74. Delivered, baptized and … uh-oh, the desert?

Do you know the story? The drama of dreams, kidnapping, lies, slavery, prison, more dreams and then the palace of ancient Egypt at the climax of its civilization – gosh, no wonder Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote an extremely successful musical about it. God delivers Jacob’s family from famine in the story of Joseph, when he becomes the ruler of all Egypt under the Pharaoh.

The family lives in prosperity and over a period of 400 years   become a great nation. Many Pharaohs come and go and Joseph, the king of dreams, is forgotten. His descendants become a threat to Egypt and they are oppressed into slavery under an architectural ambitious Pharaoh. Their cry to God over many years is answered in the calling of Moses, a deliverer, to stand up to the Pharaoh with whom he grew up in the Egyptian palace. Disaster and death hit hard in Egypt and the Israelites are led in triumph through the Red Sea miracle into the desert.

There they are led by God’s presence in the cloud by day and the fire column by night for 40 years, a generation in Biblical terms. They have to learn to trust God in many ways. They are separated from the many idols of Egypt, who worshipped their cattle gods. After many, many years of desert dwelling – almost 40 – Moses leaves them in the care of his brother Aaron, to meet with God on Mount Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments, to shape the moral fiber of God’s people.

At the foot of the mountain a very disturbing scene plays out. They have been schooled in following God’s way of doing things, but Moses stays away so long, that they think he might be dead. Under Aaron’s leadership they decide to worship God in their own way. With all their valuables they shape a golden calf (looking very much like the gods of Egypt they were supposed to leave behind). Exodus 32.

And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.

Aaron declares:

This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

(Exodus 32:4)

God tells Moses on the mountain that he needs to get down there. The party is wild, loud and fleshly as it always is with idol worship. God speaks his own anger to Moses and promise to abandon the stiff-necked people to go into the promised land on their own.

God never withdraws His promise – no matter what wickedness prevails. (Romans 11:29)

You know the story – Moses reacts in anger with such fury that he breaks the tablets on which God’s law is written and says to Aaron:

“What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?”

Aaron’s answer is almost comical, and one could even have smiled, were it not for the utmost life-threatening danger of God’s wrath involved here.

 So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

Moses makes the people grind the golden calf into powder and mix it with water to drink. They are miserable and sick. They stand accused and stunned by the wrath their “good intentions” has evoked.

The point of our story is in Moses’ plea to God for the people.

He knew that they could never dream of entering into the promised land, without the Presence of God. To this day, this is what defines true Christianity. The communication of our heart in submission to His directive, our chat to God to hear His heartbeat in His Presence in prayer, is our trademark.ham48

How will we function as powerful, effective, victorious Christians?

“If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.

For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:15,16)

MOMENT of prayer: “Please, show me Your glory.” (Exodus 33:18)

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence:  So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

 And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.     (Exodus 33:17,21,22)

 Our journey often feels like a desert wandering. We know God and desire to serve Him, but we think we can do it our way. Learn from this story. God’s yoke is easy and His burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

In our desert, we want relief, more than learning and staying close to Him. We are so rushed, scurrying for the promised land with our own agenda and feeble thoughts of how our prayers should be answered. God has a master plan, better and bigger than you can ever imagine.

Do you know how to live in the cleft of the rock, under the cover of His hand?

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
 so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8,9)

Walk the desert, wait for the promise.

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,

Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love him.

(1 Corinthians 2:9, The Message)

73. One day to another – no greater contrast ever.

I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the main activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There were also huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.

Later during high school years and university, I studied through many Easter weekends, but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, in their hearts.

Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.

My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye” service. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long line of needs.

My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.

I will never forget the talk. People talked about God, all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.

Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall; the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun; always making sure the children under 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?

I know why.

Many years later in adult life, I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.

I know why I remember that Easters of my past. No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!

This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.

This week, is the week after the celebration of that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Where are you these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?

Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.

He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see Him.

Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.

72. Words of blood for my future.

Oh, the uncertainty, the dread, the misty outlook, the hesitant gaze upon a path covered in the fog of the time span called the future. To us it is not revealed; to God it is known. Like death, the future is a mystery belonging to God.

 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Here we are encouraged to do the words of the law. God’s word is revealed to us and is our refuge regarding the future. He is perfect in His planning. He will never hold back what we need. Our guarantee for provision and protection in the future is the promises of God in the Word of God.

Just like Noah. God invited Noah into the Ark. (Genesis 7) He was called righteous, just like us. We are the righteous of God in Christ. It is not our own goodness, sinlessness or effort towards worthiness that make us righteous. It is the Cross of Jesus and His blood cleansing us from our sin that make us righteous. Any thought of unworthiness to approach God, is a thought planted from the pit of hell. I cannot say it enough and will continue proclaiming it as a core value of salvation.

 God was on the inside. In His Presence there is everything you need – safety, provision, care and protection for as long as you need it until you are safely directed to your next step in life. You have to make the decision to step inside. The ark speaks of a radical life change. The decision to step inside is a complete break with ordinary living and doing. It is kingdom living, in the presence of our loving Dad, settling down in His plan for our lives.

I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity;  (Jeremiah 29:14)

God is present and present. We distinguish between manifest presence and omni-presence. Omni-presence is a fact. It is what the Bible tells us. Our Creator-God is everywhere.

Manifest presence is what we experience when we seek His face in prayer and recognize the change deep within us and in the atmosphere around us.

When I came to Canada the realtor told me the walls of the house were all wood. To me it looked like the walls I know – brick and mortar walls. They are plastered and painted. The wood is concealed behind the facade of paint.

I immediately walked to a wall and knocked. I heard something. My knocking experience was very different from anything I know of knocking on walls. I HEARD the wood. Nobody needed to tell me it is wood.

I was very close to the wall, so close that I could reach out and touch the wall. That is how I knew.

Do you hear the song of the Universe? Just listen to the song of creation, when you walk in nature?

My youngest song loved the old Imperials song by the Gaither Vocal Band. Some of the lyrics go like this:

I listen to the trumpet of Jesus, while the others hear a different sound,

I listen to the drumbeat of God Almighty, while the others just wonder around,

I hear the voice of a supernatural singer that only those who know Him can.

Practice your hearing skills, listen to your inner convictions and submit your mind and thinking to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Read your Bible prayerfully to experience the promise that leaps from the page.

 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. (1 Timothy 4:7)

When I pray, when I seek His face – I experience His manifest Presence. I do not need somebody to tell me He is present. I am clearly and keenly aware of Him and my mind and senses respond to the obvious fullness of the atmosphere. In that atmosphere spontaneous tears flow and the Hoy Spirit ministers amazing restoration and exhortation.

The dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, will show you life and how to make a living. He will bring you the branch of provision.

 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth. (Genesis 8:11)

In the conversation with Him – prayer – you submit your next step to His guidance and plan. He has a plan for you, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11) In His presence His provision is clear.

MOMENT of prayer: Lord, I submit my future to you. I confess all my dread and alarm about the future. I know you are Jehovah Jirah – my provider. Your Word promises that You will never fail me. I now raise my expectation towards to the Holy Spirit and expect a future, exceedingly and abundantly above and beyond I can ever think of or ask in my wildest dreams. (Ephesians 3)

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: The content of my future is the promises of God – not world politics, my own circumstances, horoscope predictions or fear.

The way we conceive the future sculpts the present. It gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day. If our sense of future is weak we live listlessly.

Hope is a response to the future, which has its foundations in the promises of God. It looks at the future as time for the completion of God’s promise. It refuses to extrapolate either desire or anxiety into the future, but instead believes that God’s promise gives the proper content to it.

But hope is not a doctrine about the future: it is a grace cultivated in the present; it is a stance in the present, which deals with the future. As such it is misunderstood if it is valued only for the comfort it brings; as if it should say, everything is going to be all right in the future because God is in control of it, therefore relax and be comforted.

Hope operates differently. Christian hope alerts us to the possibilities of the future as a field of action, and as a consequence fills the present with energy.

 Eugene Peterson: Living the Message.

71. Come out – where are you?

Are you with me? Way, way back when the story of the Bible began, let us walk with Adam and Eve into the well-known disaster describing the birth of all destruction and devastation. Twisting the magnificence and glory in God’s promise of bounty and beauty, Satan sows doubt in Eve’s thinking and make her think she might be missing out on something. She eats of the fruit that would turn her into her own god and becomes the proud deity of her own destiny.

Eve gave Adam to eat; they saw their own nakedness and hid from God – as if it is possible to hide from the omni-present, all-knowing Father. That same day, not letting the sun go down on their devastation, God came and called in the wind: Adam where are you?

Do you really think He needed information about Adam’s whereabouts? Do you think the all-knowing, everywhere God did not know exactly where Adam and Eve were and precisely what happened in the garden that day? He knew off course! Still He came…. and called.

Sin did no end the conversation. No sin can ever end the conversation.

Today, this day, as through all the ages, His invitation rings true:

“Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.” This is God’s Message:

“If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white.

If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, The Message)

What an amazing word! This is the answer to sin. Get it out of the way. Come back into His Presence. No detours, no guilt, no hiding from God. Come back, call out – forgiveness is guaranteed.

MOMENT OF PRAYER: Confess whatever you are hiding from God. If nothing comes to mind – ask the Holy Spirit to show you.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence? 

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. (Psalm 139:7,8)

If God said it, it is life-giving and life-changing, powerful, miracle-working words. His words of forgiveness will lift you up and out of failure and hopelessness.

Why did God ask questions? Not to get information, but to get the exchange going. Adam had to talk it out, tell God why they are hiding, confess, explain and in spilling the secret, be healed and forgiven. Sin is so often a secret, unspeakable and shameful – so much that it holds you captive just by the sheer shame of it. Talking about it is rendering it powerless.

God has an answer, a miracle, for the biggest scandals you can think of. He will not allow satan to defeat you and your potential in this world. His plans are steadfast and sure.

We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails. (Proverbs 19:21, The Message)

Often, but not always, His first point of communication is our circumstances. He does not orchestrate it, but He uses the evil coming out of our wrong decisions for good. All the disaster in our world today is the consequences of sin and man’s wrong decisions. God judges sin continually in order to bring people to repentance. In any crisis of choosing right above wrong, discipline above easy, effort above letting slip, know that God is good, always, and will ALWAYS work our mess for our benefit.

What happens in the garden? God prevails – until His voice calls them out of hiding. He gets them to talk. The whole story is blurted out with blame and accusations. As always God’s judgment comes sound and clear, not to man – who will off course carry the consequence of sin, always with God by his side, but to satan, who will bear the ultimate defeat at the cross, when his head will be crushed.

God told the serpent:

“Because you’ve done this, you’re cursed, cursed beyond all cattle and wild animals,

Cursed to slink on your belly and eat dirt all your life.

I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers.

He’ll wound your head, you’ll wound his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

 After this declaration of judgment, God did a very important thing.

He covered their nakedness His way. He killed an animal – I believe it was a lamb, but the Bible does not say – and clothed them with the symbolism of innocent blood flowing for the cleansing and covering of their sin. Their own efforts with fig leaves did not spare them the shame of their failure. Only God could cover them to live on the cursed earth, the brokenness that we still live in today.

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: we are covered by the blood of THE Lamb.

MOMENT OF PRAYER: Thank God for instant restoration and forgiveness to defeat sin and walk in victory.

By His blood the Garden is restored and we can walk with God in His Presence, entering into conversation with our Father as of old, before sin. Where He is, is peace and rest.

From this moment on, everything is focused on the conversation. Satan wants to break it off and God loves and forgives to restore it.