The Animated God Finale

 

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Growing up, I always wondered what it was like to climb down on a bull.  To feel the potential energy contained in their muscles, to feel adrenaline pulsing as you lower yourself down on him in the chute.  Baxter Black told his son: “The difference between a mechanical bull and a real one is the feeling you get when you look down!”  The curiosity is something I dwelt on, but now that I have firsthand knowledge, my prediction, my thought of what it was like, was way off.  When something is that close, when you can see it, touch it, feel it, and all an arms length away, what you thought was close to reality, turns out to be a faint whisper.  Yahweh’s attributes were real
in the OT, but were high def. on the cross!

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1.19-20

The attributes of God were on display throughout the life of Christ, but never more clear than in his death and resurrection.

It was on Calvary, the Son of God hand’s were fixed to the cross, his power seemingly absent. During his ministry people exclaimed, “He does all things well” (Mark 7.37), now while on the cross he was mocked, “Be saved others, but he can’t save himself.” (Mark 15.31) Three days later, it was the power of God that left the tomb empty.

It was on Calvary, where Jesus face was looking down from the cross, displayed the blessing of God. During his ministry, Jesus face was before the outcasts and the downtrodden. Speaking in parables about the blessed Kingdom of God, preaching sermons that began with words like “blessed are you” and “the kingdom of God is like…” Now upon the cross, beaten and bloodied, what had been a blessing to this world, hung there as cursed (Deut. 22). Three days later, his face would appear before his disciples again. Some would recognize him and others wouldn’t, but it was no doubt that blessing took on a whole new meaning.

It was on Calvary, where the long nose of God, his patience with humanity was shown. Patience is that line between love and anger. Nowhere was God’s love and anger put on display more vividly in the work of his Son on the cross. God’s justice and his wrath mandated that sin be punished, therefore a sacrifice was needed. God’s love offered forgiveness and relationship, therefore a sacrifice was provided. In the cross we see his patience on display, understanding that the “fullness of time had come”, sin was to be taken away.  Jesus offered both the sacrifice as needed and the sacrifice provided.  Our sin was placed on him, as he took our place as needed. God’s love and our sin put him there.  God had been patient with man, but his anger toward sin couldn’t wait any longer.  Thank God for the sacrifice provided.

It was on Calvary, where the eyes of Jesus fell upon those gathered at the foot of the cross. Just as Yahweh’s eyes searched for those committed to him, Jesus eyes wandered from his elevated perch.  During his ministry, Jesus looked into many people’s eyes, studying their attitudes and actions. The beaten and shamed eyes of the Samaritan Woman, the curious yet confident eyes of Nicodemus, the blind eyes in John 9, the proud eyes of the Pharisees. From the cross, he looked out and saw the condemning eyes of the Jewish Rulers, the dutiful eyes of the Romans, the tear-filled eyes of the women. Some renaissance painters used the cross in their paintings as a division line, placing believers on one side and unbelievers on the others. They used the cross in art in the same way that it works in eternity. But on that day, Jesus eyes from the cross scanned the crowd, the criminals, the soldiers, and knew what was in their hearts. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!”

It was on Calvary, the ears of the Son of God heard both taunts and desperation in the same way the ears of Yahweh heard the cries of his people. During his ministry cries of desperation rang out from the crowds: “Son of David Have mercy on Me!” Upon the cross, the shouts rang out in his direction: “Come down from the cross and save yourself!” and “He saved others but he couldn’t save himself!” But amidst the taunts, he heard the cry of distress: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” A call came from a fellow condemned. The cross is where the desperate come to call out.

It was on Calvary, where the nails rested between his radius and ulna. The arms of Jesus, stretched out and fixed to the patibulum, saving men like the arm of the Lord had in the Old Testament. During his ministry, he reached out to people, offering salvation from blindness, muteness, deafness, and paralysis. On the cross, he saved us not from the physical that brings death once, but from the spiritual deficiency known as sin, that causes eternal death. With his arms stretched wide, Jesus displayed God’s arms of salvation.

On Calvary, God’s attributes were manifested in the death of Jesus Christ. His eyes, ears, hands, arms, face, and nose were all on display as Jesus bore the nails, the sins, and the cross and gave up his life.

It was the Invisible God made flesh, animated before His people.

 

 

 

Salvation in the Arms of our Lord

ImageNo one is there for me no cares no one listens

if only there would be on person in this world to care

I’d talk to myself but that does not get me anywhere

Lost in an unfamiliar world like an alien on earth no one to teach me their way

no one to show me how not to cry no one to take the pain away

on a road to nowhere is where I’m going I’m on my way.

A middle school girl wrote this the other day. She asked me to read it and I was blown away by two things: 1) she has a gift for writing; 2) the despair that a middle school student has to live with as this was written by someone who is really struggling as her loneliness drips onto paper. What do you say to that?

Tonight I received a message telling of a car accident involving a member of a rodeo association I am apart of. Her 6-year-old grandson was killed in the accident. She is having surgery Monday for a broken back and pelvis. They are an awesome family that serves the association and everyone around them. What needs to be said in this situation? What message needs to shine through?

In tracking through the anthropomorphisms of the LORD, I continually find myself in awe of the character and nature of God. But that awe is quickly replaced by the thought of His infatuation with us. At our loneliest, our most isolated, our darkest hour, when all glory has faded from our lives, God is still at work. When the noise of this world overpowers our song, the Lord’s whisper rules the day. When all strength has left our bodies and our will is held on with the thinnest of threads, it is the LORD whose power strains on our behalf. When we feel most lost, God’s salvation is our way home.

There wasn’t a time when Israel felt more lost than the Exile. As the people of God wasted away in a foreign land, ruled by a godless people, and stripped of their identity, it was the “arm of the Lord” who would save them. Isaiah writes:

“Because of your sins you were sold, because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? (Isaiah 50.1-2)

The “arm” [ zeroa] of Yahweh has shown up in some key places. But where this anthropomorphism really saturates the text is in the last third of the Book of Isaiah. It’s no coincidence that this metaphor for salvation comes through most often from the pen of a man whose name means “Yahweh is Salvation.” Isaiah’s ministry ran through the ups and downs of history. As his book starts out: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotam, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (1.1) Uzziah was a great king, who led Judah for 52 years of prosperity and stability. (2 Chron. 26.4) But the power and success went to his head and he turned his back on God (2 Chron. 26.16) Jotham, did his best to walk in the ways of God, even if the people didn’t. (2 Chronicles 27:2, 6) Ahaz forgot everything his father had done and made an absolute mess of the kingdom of Judah (2 Chron. 28.1-4, 22). His idol worship and child sacrfices took Judah to a height of unfaithfulness it had never seen! But his son Hezekiah would right the ship and lead Judah in repentance and faithfulness (2 Chronicles 29:2). One of Hezekiah’s greatest deeds of faithfulness was his prayer to God, as the armies of Sennarcherib of Assyria, a couple hundred thousand strong, encircled Jerusalem (Isaiah 37.14ff.). Because of his prayer, the Lord sent and Angel to kill 185,000 Assyrians and the siege was lifted and Jerusalem saved (37.36-37). Hezekiah carried the message of survival from God (37.21). But he also carried the word of destruction:

“Hear the word of the Lord Almighty. The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away…” (Isaiah 39.5-7)

He carried the message from God, that a country that hadn’t yet reached its full power, Babylon, will destroy Judah. A reality that will come to fruition in just over 100 years from this prophecy. Imagine if the book had ended there on that depressing note, with death, destruction, and depression. Isaiah, however, understands that the story isn’t over, God isn’t done with Judah. Exile to Babylon is not the final act of this play. The remaining 26 chapters are about the future that will become of Judah after their time in exile. It is in these chapters that Isaiah spins some beautiful poetic language and metaphor, with the arm of the Lord being a significant thread.  Isaiah 50.1-2 says:

“Because of your sins you were sold, because of your transgressions your mother was sent away….Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert…”

The sin of Judah will put them in exile, but the “arm of the Lord” will bring them out. Yahweh is asking a rhetorical question: “Was my arm too short to ransom you?” It is a question asked two other times in scripture (Num 11.23; Isaiah 59.1) each time in the context of some act of saving. In classic Hebrew parallelism, He forms the question again in a different way: “Do I lack the strength to rescue you?” He asks the question twice expecting the same answer. To “ransom” [hb. pedut] and “rescue” [hb. nasal]. Isaiah loves the “rescue” idea (used 22 times in his book), however, in the rest of the book, nasal is usually translated “deliverer” with a clear nod to the Exodus story. As for “ransom”, it is used only 3 other places in scripture, each time with redemption in mind. So God asks the question, quite emphatically. It’s a question of capability. “Was my arm too short to ransom you?” In the Hebrew short is repeated twice for emphasis, an attempt by God to show the gravity of the situation alongside His ability to triumph. The arm of the Lord is there to save.

What was the length to which the LORD went to save us? It’s an incredible story. Are we ever too far from his grasp? It is a feeling that haunts many. Is the country ever to distant for His arm not to reach? Isaiah certainly understood it not possible. Isaiah 59.1-2:

“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save…But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”

It was our choice, our sin that distanced us, and the nation of Judah, from God. I for one am growing ever more aware of the sin, addiction, and depravity, from which I was saved. As my awareness increases, so does my understanding of what the world needs saving from as well. Just as in the poem that started this thought, the world is in need of salvation from despair, of release from bondage, and a shot of hope. Is God’s arm to short to save? I have seen many from greater depths than surround me, from more dire circumstances than I have known, from greater wildernesses than I have imagined, reached by the long arm of salvation of the LORD. The next 5 verses (Isaiah 50.4-9) was a prophecy about Jesus, the suffering servant, come to earth. A visual representation of the length of God’s love, the distance He would go to bring salvation to His people. How great is the arm of salvation of the LORD. An arm that is reaching out to a 7th grade girl, a grandmother in need of healing, wrapped around a 6year old boy as we speak, and embracing a sinner like me!

What is the arm of the Lord saving you from today?  Do you feel His arms wrapped around you?  Do you need to feel a hug from the Father today?

My distress fell upon the Ears of the Lord

"Moment of Impact" Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010
“Moment of Impact”
Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

His horn ripped through my shorts and slammed into my hip.  That is when I came back to reality.  The bullfight had started out bad and now gotten to the point where it was both embarrassing and painful.  He scooted me through the dirt with his forehead firmly planted into my waist.  The only thing I knew to do was yell. Just prior to this my head had met the base of his horn and the blow had dazed me, but wasn’t enough to knock me out.  I was just delusional enough to try one more pass at him.  He didn’t bite on the fake, and his head hit my hip and pinned me to the ground.  I didn’t have all my faculties, but was able to yell the words: “Get me out, Get me out!” I wasn’t but 20 yards from the fence and I knew help was there.  It wasn’t my proudest moment, but as my drawers filled with dirt from being pushed by his head, I thought it might be my only chance for salvation. My call didn’t fall on deaf ears, as a couple of the guys jumped in and pulled the bull off of me. In the same way that my buddies were waiting with attentive ears for my (inevitable) call of trouble, the Lord’s ears are attentive to those in distress.

The ears [hb. ‘ozen] of the Lord have heard from people in the darkest of places and in the worst of times. Israel during their wandering in the desert wailed [hb. baka] to Yahweh because the wanted bread to eat.  They even wondered why they had left Egypt (Num. 11.18).   The Lord heard with his ears all of this wailing. As Sennacharib, King of Assyria, surrounded Jerusalem, “caging” the people in their city like birds (Sennacherib’s Prism) and threatening them with his words and armies, Hezekiah begins a simple, desperate, and powerful prayer like this: “O Lord…give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God…” (2 Kings 19.15-19; Isa. 37.17)  The most powerful army in the world has camped probably about 200,000 strong, just outside the walls of the city with conquest and capture on their mind, a despairing situation to say the least, for Hezekiah and his people. Israel’s struggles, as told and personified by Jeremiah in an acrostic poem, depict a nation at the end of its rope.  Hunted like birds (Lam 3.52), weighed down with chains (3.7), and mangled by beasts (3.10-11), Israel is having a rough go of it and soon their land will be destroyed by the Babylonians, and their people deported and conquered.  Jeremiah writes of their struggles: “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.  You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.” In the deepest pits, the most dire straits, the darkest hours, Yahweh’s ears are listening for the cries of his people.

David was one who truly understood what it meant to be heard by the ears of the Lord.  When he called out, he was heard.  Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, is David’s praise song about the goodness and faithfulness of God. It starts out “I love you O Lord…” (Ps. 18.1)  With the entangling cords of death (4) and confrontations of death (5), David was under duress many times in his life.  From his state of distress, he calls out to the Lord.  The word for distress, sar, is the same word used in Numbers 22.26, where the Angel of the Lord stood in the narrow path, blocking the way of Balaam and his donkey. It brings up the image of having nowhere to turn, of being squeezed and constricted.  Have you ever been squeezed, crushed, or confined? Bills stack up on your table that financially you can’t swing? Ever been hurt or betrayed by family members or friends?  Fired from a job? Failed a test? Lost someone close?  Ever worry about your kid? Cancer found in someone close? Ever been in a place where it felt like life was dealing a crushing blow or you were being squeezed like a toothpaste tube?  David knew this feeling all too well.  Whether on the run from King Saul, his son Absalom, hiding in caves, living amongst his sworn enemies, on the run, in battle, or leading a people, David knew distress (both from his own doing and from others).  This is a song about the deliverance of the Lord.  David writes:

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into his ears.”  Psalm 18.6

David cried out for help [hb. sawa] during this distress and His cry fell upon the listening ears of the Lord. It wasn’t a foreign thought for David to be heard by the Lord.  Psalm 5, 17, 28, 34, 71, and 116 reference the Lord hearing David. Every time the Lord’s ears hear words of desperation from David in the midst of a struggle. With words of rescue, mercy, and deliver, David implores the ears of Yahweh for intervention.  The ears of the Lord are listening for the cries of His people.

When have you cried out to Him?   Maybe it has been recently.  Cancer, bankruptcy, death, foreclosure, job loss, betrayal, abandonment, divorce….in the midst of our distress we have a God who hears us and our cries. When times of struggle arise, there is one who hears our calls.  The one who saved David from attacks, Hezekiah from Sennacherib, and the Israelites from starvation, is the same Lord who listens to our calls of distress.  Let us call out to His ever-listening ears.

The Searching Eyes of the Lord

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Jimmy Schumacher inventor of the walking clown barrel

“Wisdom comes from good judgment, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”  The cowboy proverb is never truer than when you get a bunch of college guys together.  One night during spring semester boredom had set in.  We headed out to Lucas’ house, built a bon fire, and ideas for entertainment began to swirl.

Lucas had come to posses a bullfighting clown barrel.  As with most things that come into his possession, zebu’s, musket’s, miniature horses, vehicles, it was known only to him how it became his.  The rest of us just knew it was cool.   Late one night around the campfire, the clown barrel was brought up as a form of entertainment.  We weren’t really sure what we were going to do with it, but it was steel, round and in close proximity to a hill.  I can’t remember who it was that climbed in first, and I can’t really remember who suggested we roll down the hill, but it was probably Lucas on both accounts.  As we hauled the barrel up the hill, there wasn’t a single ounce of pause in our brains that we were about to embark on one great night.  Matt jumped in the barrel atop the hill.  With a short countdown, the rest of us gave him a shove.  As the moonlight reflected off the barrel careening down the hill, we were mesmerized at the pace in which it rolled.  Then we noticed the moonlight reflecting off the creek at the bottom of the hill.  The barrel was not a flotation device and as it splashed into the cool waters of the creek, we who were on top of the hill sprinted down to the bottom attempting to free Matt from the clown barrel as it came to rest on the bottom of the creek.  He got out, no one died, it was a good night.  Needless to say our judgment may have been poor that night.  Dorm life is just as detrimental to good judgment.  Taking a shot to the back with a water-ballon launcher form 15ft away, chair-jousts at 2 in the morning, office chair racing on asphalt, in a place of higher learning, wisdom can be scarce as jackalopes.

Judgment is the ability to make a decision about something, good or bad, the capacity to take information and make a decision.  Often times we think of God’s judgment as a negative thing, which it very well can be.  But God’s judgment can be a favorable one as well.  Scripture speaks of the eyes [‘ayin] of the Lord [Yahweh].  The eyes of the Lord is His judgment of man’s actions.  The Lord looks at what we do, what we offer, what we live, and makes His judgement.

The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth (2 Chron. 16.9; Zech 4.10) searching, watching, and observing the attitudes and actions of humanity. They act on behalf of those committed [salem] to Him. This Hebrew word for committed, salem, is the word for completeness, wholeness, and lavish.  A heart that is lacking nothing undevoted to God. Think about Noah, in Genesis 6, he found favor [chen…grace] in the eyes of the Lord because of his righteousness, blameless actions and his relationship with God (Gen. 6.8-9).  It was King David (1 Kings 15.5) and great Kings of Judah, like Asa, Jehosophat, Joash, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah.  Kings that led their people in truth and commitment to the Lord.  They did good in the eyes of the Lord.  The stood for truth, acted on their faith, and walked with the Lord.  The were judged as having done good in His eyes.

His eyes not only judges things as good, but see the wicked as well (Prov 15.3).  Seven times in Judges the people of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  They served the Baals, forsook God, and sinned against the Lord.  The Kings of the Northern Kingdom did nothing but evil in the Lord’s eyes.  They served other gods, prostituted themselves in idol worship, trusted in other nations, and refused to listen to the prophets.  They did so much evil in the eyes of the Lord, Amos would prophesy about them: “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom.  I will destroy it from the face of the earth—yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob.” (Amos 9.8)  The Southern Kingdom of Judah managed to do right in God’s eyes for many years, but their ultimate down fall was disobedience as Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord (Jer. 7.30-8.3)

When God looks upon this earth, when His eyes wander over this planet, what does he see and what will his judgment be?  When His sight falls upon us, will He see truth (Jer. 5.3), those who fear Him, hope in Him (Psalm 33.18), and those who are righteous (Ps. 34.15)?  Men like David and Noah.  Or does his eyes fall upon the wicked? Those that bow down to other gods, that place created things above the Creator, that take advantage of and exploit their neighbors? When it comes to us, are we serving the Lord faithfully? Are we honoring the Lord with our service, our work, our family, our worship, our life?  When God looks upon our actions will he judge that it is good, or does He watch in horror as we are careening down the hill of sin with nothing to stop us?

Our Long-Nosed Lord

Penny the dog
Penny the dog

When I was first training Penny, I couldn’t find a leash to use, so I used a 30’ lasso.  She mastered the simple commands real quick.  Sit, stay, down, roll, were all things that she could do.  I had just bought a book about training stock dogs, so I set out to work on some stock training with her.  Penny and I set out to work with a few sheep just to see how she would do.  When I let her go the first time she freaked.  Instead of herding the sheep she took off straight towards the herd and lept over the back of one of them.  I began yelling at her from across the pen.  She did a great job of pretending to not hear me.  Three laps around the pen later she came to a sliding stop at my feet.  I attached my lasso to her collar and let her take off again.  I commanded “down” and she felt a quick jerk as she neared the herd.  I didn’t have too many problems with her during this phase of her training because I was in position to enforce my commands.  She had the freedom to act, a 30’ check cord, but accountability in her actions.  This is the same relationship we have with our big-nosed God.

The Hebrew word for “nose” is an ambiguous word.  In the same  way that “hand” and “power” of the Lord are inter-changeable, the “face” and “presence” of the Lord can be substituted for one another, the “nose” and “anger” of the Lord are semantically connected.  It makes sense really.  Have you ever seen someone’s nose and face turn red when they get angry.  If not, just come visit me when I’m working on my truck or playing golf and in thirty seconds, you will have a clear picture.  The authors of Scripture, when talking about anger, knew this human phenomenon of blood rushing to peoples faces at times of rage so the Hebrew writers used the same word and nuance for nose and anger.

The Lord is described multiple times as having a long-nose.  In the NIV this expression is translated as “slow to anger”.  The first time the phrase appears in scripture, it comes in the Lord’s description of himself.  God had just passed by Moses on Mt. Sinai, showing off his glory. (Ex. 33.14-23)  Moses next experience is to chisel another 2 stone tablets (Ex. 34.1) on account his breaking the last two. (Ex 32.19)  The next morning, Moses carried the new tablets up on the mountain and the Lord descended in a cloud.  There on Mt. Sinai, Moses and the Lord stood and had yet another conversation.  This one would begin with God, as he passed by Moses, describing himself:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger [lit. long of nose], abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…”

The Lord, in his own words, is ‘long of nose”.  Presumably, and I’m only speculating here, it seems to be a reference to the time it take’s God’s long nose to turn red.

Regardless of the explanation of the origin of the idiom, the meaning is clear: long of nose is equated to slow to anger.  This is a central aspect of the Lord’s character.  It surfaces at key times in His relationship with his people.  After the people rebel, grumbling against Moses and God about bringing them out of Egypt, it was Moses who reminded God of His strength in being “long of nose”. (Num. 14.17-18)  As most can attest, there is considerable strength in not blowing your top!  When the people had returned from exile, to resettle Jerusalem, they spend ¼ of the day confessing their sins, and another ¼ of the day worshipping and reading from the Book of the Law.  At this time, the Levites preached to them a message of their history, quoting God’s self-description (Neh. 9.17) to remind the people of God’s worthiness of praise.  David, leading the way for the Levites, used it as a declaration of praise (Psalm 103.8;145.8).  When we see God for who he really is, worship is our natural response.  David affirms God, in the same way, amidst his prayer times (Psalm 86.15).  Joel and Jonah both latch on to the “long nose of the Lord” during their own messages and trials (Jonah 4.2; Joel 2.13).  All of these references were rooted in the Lord’s revelation of His character in Exodus 34…but why would the size of the Lord’s nose really matter?  Moving from semantics to theology…

The context of this phrase, “long of nose”, provides some coloring to its significance.  Yahweh also “maintains love to thousands and forgives wickedness.”  Just because God gets angry, sometimes its even with his people, it doesn’t change the fact that he loves us and forgives us.  The next phrase, “et he does not leave the guilty unpunished” shows his justice and his hatred of sin.  Our love of something is only proportionate to our hatred of that which opposes that love.  A dad’s love for his daughter, is shown in the lengths he will go to defend her.  As a buddy of mine says, “he’s got a gun, a shovel, and land….I doubt anyone would find you!”, when a young man arrives to take his daughter out.  Yahweh’s slowness to anger is the balancing act between showing love and dishing out wrath.  Where as I can let others get away with too much at the expense of those I love, I sometimes am too quick to anger in dealing with others.  My “nose” is often too short.

The size of God’s nose shows us his passion, his desire, for us.  He loves us so much that he doesn’t wipe of off the face of the earth at every mis-step, but he hates sin so much that he acts upon it with vengence for what it has done to us.  Sin doesn’t define us nor does it become our identity…sin is something we as those that were created in the image of God, struggle with, get bound too, and enslave ourselves too.  God is slow to anger, meaning he does act, but the leash is long.

If you were listing God’s attributes, where would you put ‘slow to anger’ on the list?  What is one specific example of a lesson that it took you a while to learn from God?

Seeing the Face of the Lord

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Getting the attention of middle school students is a common fight, but I didn’t think I would have trouble getting the attention of a horse.  A few years back, I was starting a colt for an older gentlemen.  He told me that this horse was hard headed, but most of my interactions with it had gone real well.  I stepped into the round pen one day expecting to continue with the training as planned. I began by running him around the round pen, first to the right and then the left.  After 15 minutes of keeping the horse moving, I stepped back, taking the pressure off the horse.  I caught his eye as he turned and faced me.  He stood, 20 feet from me, collected, attentive, and ready.  The second his gaze broke from me, I sent him to the right again.  After repeating this story for another 40 minutes, my patience had been tested to its end.  I stepped back in exhaustion, and sent the horse around the pen one last time.  This time the second I took the pressure off, he turned and faced.  And for the first time, for just a couple seconds, he waited for my command.  I took a step towards him and he lowered his head, but kept his eye on me. What I was looking for out of that horse was a connection.  I wanted him to be ready for whatever I asked him to do.  When his face turned toward me, his eyes connected with mine, I knew that he was present and ready to work.

Last post was about the hand of the Lord.  The hand was the power of God in action.  When the OT writers conveyed God’s power, they could say “power” or “his hand” and it would mean the same thing.  The face of Yaweh then is about His presence with His people.  After the “hand of Yahweh” had delivered Israel from Egypt (Ex. 13), the face of the Lord was Presence with his people.

The “Face of the Lord” [hb. paneh] is a picture of his intimacy, relationship, and presence with his people.  Moses spoke to Yahweh, the Lord, “face to face” [paneh] at the Tent of meeting, as the Israelites were camped after leaving Egypt (Ex. 33.11).  It was in the same way that you or I would talk to a friend, just two buddies hanging out.  God’s Presence was there.  Then 3 verses later, after Moses had asked the Lord who would go with him, Yahweh replied, “My Presence [paneh] will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33.14)  The same word translated “face” in verse 11 was translated “presence” in verse 14.  The face of the Lord was the presence of God with His people.  Nearly a year later, his presence would need to be remembered and celebrated.

The book of Numbers isn’t a really exciting or positive book.  The book starts at Sinai and ends on the plains of Moab, just across the river from their final destination.  The problem lies in how they arrived there.  It has been a struggle for Israel as they traveled, a struggle documented in the book of Numbers.  The journey from Egypt to Canaan, was plagued with complaints, 9 times the nation of Israel Complained to God on the trip.  “We’re hungry? We’re thirsty? Someone’s touching me?” you remember car trips with your kids…This was their journey.  On top of complaints, people were killed on the journey.  The ground split open under Korah and his sons for their sins (Num. 16.31) and fire consumed the 250 who were offering incense (Num 16.34).  Their punishment also came in response to a negative report on the land of Canaan.   When the spies returned they scared the people with a report of impenetrable walls and giants.  When God heard his people grumbling about the land, He answered by declaring that this generation would fall in the desert in a 40-year wandering (Num. 14.26-35).  Just before these events would happen, God wanted his people to know something very important.

Camped in the desert of Sinai, the Lord said to Moses:  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face [paneh] shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turned his face [paneh] toward you and give you peace.”  This is actually, the oldest piece of Biblical text that archaeology has uncovered (The Silver Scrolls and Numbers 6).  Dating to the seventh century B.C.E. and written on a silver amulet in paleo-hebrew script, is the text of Numbers 6.24-25.  This shows that these verses were at the forefront of the Jewish mindset.  The Hebrews, based on this verse understood that life is to be lived gazing upon and acting before the face of the Lord and living in his presence.  God is telling his people that during this journey to Canaan, that a blessed life is one that God face is before.  The blessing, to be given to all the Israelites, is to remind them of God’s presence with them.  The presence that was shown in the quail and manna (Num 11); the shoes and clothes on their journey (Deut 8.4-5); the pillar of fire and cloud above the tabernacle (Ex. 40.36-38); a simple reminder that the Face of the Lord shone upon the nation of people.  When the face of the Lord was there, communication was possible, action was possible, and comfort was given.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus arrives on the scene as Immanuel, “God is with us” (Matthew 1.23); a gift to Earth of the Lord’s presence.  When Peter and the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and call out to him, Jesus responds, “Take courage! I am. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14.27); a reminder of His presence in the midst of the storm.  The book ends with Jesus’ Great commission, “and surly I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20); a reminder of his presence forever.  In each case, the face of the Lord turned to His people.  In a tangible picture of God’s words in Numbers, the “face of the Lord” shinned upon us!

The blessing of Numbers 6, was central to Israelites throughout their history.  A reminder that God’s presence was vital to their survival.  How vital is the “face of the Lord” to us today?  How often do we go one with life, without a second thought to His presence?  In what ways does he communicate with us that he is present?  Where will you see his “face” today?

The Hands of the Lord

ImageWhen God made cowboys, with a dash ADD,

He knew their kind were just like Him, and needed kept busy.

So He gave a mind to contemplate, the troubles of the time,

And gave’em hands to operate, on the problems that they find.

So cowboys hands over years, have done a lot of chores,

When the sun arrives each morning, there are many works in store.

A cowboys hands tell a story, of all the labors that he’s done,

In every weather pattern, in snow and burning sun.

They’ve laid rope to tree, pulled calves in twelve below,

Stretched barbs on wire, stacked hay a-many load.

They’ve thrown a thousand loops, a great loop perhaps one,

They’ve worked from dawn to dusk, they’d hate to slow down some.

Braided strips of leather, carved designs in hide,

Planted posts to keep his stock from rangin’ the country-side.

A fine touch with the reins, a hard touch with a quirt,

Steady work with a rifle, unfaltered by his work.

They’ve forged a hardened shoe, set it solid on the hoof,

Keep their family fed, in clothes and under roof.

The cowboy’s hands are often hidden, beneath the dirt and grime,

Remains in them power to act, to work and pen a rhyme.

My grandfather ran about 15 head of cattle when I was growing up.  I realize that’s not much to many, but it was the closest think I knew to a ranch.  Around most of his acreage ran a single strand of electrified barbed wire.  This hot-wire ran through some pretty nasty terrain in some places, so every night it was necessary to do a once around to check the fence.  Some nights, if I arrived at just the right time, I would get to go up and water the cows and check the fence with him.  Grandpa for years made tires at Goodyear and ran some cows.  Both jobs were very hard on hands.  I was always amazed at the way he could manhandle barbed wire, stick a post in the ground, out muscle the water trough, and twist balin’ wire.  His hands were the roughest I had ever seen.  I still remember him, wrenching loose staples, wielding a hay hook, and twisting wrenches.  Grandma kept a dried out bar of lava soap next to the sink that Grandpa used to wash his hands…it hurt my soft hands to use that rough soap.  In his hands was the capability to tackle any job.

The last post discussed the differences n the names of God (‘elohim v. Yahweh).  ‘Elohim testified to Creator and Power, whereas Yahweh spoke to the personal, relational God who was in regular contact with his people.  It is the personal relationship Yahweh had with his people that caused the authors of scripture to speak in poetics and ascribe to Him human attributes.  To be fair, ‘elohim is occasionally linked to physical characteristics, but not nearly with the regularity of Yahweh.  One of the major attributes to Yahweh are His hands.

  The hand [hb. yad] of Yahweh showed the Lord’s power in action.

Without equal, the biggest event in Hebrew history was the Exodus.  The night that a nation of slaves walked out of the greatest nation one earth, carrying their wealth, and taking from them their honor (Exodus 12.31-42).  That night was special.  That day of victory would be remembered for generations.  Every year the Israelites would celebrate the night that they routed Egypt, became their own people, with their own identity, because of the work of their God, the work that He accomplished with His own hands.

When Israel was to celebrate this day, it was for one reason: to remind them that the Lord brought them out of Egypt with His mighty hand. (Ex. 13.3, 9, 16)  When their kids ask what the celebration is for, the Israelites can tell them about the mighty hand of God that brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 13.14).  The hand of God is God’s power in action in the lives of His people.  Four times in 13 verses, God’s hand is at work, actively involved in bringing the people out of Egypt.  There is no way they could have done it on their own, but the hand of Yahweh is more than capable.

The Hands of Yahweh are never idle.  It was His hand that brought the plagues upon Egypt (Ex. 6.1).  His hand would be so heavy, so mighty in dealing with the Egyptians, that Pharaoh would drive them out of the country.  In the same way that God will force out the Canaanites before Israel, Egypt will so badly want to be done with them, that they will drive [hb. Garas] them out of Egypt.  It is God’s activity that will bring about the event that would forever be remembered as the greatest act in the history of the people.

The hands of Yahweh, are not just God’s power in action, but his mighty ability on display.  The word for mighty [hb. hazaq] is a word reserved for only the strongest, hardest, and resilient powers.  The verb form of hazaq is the word used for the ’hardening’ of Pharaoh’s heart.  The power and supremacy found in the Lord’s hand is unequaled in the universe.  In the battle between Pharaoh’s hardened heart and the Lord’s mighty hand.  God had already warned Moses that only the most powerful action would free his people, the Lord’s hand. (Ex. 3.19)

Yahweh’s hands, His power in activity, brought the Israelites redemption from the land of Egypt (Deut. 7.8).  But 1500 years later it would be Jesus hands, pierced by nails, that would provide for our redemption.  Jesus hands held him on the cross to pay for our sins.  It was the Lord’s power in action by sending Jesus that would provide salvation for us today.  The hands of the Lord, a picture of His ability and activity, would save his people from slavery in Egypt and our slavery to sin. (Rom. 6.6-7)  God has the power to work in situations we deem hopeless, the ability to accomplish things we never can imagine, and the strength to act where we can’t.

Is there a time when you have seen the Lord’s hands and his power in action?  What thoughts come to mind when you think of God’s power?