I read an op-ed this week by one of my favorite opinion writers, David Brooks of the New York Times. He was talking about how many people thought that becoming unmoored from religion would lead to a less judgmental society. Yet the opposite seems to be true — people are getting more concerned about morality rather than less — just that there is no longer a standard, agreed-upon code that the Judeo-Christian ethic once provided. And so the conflict level has risen as people seem to be debating from a multitude of standards, unable to find resolution since the standards differ.
David goes off in a direction with his article that I don’t want to focus on here, but his identification of the problem I thought was very insightful and spurred a thought or two of my own.
Why didn’t society settle out at a “you do you and I’ll do me” framework? I suppose that at some level of interaction, we did. But the problem is that this only can work in the personal sphere (if it can work at all), and even in that sphere seems to result in distant relationships because people relating on this basis have trouble doing anything together except when it is in each person’s self-interest. Fundamentally, intimacy is about doing things for the sake of the other person, out of love.
However, in the public and political sphere, to accomplish anything at all there has to be a way to make joint decisions since there are limited resources and since the biggest issues require some kind of agreement as to how we are going to do things.
Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the significant love of your life. For some, this is a husband or wife; for others, a boyfriend or girlfriend; and some are without a Valentine for Valentine’s Day. I know I had quite a few years like that. Yet I wasn’t truly without a Valentine, because ever since I came to know Jesus in a personal way, I have considered him to be my First Love!
I’m not here to suggest that you don’t celebrate the significant other that you have in your life on Valentine’s Day, but what I would like to suggest is that you not forget Jesus as your most significant other. In Revelations 2, Jesus is talking to the church in Ephesus, and he tells them that he is upset with them, because they have forsaken their first love, who is Jesus. I have taken that phrase “first love” to mean “highest, most important, preeminent love”. That is, Jesus wants to have the status as the one we love the most. Yet when we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us recognize that the flame that once burned bright in our hearts due to the passion we had for him has now become weak and dim.
Let’s take the occasion of Valentine’s Day to renew our passion for Jesus! Even if we feel we are in love with Jesus, there is always more to be had. I’m not suggesting we beat ourselves up about our failures, or even rev ourselves up so that we get hyped on adrenalin. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that we do the things that make our hearts come alive when we are with our love: we take walks where our focus is on our love; we sing to our love; we speak words of gratitude to our love. And we don’t do this just one day out of the year — we use that one special day, Valentine’s Day, as a way of re-establishing patterns for cultivating love for our Beloved year round.
Let us stir up the passion as Song of Solomon teaches us, recalling that “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine” (Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3) and even embracing the truth that “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is for me” (Song of Solomon 7:10)! Yes, as hard as some of us may find it to believe, Jesus’ passion for us is great — and no matter how much passion we stir up for him, his passion for us is even greater!
Here’s hoping that you and your Beloved have an unforgettable Valentine’s Day this year!
In Part 1 of Asking from a Place of Intimacy, we saw two bold requests Moses made of God in Exodus 33:12-17, and how God granted those requests. Here, we will see Moses ask for something really outrageous. We read in Exodus 33:18-23,
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Moses asked to see God’s glory! No person had ever asked for that before in part because people getting that close to God expected to die from the experience. Yet Moses was at the place of intimacy with God that he wanted to go deeper than he had gone before, and his request, if granted, would take him to that depth.
We have been taking a close look at the interaction between Moses and God recorded in Exodus 33. The chapter began with God telling Moses that He isn’t going to go with Israel into the Promised Land, because the nation is stubborn and unwilling to walk in faith with God. Then we read about Moses establishing the Tent of Meeting where he regularly meets with God, and how the nation responds with admiration for Moses and reverence for God when he goes to the Tent. In this article, we will focus on the unbelievable requests Moses makes of God, and the more surprising favorable answers God gives him.
You can change God’s mind from a place of intimacy
As we begin with Exodus 33:12-14, we find the first exchange between Moses and God.
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (NIV)
To understand in context what Moses seems to be asking, we have to refer back to verses 1 to 3 in which God said that he would not go with Israel into the Promised Land, but would send an angel to lead them instead. Moses is now asking God whether He had reconsidered what he said about not going with Israel Himself. Moses reminds God that He had told Moses that Moses had found favor with Him. And Moses asks directly for God to show Moses ways that are pleasing to God, so that Moses can know God better, and can continue to please God.
“It was Moses’ custom to set up the tent known as the Tent of Meeting far outside the camp. Everyone who wanted to consult with the LORD would go there.” — Exodus 33:7 (NLT)
True confession. I’ve been going through a season in which it has been hard to connect with God, and I can tell you that it’s not God’s fault. I’ve been busy and distracted by many things, and the older, more leisurely ways that I used to use to connect with God aren’t working for me now. I’m not happy with my situation. Far from it! The problem is that I have been stumped as to what to do about it. Just recently, however, as I was talking to God about my struggle, I felt like He suggested that I take a closer look at the life of Moses to see if I might find some ideas that would help me. So as I began looking at an old familiar passage, I found some real gems that I believe will make a difference in my life. Perhaps you also are not satisfied with how your walk with God has been going, so perhaps there are things that might help you, as well.
Right from the first verse gems of truth started jumping off the page. Exodus 33:7 is meant as an introduction to the passage, and as an introduction, such gems are not expected. But here we see something special that Moses did. He set up a place for people to meet with God. It is referred to as the Tent of Meeting. This tent was meant to be a place where anyone could go, yet many commentators believe that it was only ever used by Moses and his faithful assistant Joshua. How sad if this is true! Yet the fact that Moses established this place with not only himself but others in mind speaks clearly about his heart that everyone be invited to have intimacy with God.
I realize that one hindrance I experienced in connecting with God is noise and distraction. I think God likes it when we are able to focus on him alone, and so the idea of establishing a place where I can focus — my own Tent of Meeting — is a powerful one. If you are wondering how to do this, perhaps there is a room in your home that can be set aside for meeting with God? I know that many of us don’t have a separate space we can use, so maybe it would be possible to repurpose a space that you are already using for something else? Maybe a desk generally used for other purposes might transform nicely into a place of prayer, Bible reading, and journal writing. Even a kitchen table could be transformed. You could help to make it special by placing a candle or cross on it, or changing the lighting in the space, or turning on worship music. You just need to be creative!
One of my heroes of faith is Moses. The first thing that attracted me to Moses is that he set up a tent of meeting, where he would go to meet with God. And apparently God liked it, because God showed up and talked to Moses like a person talks to a close friend, face-to-face (Exodus 33:7-11). Then I like the fact that Moses knew that he needed God so much that he told God that if God didn’t go with he and the Israelites, then it would be better not to go to the Promised Land, because no one would know that they had that special relationship with God. And Moses wanted others to know God’s presence (Exodus 33:14-16).
God seemed to answer Moses’ prayer for letting others know about God’s favor and presence in a most unusual way. It appears that not long after Moses prayed that prayer, God called him up on the mountain to receive the Law once again. And when Moses came down from the mountain, his face glowed so much that it actually scared the people, and Moses had to put a veil on his face to calm them down (Exodus 34:29-33). While it’s not my goal or purpose to scare people, one of my goals in life is to have such a level of intimacy with God that I glow. I want the presence of God to be so strong in me and with me that people will see a testimony of the love and nearness of God, with the hope that they too will draw near to God.
One important thing to note from Moses’s example was that he didn’t know he had any tangible sign of God’s presence. Others had to tell him. The only time that he was aware of God’s presence is when he set aside time to devote to God. Then God showed up in a way that was tangible to Moses. That might just be a general principle for all of us. We won’t often be aware of God’s presence as we go about our day, and if we want to be aware of God’s presence, then we need to come aside to a private place to meet with God face-to-face.
Unfortunately, because we don’t see what others see in us, we can fall into discouragement, because we aren’t aware of how God has transformed us, and we can feel like we are failures because we don’t see much fruit in our lives from our faith. So we need to speak positively to ourselves about God’s work in our lives – even if we can’t see it, speaking it out is an act of faith. But this is also a call to action for each of us to encourage one another in a very particular way: we call out the good and Godly things we see in others. We actually “reflect back” to them what we see in them. This is a powerful way to build up another person, and as we built up part of the Body of Christ, we build up the whole body of Christ.
It is easy to think that the glowing face of Moses was because he spent 40 days and nights in God’s presence. Certainly it is true that Moses first glowed after that experience. But he also spent much time before that in the Tent of Meeting, during which he built an intimate relationship with God. And Moses did not settle for this one mountaintop experience, thinking that he had somehow “arrived” because he got his credentials with God and that he had street cred with his people because he glowed. No, Exodus 34:34-35 tells us that Moses continued to meet with God, and that his face glowed after every meeting. His desire for intimacy with God and for God’s presence did not stop with the mountaintop experience. He kept up his intentional meeting with God, and God’s presence in his life was consistently the result.
May we all set apart time to focus on God, and may that lead us to become thoroughly saturated in His wonderful presence!
At the time of writing this article near the end of 2016, Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly users. That’s a lot of potential friends! But unfortunately, not all interaction on Facebook is friendly, especially in this election cycle in the U.S. In fact, many people have pulled themselves back from using Facebook, because of all of the angry exchanges that seem to permeate their newsfeeds. Reading all the angry comments can really wear out the softer-hearted people (and I think most of us, at the core, have soft hearts).
Truth is, there are a lot of jerks on Facebook! Yet these Facebook jerks generally seem to be nice enough people if you meet them off the internet. I have to say that it would be fair to say that I have been a Facebook jerk, and so I’m not coming from the perspective of being an angel telling transgressors how to repent, but from the perspective of someone who has not behaved well, but is learning all the time how do better.
I never set out to be a jerk, it just happened. I think the main problem for me is that I was new to expressing ideas in what is essentially a public venue in which multiple people can jump in, and so I didn’t have a clear idea how to have boundaries and rules that kept me safe from saying things in ways that were not wise, resulting in angry exchanges, not just by me but by teams of people going back and forth yelling at each other in writing.
Just this past week, I was praying by myself for a friend who is a missionary. And I was about to launch into a prayer for his influence on the nation for the sake of the Kingdom of God when my mind flashed to the story of Jesus rebuking Peter with such strong language, saying “‘Get behind me, Satan!'” (Matthew 16:23, ESV). Jesus said this in response to Peter telling Jesus that he should not be thinking that he (Jesus) was going to be killed, even though Jesus just told them he was. And when this thought flashed into my mind, I was instantly aware of what the Holy Spirit was saying to me: “Don’t assume that what appears to be a great success by human standards – even by standards the Church would say is successful – is what God’s will is.”
When I heard that, I realized that I was doing what I often do: rushing into prayer, asking of God things that seem right, but not necessarily for things that line up with what He wants. So in response to this message, I change directions and asked God how He wanted me to pray for my friend, and what He wanted to do in and through my friend. When I sensed His answer, I was able to go forward and pray more of what I perceived to be God’s will, rather than what I had previously assumed that God wanted.
Jesus explained to Peter after the strong rebuke that the reason he was being rebuked was that, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23, ESV). And while the Son of God being killed certainly seemed to all Godly people of the day like it was a devastating loss, they soon saw God’s richer plan in Jesus’s death on the cross, followed by His resurrection. Where would be be today without that happening? What appeared to be a great failure was the most unexpected and marvelous success!
The Church – the collection of all faithful followers of Jesus – is pledged in marriage to the very Son of God, and one day, perhaps very soon, we will experience the fulfillment of that promise (see Revelation 21). But since it is a promise, is there anything for us to do while we are waiting?
A normal bride would be busy planning the wedding, to be sure. But in addition to all of the details of sending invitations, choosing colors, and selecting venues, she would be doing her best to make herself beautiful for her husband to be (and all those witnessing her at the wedding). It’s not uncommon for a bride to go on a diet, spend time at the gym, try to find just the right hairstyle, find a person skilled to help her with her makeup, and of course be sure to have the perfect dress, along with shoes and jewelry to complete the look.
How can the church make Herself beautiful? I think that Isaiah 62 gives us some ideas. In an extended metaphor, the prophet is speaking from God’s perspective about Jerusalem. But what is Jerusalem in this metaphor? We see in Revelation 21 that the new Jerusalem represents the Church. And in Isaiah 62, especially verses 4 and 5, we see Jerusalem being promised as a bride to God. We can therefore use this passage in Isaiah to help us understand what the Lord wants to happen leading up to the great wedding.
by Pastor Tim Thomas
I spent a large part of my life trying to be someone else, because I didn’t particularly like who I was. But I’ve come to realize that I was looking at myself through lenses that could only provide a distorted picture. Once God healed me from a deep-seated issue of rejection , I was able to more readily take in the truth that God had been speaking to me all along: that he loved me as I was, with all my seeming imperfections and weaknesses; that he made me as I am intentionally, and that it was meant not only for my good, but for the good of others; and that he wanted me to embrace who he created me to be, so that his purpose in this creation could be revealed in light rather than hidden in the shadows.
I would say to anyone reading this, that if you don’t feel loved, special, and with purpose for your life, you either need healing at some deep places in your life; or truth spoken to you and then embraced to replace what you are now believing; or both.
For me, healing came through the ministry of some friends one evening as they prayed with me. It was a God-appointed time. What changed me was a vision that God gave me of him carrying me in his arms when I was a baby at an orphanage before I was adopted. He spoke to my heart something that I didn’t even know I needed to hear – that he never abandoned me, but was always with me, watching over me, caring for me. That picture set me free from believing I was rejected and deserving rejection. I was healed on the inside, and I started believing my worth. And once I was healed, I was more readily able to receive God’s love and the love of others.