Something I have been thinking about a lot lately is how God in the Old Testament (OT) sometimes seems different from the God Jesus came to make known. I know that He is not different because God does not change…“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The Bible also reveals that Jesus is God…“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1:15), and that He is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So why does it seem like God was more stern in the OT, whereas Jesus makes familiar a God of love, patience, mercy, and forgiveness? First, I need to say that the OT is not without examples of the love and forgiveness of God…I just get more insight into the gentleness of God, in Jesus. So this is a question I will continue to ask God about. But one thing I do know. I know that God is love…“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). And I have experienced His love first hand, when at times I have acted less than loving toward Him and He has made it known to me, whether it was through something I read, something someone said, or just a reassuring thought, that He was still there and was present with me. Through Jesus, God forgives us our shortcomings and not only that, but like the prodigal son, He sees us from a “long way off” and is “filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20).
For some reason, I was aware of the love and reality of God, early on…
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
“‘Am I a God who is only close at hand?’ says the Lord. ‘No, I am far away at the same time. Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?’ says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:23-24
“The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” – Psalm 121:8
Have you ever woken up feeling anxious about the state of the world? If so, Psalm 46 is a good one to read. It reaffirms God’s sovereignty and His continual presence. It also includes a truth that is helpful in countering every worry…
“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”- Psalm 46:10
Seed to Stalk
I saw you shoot from soil to sky
So little I knew of the you still inside
That one day you’d flower
that your stalks would reach high
So little I knew of your special design
I saw you flourish, then one day you stopped
Your pieces changed color ’til some parts, they dropped
the earth below you seemed hard as a rock
Then suddenly life in a place it was not
I saw you move as soon as you knew
that you had a home, and quickly you grew
almost out of the pot you came home in, it’s true
And the more that you grew, the more beautiful you
It’s from God, is it not? You, from seed to stalk?
The flowers that bloom, and the new life in spots?
The reason we grow almost out of our pots?
‘Cause we now know Home, with His life, has been bought.
“It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7
“It was not only the people of His day, but it is so common for people of all times to just keep commandments and church laws and observe the externals of religion. In living this way, we miss the point of what worship of God really is, falling each day more deeply in love with God, expressing that love by our sensitivity to the pain and hurt around us, and reaching out to help others, even strangers. To a person who has found God, no person, ever again, is a stranger. In that is the perfection of love, the kind of love that God is, a love that knows no strangers.” – Joseph F. Girzone, “A Portrait of Jesus”
“…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…” – Matthew 25:35
I met *Sarah in a retail store. She helped me shop for a ring. She informed me that people are calling costume jewelry by another name now, “progressive jewelry.” We both laughed a little. Sarah was in her 60’s and had retired several years earlier so that she could travel. She was back at work, but in a job that she liked, and she spoke of no regrets having used some of her savings to explore the world. Sarah told me that her family was made up of diverse backgrounds. She and her siblings were raised Muslim (although she did not identify herself as Muslim any longer), and she had relatives by marriage who were Jewish, as well as Catholic. She said that family ties meant a lot to her. She said that she celebrates Christmas. Sarah’s life and family background were atypical, and she seemed to appreciate that. I liked thinking of her family sitting together at holiday gatherings, differing beliefs and all. I do believe that there is one true way for people to find close relationship and eternal life with God, through Jesus’ sacrifice, but it’s because of this that I can appreciate when people show love toward one another even and especially when their views differ. It’s one way of truly loving our neighbors, which Jesus equated with loving God with our whole heart. Before leaving, Sarah and I shared a hug. I said goodbye and she responded by saying that she wasn’t going to say goodbye…that she had a feeling we would see each other again. Not hearing goodbye from my new friend touched my heart.
” ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” – Matthew 22:36-39
(*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)
Sometimes my view of this world is a little bleak. I look at what is happening around me and it can be difficult to make sense of it all. And I don’t like seeing God’s creation suffer. So my thoughts turn to what heaven will be like, and it chokes me up a bit. Because I know that not only will it mean time in God’s presence, but “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). There are many near-death accounts where people speak of having visited heaven. I don’t know that I have experienced exactly that, but many years ago something happened to me that made me wonder if I had been given a glimpse of heaven. I fainted in a college class. When I woke up, my professor told me that I had hit my head and that my heart had stopped beating. While unconscious I remember opening my eyes and seeing a man in a sash reaching his hand down toward me. I grabbed it and we began to walk up a winding path. I do not remember any words being spoken, but I do remember a feeling of being “filled up.” I felt joyful and complete, as if I was lacking nothing. I also remember thinking about the people I knew who were back here, and although I loved them, I knew things would be ok. I did not feel a longing to go back. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing the worried look on my professor’s face. At the time, I was disappointed that I was back. I cannot say for sure what I experienced that day, but I wonder sometimes if I was given a preview into what heaven might be like. I am so grateful for the life that I have and that God has given me the opportunity to learn more about Him as time has passed. At the time of the incident, I believed that God existed, but I didn’t give much more thought to it than that. Whether or not that experience was a peek into what heaven is like, there is something in my heart now that can’t help but think that the “filled up” feeling I felt during those moments was an indication of what it will be like to be in God’s presence; there will be a sense of lacking nothing.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” – Psalm 23:1
Nearly every day I hear the sound of a dove cooing outside of our window, and each time I hear it, I am reminded of when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus “like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). In the book of Matthew, Jesus referred to doves as “harmless” (Matthew 10:16). So the Spirit of God took on the appearance of a harmless creature as He fell on Jesus. God is powerful, as we see in the story of the parting of the Red Sea. He is the Creator of all things and has dominion over all things. As He reminds Job, He “laid the foundations of the earth” and “kept the sea inside its boundaries” (Job 38:4, 8). At the same time, through His Spirit, God chose to appear in the form of harmless dove at Jesus’ baptism. I’m glad that although God Has the ability to move mountains, He also places value in the gentle, harmless way of a dove.
“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” – Psalm 18:35
What is Still?
What is still?
It’s the ceasing of wind
It’s the cat at my feet
It’s a leaf’s gentle bend
It’s the silence at night
It’s a crescent of light
Where the moon sits just right
above an earth in flight
It’s a small child’s hand
It’s the breaking of man
When he falls to his knees
because love had a plan
It’s a snail en route
It’s a flower in bloom
It’s the fragile, green shoot
where the ground has made room
It’s a smile through tears
It’s a hand held through years
It’s a trickling stream
filling softly, the ears
It’s the skimming of palms
over glowing wheat fields
It’s the watching of clouds
and the shapes that they yield
What is still?
It’s the sky at twilight
It’s when blue looks its best
when it’s up against night.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” – Psalm 46:10
Jesus stressed the importance of humility. When He and His disciples feasted with Matthew and Matthew’s friends, the Pharisees and teachers of religious law questioned the disciples, asking why they would eat with “scum.” Jesus responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:29-32). Jesus made it clear that God was searching for those who were willing to admit that they had problems, their fundamental problem being that their sin separated them from God. It can be tough to view ourselves as sinners who need to be reconciled with God, but the way I see it, none of us can really say that we’ve never fallen short of even our own standards of what “good” is, and because God is perfect and Holy, it would be tough to claim that our “goodness” lines up with His righteousness. Also, when we give it thought we realize that sometimes the things we think, say, and do, surprise even us, which can serve as more confirmation that we are in need of new hearts that are God-facing. Like the Pharisees, we can view Jesus as a radical troublemaker, or like Matthew and his friends, realize that we are in need of a savior, find a spot at the banquet table, and feast.