Being a Christian in today’s world is really no different than being a guy at a gym. If we are friendly there is a good chance we will be perceived as deceitful, and if we are unfriendly we will similarly be denounced as evil. As believers it is important to know this in advance so that we can be patient and understanding when it happens! Just like women at the gym, people in the world have some very good historical reasons for being wary of ‘Christians’ – and automatically will be on the defensive when they know you are a believer. But beyond the evils committed in the name of Christianity in the past, most people in reality are angry at God in one way or another. As Christians we represent God – and that means we will be the physical 20
outlet for others anger! David wrote about this phenomenon saying, “For the zeal of your house has eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached you have fallen on me.” – Psalm 69:9 When somebody hits you physically or verbally, our natural inclination is to strike back. But if you realize that the anger being directed at you is really an expression of frustration towards God – you would never want to strike back! The only way to bring healing to another person’s life is to absorb all their anger – and refuse to reciprocate it back. Scripture says in Proverbs 16:6 that, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged..” It’s only through mercy and truth that a heart can be opened to receive the Love of Jesus into their lives. It’s painful bearing the anger and hatred that people have towards God, but if that’s what it takes to save them – it’s worth it. Beyond that, there is something about suffering for Christ that can do an amazing work in our own walk with God. There is no pain we can suffer that JESUS didn’t suffer greater – and all of us are saved only because He decided to take our wrath for us. In the days ahead, it is important that we arm ourselves with patience and the love of Jesus in our hearts. Many hearts are so deeply hardened the only way they will come to Christ is to see for themselves a Love and Peace that passes understanding. It’s a difficult road to follow – one that requires both humility and as Paul explained to Titus, “In all things showing a pattern of good works.” –Titus 2:7 We are not preaching ourselves to others, but JESUS and His Salvation. But if they see that we are selfish and manipulative people, they won’t want anything to do with our Jesus. As long as we are mindful of the mercy and grace that JESUS pours out on us every day, it’s a lot easier to extend that same mercy and grace to others. Just like a guy at a gym, its consistency of character that will eventually win over hardened hearts.
Vampires In Reality M. Genitalium is a type of bacteria that exists in primates where its name suggests – and beside from making its living almost exclusively in this location it has some very interesting genetic qualities. Of all known species of bacteria it has the very smallest genome, meaning that it has the least amount of DNA of all living things. Geneticists have consequently used M. Genitalium as a model life form to study what genes are absolutely necessary for life to exist. Over countless generations of life M. Genitalium has dispensed of most genes that other life forms use in favor of relying on a ‘host’ organism. The result is an incredibly efficient organism that could also be thought of as the most co-dependent creature in existence. Outside of its very narrow habitat and the nutrients supplied by its host – M. Genitalium is incapable of surviving. It seems fascinating to me how that an organism’s mode of living could so drastically affect its internal makeup. The more M. Genitalium relied on the life of another creature to survive, the more its own ability to survive independently was lost. Over time it became incredibly efficient at exploiting its host organism, but with this efficiency came a greater loss of self sufficiency. Although M. Genitalium is very good at its mode of living, its identity is wrapped up in the creature it exploits – and can’t live without it. The life it has is completely borrowed from another creature, and if there was any example in nature of a ‘living dead’ creature, M. Genitalium would be it. Vampires in lore and legend are creatures like M. Genitalium that really have no life of their own, but continue only through the life force of other creatures. Typically in mythology vampires are incredibly seductive creatures whose immortal beauty is entirely the result of a continual supply of their victim’s blood. Of course without the blood of a victim coursing through their veins their bodies shrivel back into a native corpse form. It has long been an intriguing subject for authors to portray the emotional state of vampires – who although they possess great external beauty also have a keen awareness of the fact they are really dead on the inside. This emotional turmoil only makes them more seductive as their hapless victims are also drawn by a sense of compassion. Although there may not be vampires in reality, creatures like M. Genitalium do exist through the exploitation of other life forms. We live in a society that praises external beauty and those who are most effective at manipulating others. It has been that way for a long time, as scripture says in Psalms 49:18, “..and men will praise you, when you do well to yourself.” But while we admire and aspire to be the James Bond’s and Marilyn Monroe’s of society, we fail to see what is happening on the inside of those people when they begin to feed on the ‘life force’ of others. Like M. Genitalium, they lose the ability to exist independent of others, and like vampires they begin to feel dead on the inside. Oftentimes it is the prettiest and most popular people that struggle with the most depression. To a degree we are all vampires because we have all exploited others for our own benefit. The more we exploit others for our own benefit, the more we die on the inside. The world like a 22
vampire can be incredibly seductive in its ways, but Jesus told us, “The thief comes not, bur for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” –John 10:10 When JESUS is our source of Life on the inside, we no longer need to exploit others for our own survival. When you have His Life coursing through your veins, you will realize why Jesus said, “But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” –John 4:14 We were all meant to be redeemed vampires, alive from the dead, living off the blood of JESUS.
The Red Dragon In a dream roughly seven years ago I found myself standing in what looked like a large underground subway station. The room I was in was dank with pieces of garbage strewn around a massive stone floor. Something about the scene was deeply eerie and troubling to my spirit, but all I saw in front of me was a huge tiled wall with greenish squares. The portion of the wall I stood before was actually a corner, where two sides of the wall met at a right angle. As I looked at the wall a deep sense of fear unlike anything I have ever felt struck through the core of my being, and the ‘wall’ dissolved away to reveal a giant creature that I can only describe as a ‘dragon’. The term ‘dragon’ is actually a flattering description for what I saw, because this ‘creature’ was an utterly distorted mess that lacked any real form or symmetry. It appeared to be a twisted red mass with many tentacle-like appendages that terminated with ‘heads’. The heads were the most defined characteristics of the creature. I realized that what I stood before was the Kingpin of this world, Satan himself. I heard the sound of ‘sloshing’ or liquid underneath the beast, and realized to my horror that it was ‘bathing’ in human blood. It was as if it was being nourished through a continual supply of slaughtered humanity – and my stomach was sickened as I beheld the living portrait of all things evil. The creature then began to ‘speak’ – but its language was unlike any human language. The vocalization that it produced sounded like pipes from an organ – but the ‘notes’ were exclusively ‘flats’. If you were to press the flat keys of a piano in random sequence that is what it sounded like. In the dream somehow I was able to understand what the creature was saying: it was communicating to other unseen powers its plan for humanity. The plan revolved around human sexuality. The words of the creature were something to the effect of, “We will give them what they want… their desire for love through touch…” Immediately following I saw an image of prostitution and violence. The plan of Satan was clear – he would give humanity a distorted version of a legitimate desire, and in so doing fuel the violence and blood he craves. I would never have made a connection between the blood under the beast and human sexuality – and the creature with one of its heads lurched out to snap at me when the dream ended. It was only sometime after the dream that I remembered that Satan is described as a red dragon in Revelation chapter 12. 23
In the few short years since that dream, our society like never before has become flooded with sexuality. In the past pornography was something that people had to make very deliberate steps to access, but now it is literally only a few clicks away for just about everyone on the earth. Beyond the internet, our television and media is saturated with sexuality and sexual images. To a large degree the human body is no longer presented as a container for souls, but as an object for our own gratification. Pornography trains us to view one another as hollow soulless entities, and once we view one another as objects instead of souls: the door is opened for unspeakable violence on the earth. Beyond that, there is nothing like sexual immorality to harden people’s hearts to God. Convinced that their behavior is ‘love’, people are willing to trade Love Himself for a shallow and self serving sin. The ‘love’ that Satan has offered us is really no different than ‘lust’ – and the very nature of lust, or strong desire is that it is never satisfied. People often enter into relationships out of a desire to satisfy a personal desire instead of genuine love for a soul, and once the desire is satisfied there is no longer any basis for a relationship. Aside from the physical violence that our culture’s distorted sexuality has produced, the emotional violence and brokenness it has produced in the hearts of others is unmistakable. The greatest lie our culture has spun is that our hedonistic ways are purely personal activities that hurt nobody – lust kills hearts. As Christians we MUST turn from the things that are destroying ourselves and the society around us. It is idolatry as well, and repentance is critical (Colossians 3:5). There has never been more temptation around us than now, but God has told us we have been given everything we need for a life of godliness. (2 Peter 1:3).
Raw Material It seemed like a casual enough atmosphere to be discussing the finer points of female psychology – why having a criminal record could actually be a selling point for many in relationships. Of course, the pizza, soda, and coffee in front of me only obscured the rising tension in our discussion. I should have interpreted the intermittent flashes of shock and rage in her eyes as a sign to “Don’t go there”, but it was too late – it was far too interesting a subject. “Well”, I postulated, “Maybe it’s because women are looking for raw material.” She quipped, “Raw Material…?” as if I was about to suggest something questionable. “Haha… no, I mean ‘raw material’ as in ‘hidden potential’. I think women look to carve from a rough block of stone their ideal man. It helps to validate themselves, and in the end they think they will get exactly what they wanted.” I then took another bite of pizza feeling very profound and self-satisfied. Later that afternoon I got a text from her saying, “Thanks Jesse, I have spent all afternoon crying because of you.” Feeling complimented over what must have been the great ministry value of our lunch I shot back to her, “You bet! Anytime.” She quickly shot back, “You know, sensitivity isn’t exactly one of your strong points.” She was right! Sensitivity has never been one of my strong points. But something about what I said really hit home for her. Probably from the beginning of time the ideal of a wayward yet sympathetic man has been instilled in the female mind. Characters like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or the phantom in Phantom of the Opera are portrayed as wicked men whose unfair destiny was shaped by cruel events from their past. The women in these stories are drawn to these melancholy souls out of a sad empathy that turns into a deep heartfelt love. Even though the rationality of these women drives them away from these evil men, it is always implied that they alone hold the key to true love. The stories aren’t always so bold as to suggest that these women could actually change these men, but some women will supply that part in their imaginations. In a culture that tells us to ‘follow our heart’, many women are caught up in the popular myth of the wayward man and end up in abusive relationships. Like Heathcliff or the phantom, these men aren’t about to change, and would only be irritated by a woman’s attempts to make them change. But many women are unwilling to give up the fantasy instilled in them from childhood – they feel that their love should have the power to change that person. When the love that they pour out isn’t returned, and that person fails to change, they are left empty and deeply broken. When it comes to relationships, we desperately need more counsel than what our hearts are telling us! Scripture says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” It isn’t fair to suggest that only women struggle with the myth of the ‘wayward’ soul, because men will also fall into similar traps concerning women! This is especially common in San Jose, CA – where the male to female ratio is woefully unbalanced. The city is known with great disdain among the men in my fellowship as ‘Man Jose’. Sometimes when the options are limited it’s tempting to consider relationships out of hope for a future change, but that kind of 25
thinking is both selfish and prideful. It’s selfish because we are not accepting that person for who they are, but for a fantasy about what we hope they will become. It’s prideful because none of us have the power to change anyone – only JESUS. The foundation for any relationship has got to be total acceptance for the other person, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Relationships that are formed ‘on credit’ are doomed from the very beginning, because they are not based in reality. Eventually all of those unmet expectations will express themselves as frustration, and those unmet expectations are not the other person’s fault! The only way to truly accept someone unconditionally is through the Holy Spirit, and with our eyes wide open. Our own heart, emotions, and lusts have a way of blinding us to the reality of who other people really are – and what we feel is ‘love’ can be just a fantasy. As Christians we need to remember that true fellowship, and hence intimacy, will only result from a common foundation in Christ. The Apostle John put it this way, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another..” -1st John 1:7
Dusty Genesis There it was – the object of my dreams, the subject of countless imaginations, the possession of which would surely initiate a lifetime of ceaseless awe – covered in a fine layer of dust. Maybe it was because I didn’t own one yet, and my friend was too dumb to appreciate its value. But on the way to his house he played up its awesomeness pretty well. “Is it cool?!!” I asked with wide-eyed anticipation. “Oh yeah. Totally.” Not fully satisfied I then asked, “What about that game that comes with it… what about it?!!” He responded in a reassuring tone, “Yup. Totally.” He was telling me what I wanted to hear, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want simple assurance that the new videogame system was cool – I wanted to know it was life changing. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when I saw dusty cables and game cartridges recklessly strewn around his living room floor. “That guy’s crazy” I thought, “When I get one I am going to take good care of it.” But even with that vow the image of my friend’s dusty Sega Genesis was permanently emblazoned on my mind. No matter how I tried, I could never feel the same way about that system again. Maybe it was because the value my friend imputed to his Sega Genesis somehow affected my perceived value. Even though the glossy black casing of my Genesis later on was kept perfectly shiny, his dusty Genesis challenged its worth to me. My friend really didn’t value his Genesis at all, and he seemed to get more out of playing up its value to me than actually playing it. To him, the system’s only real worth was as a leveraging tool – a meaningless possession used to make him look better off in my eyes. Later on in school I saw this same pattern in other things, and I came to the conclusion that junior high was a small scale version of the greater world. It was amazing – if one of the popular kids decided that someone or something was cool, then it was. Hence the silliest of 26
trends, clothing styles, and individuals would rise and fall in ‘demand’ based on the imputed value of a small elite group. Everyone outside of that group would spend all of their energy trying to obtain what was deemed to have ‘worth’ – only for the standard to change again. But the real secret was that even that group didn’t truly value what they said had worth! Like my friend’s dusty Genesis – the only value the elite derived from their goods was the value it gave them in the eyes of others. There has never been anyone more ‘elite’ than King Solomon, and he gave an honest assessment of the intrinsic value of ‘goods’ saying, “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?” –Ecclesiastes 5:11 To elite, the only value of a good is in the public’s demand for its consumption. The possession of the good amounts to the value it gives in bragging rights, or in the value of saying, “I own it.” Those outside of the elite class are constantly striving for what they believe has value, not realizing that the act of their striving is actually giving the elite value. This all begs the question, from a broader perspective, what really has value? The Apostle Paul counseled his spiritual son Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” -1 Timothy 6:6 Like a Christmas gift or a wedding ring, or even a thank-you card, material things are only as valuable as the meaning they carry. Material things gain true value when they represent something more than the object itself, especially when that something is Love. The real substance that gives material things worth is God’s Love, which He delights to give His children through the Holy Spirit. But as good as a Christmas gift, wedding ring, or thank-you card may be – you really don’t need them if you have the relationship that they represent. That’s the kind of wealth Solomon spoke of in Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”
God’s Country You could see the profile of the Rabbi against the evening sun as he walked distantly in the wilderness. There was nothing but rocks and the stubble of shrubs out there – but He seemed to love it so much, regularly taking these evening strolls that would often last into the early hours of the morning. Maybe He just wanted to get away from the people who had thronged Him all day, finding rest in the sheer contrast of solitude. But there was something unnatural about it – why we would He forsake sleep after a hard day of labor to walk around in those wind chaffed wastelands? To the average observer there could be no more lonely a figure than of Jesus walking amidst those barren wastelands in the night, but there were a few privileged souls who saw more. Nathanael of Galilee was one who literally saw the heavenly host of angels moving with every step of Jesus, and bursting with activity as they descended and rose from him. For those eyes that could see, the very elements of matter around Jesus glistened with the glory of God as He passed by – the rocks and stubble themselves giving praise to the Son of God. Far from being alone, an innumerable company of angels surrounded Him and conveyed His prayer to the God of Heaven. What was only a barren wilderness to unseeing eyes was Holy ground where Jesus stood – and out there the land untouched by human hands was truly ‘God’s country’. Just as Moses had to remove His sandals at the burning bush where God was, Jesus found the greatest fellowship with the Father where all human influence was absent. There in that place of intimate communion Jesus was never hasty to leave His Presence – and found spiritual renewal as the hours passed toward dawn. In contrast the place that was called ‘A house of prayer for all nations’ in the scripture was a beautiful sight to behold. It was true that the glory of the second temple exceeded the glory of Solomon’s temple as scripture foretold – the gold and gems adorning it brought awe to all who beheld. Even the disciples of Jesus were enthralled at its presence – and pointed out its majestic splendor to a seemingly unimpressed Jesus. But what Jesus saw in the temple was different than what the rulers, priests, and even His disciples did. Instead of a house giving glory and honor to the God of Heaven, Jesus saw it as a center for corruption – made a ‘den of thieves’ through exploitation of the people. What was beautiful in the eyes of man had become disgusting in the eyes of God. Some of the most beautiful places on this earth are really quite ugly to eyes that are insensitive to spiritual reality. When Jesus was born in that lowly stable – there was no more beautiful place on earth as the heavens rang for miles around with the voices of angels welcoming the arrival of God with us. To unopened eyes there was nothing special to behold – but for a group of common shepherds the wonderful gift of sight was bestowed. There among that new family with the shepherds and wise men was more love, joy, and peace that could be found in any earthly palace. In fact what was to be found in King Herod’s beautiful palace not very far away was quite different – hatred, fear, and envy.
If we could all see with perfect clarity the spiritual background of the places we live – what would we see? Would we see angels hovering over our homes and vehicles, or something very different? Would the spiritual environment look more like the stable where Jesus was born, or more like Herod’s palace? Even if we can’t see the spiritual world with perfect clarity – love, peace, and joy are qualities that we can all feel and are valuable to us. These are not qualities that you can physically handle, but they are spiritual qualities that proceed from spiritual reality. While many of us have only valued what the eyes can see, and the physical beauty that man’s hands can create, we have lost sight of the true beauty that can only proceed from spiritual things. While God cares about our need for physical things, the true ‘bread of life’ is only spiritual… and having the blessing of righteousness, peace, and joy outweighs everything else.
Super Pinch Pot My ceramics teacher sighed as she passed my workstation as I held a contorted wet lump of reddish clay in my hands. She might have been more understanding if I hadn’t been working on it for days. It was supposed to be the first project of the year, a coil pinch pot – the simplest method for making primitive style pottery. Early in the process I rolled the earthen clay into long cylindrical strips and began coiling them together into a miniature bowl shape, but I didn’t want to make a bowl! In a room near the kiln where other student projects were fired I saw hundreds of fingerprint laden ‘bowls’ that looked haphazardly mashed together. It saddened me to think that my contribution would be more of the same, so I resolved at that moment to make a really cool pinch pot. Instead of making a bowl, I decided to make a vase with a flared neck – just for a little extra style. Of course this was the first time I had ever worked with clay, and the only technique I knew was the ‘pinch and coil’ method. It seemed that the next logical step in the process was to make more clay strips and build a dome over my bowl, and so I began pinching, coiling, and smoothing the clay. For days this went on, until finally my piece started looking like a little globe with a hole on top! By this time everyone in the class was now working on their second, or third projects, but my teacher’s smiles as she walked by encouraged me to continue on my ‘super pinch pot’ project. I began building the neck when to my sorrow the entire structure began to sag at the base like a full garbage bag. “Nooo! All of that work for nothing!” I thought, and briefly considered firing it and just moving on to the next project. But the idea of seeing my sagging pinch pot on the shelf as an immortalized tribute to my frustrated efforts was too much to bear. The next step was going to be difficult – and embarrassing, because everyone in the class was now ahead of me and I was under the glaring scrutiny of my teacher. In order to solve the problem I needed to widen the hole in the dome and fortify the foundation from the inside! To everyone else my great ambitious project was going to look like an utter mess, like a total failure. Only I would know that the ugly wet lump in front of me was better off now than it was before. 29
Coming to Christ, and growing in Christ, is a lot like my super pinch pot. In the world or even in our current relationship with Jesus there is a certain level of ‘goodness’ we can attain to ourselves. From the perspective of others our lives can look attractive and smooth on the outside, but on the inside we can barely hold ourselves up. Coming to Jesus, and growing to a new place in Him often requires some serious internal work, where our inner foundation is fortified in Christ. That is a messy business, because it requires facing your issues instead of ignoring them, and acknowledging your need for JESUS. In a world where outer appearances are more important than souls, some of us will choose to look good instead of being reworked on the inside. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumblingstone and rock of offense: and whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed”. –Romans 9:33 JESUS is a stumblingstone and a rock of offense because we must be broken down in order to receive Him. To others you look more messed up after coming to JESUS than you were before, but those who receive Him know the work He is doing on the inside. As cool as my super pinch pot, or, flared vase ended up being, God’s plans for every individual are far greater. When you really believe that God has the best of intentions for you, it is much easier to yield to Him. He promises, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” –Jeremiah 29:11
The Cyclone The whole city was on alert, and people yelled as they ran past me, “Get out of here! There is a tornado coming!!” Immediately a deep and penetrating fear struck my soul and left me paralyzed as I watched the last people evacuate a gray and colorless city. For a moment I just stood there and stared at the bleak and empty buildings that surrounded me. Something about the situation seemed distorted and unnatural, and the sense of fear I had exceeded the gravity of my situation. Then from the core of my being a sense of anger began to well up, and I spoke to the air of the empty street I stood in, “NO… I am NOT afraid of death.” At that moment I turned to look deep into the heart of the city where I saw a whirling cyclone descend from a sheet of dark clouds above. The cyclone looked like a giant pillar whirling with clouds from the sky, and its cylindrical shape from top to bottom seemed decidedly unnatural. While I pondered about the unusual nature of the cloud formation, several beams of light shot from the sky around the sides of the pillar to the ground – confirming my suspicion that it was in fact unnatural. Even though the cyclone was miles away from me I had the distinct sense that it was ‘watching’ me from afar. Again my spirit rose in anger as I squared my shoulders against the adversary of my soul, and I identified him saying, ‘SATAN’. The cyclone then responded by moving towards me at a rapid pace. Standing my ground I watched as the pillar approached me, prepared if necessary to meet my
death. The cyclone enveloped my body for a moment – and then disappeared without a trace, leaving me standing alone and at peace. When I awoke from the dream I had a new understanding of the tactics that SATAN uses to control and manipulate us. Oftentimes SATAN will package a spirit of fear in legitimate circumstances around us – and like a virus attached to an email we accept it into our lives. The moment we have accepted that spirit of fear, we can be controlled into doing his will without even realizing it. It is important for us to realize that even though God has called us to use wisdom and common sense in interpreting the events that are going on around us; we must not rely on our own understanding over God. The moment we bow to the altar of our own understanding over the Holy Spirit is the moment we have given SATAN a foothold into our lives. Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding.” In my dream it was only through the Holy Spirit that I knew something was awry with my situation, even though my mind had a very different interpretation of the surroundings. Regardless of what is going on around us, we must NEVER allow ourselves to make decisions out of a spirit of fear. Sometimes we can confuse a spirit of fear with the leading of the Holy Spirit, because they are both supernatural sources of insight. One source however is demonic, and to distinguish between the two it is important to remember that, “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 Before making any decisions in haste, it is always good to take a quiet moment between ourselves and God – and make sure that fear isn’t a motivating factor behind our actions. When we understand that a spirit of fear really IS trying to motivate us – a decision to resist will almost always be met with a test! As in my dream, almost all fears that we have are rooted in the fear of death. If death is the worst possible outcome of any situation, and we are NOT afraid of it – then SATAN really can’t have that strong of an influence on us. Scripture tells us that JESUS died to free us from the fear of death saying, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” –Hebrews 2:14-15 Because of what JESUS has done for us, we should no longer fear death!! Having that confidence produces a great boldness in us, and like the Apostle Paul we can declare over ourselves, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” –Philippians 1:21
Jacob’s Trouble Jacob lay down to sleep in his tent, but could only stare blankly at the dark canopy above him as his thoughts troubled him deeply. On other nights the rhythmic ambience of the desert would help calm his mind until fading into sleep – but tonight was different. All his life he had been in some kind of trouble or another, but this night was the eve of a dreadful day whose approach he feared since a young man. 21 years before his mother warned him to run his for his life because his brother purposed to kill him. As he passed through his brother’s land Jacob hoped that the years had cooled his rage against him, but news came of his brother’s coming – with an army of 400 men. Hoping to appease his brother through lavish gifts, Jacob sent hundreds of animals in 3 separate droves – but he still feared that it wasn’t enough. Like the blessing he stole from his brother all those years before, Jacob’s only true hope was something intangible. The blessing itself had no physical value at all, but represented the favor of his father’s God. He certainly didn’t feel blessed on that night when he ran from his brother and used a pile of rocks as pillows to sleep on, but there on those rocks he had a dream that would change his life forever. In his dream God Himself promised that he would be with him, bless his offspring, and bring him back to that land. When he awoke from the dream Jacob built a pillar to God on the spot he slept and vowed that the LORD would be His God – and that he would give back to God a tenth of all He gave him. As Jacob reflected in quiet it was impossible to deny that he had increased greatly since running away with nothing, but the last 20 years had also been full of troubles. He couldn’t help but wonder – was God really with him as He had promised? All his life Jacob had been a trickster of sorts, and he knew how to manipulate situations to get what he wanted. Now he had come to the end of his own ability, and His only Hope was in the invisible God of his father. Although God had provided Jacob with plenty of evidence including dreams and angelic visitations – now was the time when his faith was truly being tested. Deciding that sleep was a lost hope, Jacob roused his family and sent them forward in their journey while he remained alone in the night. There in the darkness Jacob discerned a lone figure standing brightly in contrast to the background, and he realized instantly that this was an angel of the LORD. Feeling powerless and having no control over his situation, Jacob knew that the angel had what he needed to overcome his fear. With all the passion of a desperate man, Jacob ran and tackled the angel. For hours Jacob wrestled with the angel and would not relent, and the angel touched a muscle in his thigh which instantly shrank and caused him to limp on one leg. When dawn began to break the angel demanded Jacob release him, but Jacob said, “I will not let you go, except you bless me.” –Genesis 32:26 The angel then blessed Jacob and renamed him Israel, meaning “He prevails with God”. In amazement Jacob realized that he had wrestled with God! Like Jacob, true faith can only begin when we have come to the end of our own ability and realize that God is our only hope. When Jacob realized that God was the only hope for his 32
situation, he left off everything else and directed all of his energy and might toward Him alone. The outcome of that wrestling match with God would leave him crippled for the rest of his life, but with a new identity and confidence in God that he never before possessed. Jacob was no longer the self-reliant trickster he had been, but an overcomer through the God of his father. As followers of Christ, the energy we spend toward God reflects the degree of our reliance on Him. When we move from self-reliance to reliance on God we also become crippled in our own ability – but that is exactly what we want! We can never be overcomers through our own power alone, but instead “..we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” –Romans 8:37
Published on Aug 19, 2011
Published on Aug 19, 2011
A collection of thoughts on Christianity from the unique perspective of a Christian Biochemist