Feel the Stretch

dry land 2Yesterday would not have been a good day to be at summer camp! We had huge thunderstorms roll through all day with tons of rain. When it rains like that at my favorite camp, the place turns into an enormous lake thanks to the fact that it’s built on a giant pile of sand.

Two years ago we had a different problem, and two years ago I got a fresh glimpse of what it means to want God. It didn’t rain for weeks. Everything was dry and dusty. The grass was dying and turning brown. Just walking around kicked up so much dirt that your feet and legs were always covered in a light tan film. I felt pretty desperate for some rain! And then I found Psalm 143:6.

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”

I knew what it meant to be in a parched land and desire water! But what did it mean to want God like that?

“I stretch out my hand” When is the last time you reached for something, really reached and felt the stretch? As adults we don’t do this very often. We can usually just reach what we want pretty easily. Even at church, if we feel brave enough to raise our hands during worship, we don’t normally stretch them out to God.

I walked through the dry, dusty field at camp and I thought about being as desperate for God as I currently was for rain. And then I did it. I stretched out my hands. There is humility in stretching, there is even a little bit of fear, because we are admitting that we can’t reach by ourselves, we are showing a need. What if God doesn’t meet us?

God will meet us! Look at some of His words,

“’You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all of your heart I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14

“…that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is not actually far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26-28

When I stretched out my hands to Him, felt the strain in my fingers and the pull in my elbow, He was right there. I’m desperate for God. I can’t live without Him. I need Him in the same way that plants need the rain. He knows that, but I need to remind myself. So, I stretch. Sometimes when I’m feeling brave at church I’ll lift my hand up just a little bit higher until I can feel it; sometimes it’s in the car when I’m listening to the radio.

You should try it. Right now.

There is just something freeing and beautiful about admitting how much you need God. Be cautious, or just fling your arms up, but do it. Tell Him, “I stretch out my hands to you! My soul thirsts for you like a parched (that means really dry) land.” And then wait for the rain.

Musings of a Reluctant Birdwatcher

Image

My grandparents loved birds. My parents had bird feeders and bird books. But, I’ve never really been super excited about birds myself. I clearly remember coming along on family birdwatching adventures just because we were going to be stopping for hamburgers at lunch time. Sometimes I didn’t even get out of the car (and this was before smartphones, ipads, or other technology that keeps people company these days). I don’t dislike birds. I think they’re cute. And, my kids were old enough to enjoy them this year, so I got a bird feeder.

Because of all my bird-exposure, by default I can recognize and name most of the common birds in my area. We live in town, and I caught myself telling my mother, “We will probably just get sparrows, but at least the kids will enjoy them.” For you non-birdwatchers, let me give you a hint of the tone in my voice. Sparrows are boring. Sparrows are common. Sparrows are blah. Sparrows are not worth watching. Birdwatchers do not like sparrows.

But God does.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten by God. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

Matthew 10:29-30 adds, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”

Apparently sparrows were not even valued by people back in Jesus’ time.

As I sat on my porch watching the birds in my feeder this spring (not just sparrows), I felt the power of God’s love for me. If He loves sparrows enough to not forget them and to know when each of them dies, how much more does He love you and me?! Enough that He knows the number of hairs on our head, the intimate details of our life, things that we don’t even know about ourselves! God knows and loves us, and He wants us to know and love Him too.

 

Someone was Missing

empty-cross-01Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Jesus, except for the commands he gave (many of which were taken out of context). The teachings I heard in ATI/IBLP, and from other legalistic speakers, seem to mostly focus on God as He is revealed in the Old Testament. They point out His holiness, His perfection, His hatred and judgment of sin. They remind us of the stories where He killed sinners with plagues, hailstorms, snakes, and earthquakes. They focus on the law that God gave the Israelites, and the thunder, smoke, darkness, and trembling mountain that came with it. God seems unapproachable, harsh, and frightening. God becomes this Deity to be served and obeyed out of fear. The requirements of the law are shoved down our throat as God’s demands.

What they seemed to miss is that God also showed His love, mercy, and salvation at the same time: for instance, when He saved Noah and his family from the flood, rescued Lot from the town of Sodom, and protected the Israelites by making a way through the Red Sea. The Old Testament is full of stories like these, full of verses that show God’s love, and that talk about His patience and forgiveness. These are just a few examples!

The Bible claims to be the very word of God. It reveals the person, nature, and character of God to us. It tells the story of humankind and our relationship with the One who created us. God doesn’t change. He really is huge and powerful. He really is perfect and holy. He really does hate sin. He really does punish sinners. And, He really does love the people He created. The whole Old Testament is the story of God pursuing the people He created. The people ignore Him, forget Him, reject Him, disobey Him, and He just doesn’t give up! From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey their Creator, God promised redemption; He promised a Savior. He continues to remind people of this promise all the way through the history books, the poetry books, and the prophecy books of the Old Testament.

Without an understanding of the huge, scary, holy, just God we see in the Old Testament, we cannot fully appreciate what happens in the New Testament. Because, God turns the full force of His hatred of sin, His judgment and punishment of sin, on His own Son, Jesus Christ. That’s how much He loves us!

Jesus Christ, fully human and yet fully God, comes and spends 33 years on earth. He loves, He Heals, He teaches; He rejects the legalistic “righteous” Pharisees and hangs out with the people who know they are sinners. But, people hate him, humanity hates their creator, and so they kill him. In His death, Jesus Christ, the only person who doesn’t deserve to die, takes the total and absolute punishment of the sins of the world upon himself. He is tortured and dies one of the most agonizing deaths ever invented.

God dies.

God, the same terrifying, earth shaking, law giving, God of the Old Testament murdered His Son…for you and for me. Because He wanted us. And this was the only way. He never gave up on us. He did everything that needed to be done. That’s how much He loves us!

When Jesus died, one of the things that happened was that the veil in the temple, the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (where the very Presence of God dwelt) was torn in two from top to bottom. This was a serious curtain! They believe that it was 60 feet tall, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick! It showed the separation between God and humankind, separation because of His holiness and our sin. But when Jesus died, God tore the veil! There is nothing, absolutely nothing standing in-between us and God anymore, nothing stopping us from having a relationship with Him, from experiencing His love and acceptance. Jesus did it all, and all we have to do is accept His gift.

This is the story of the real God; we can find it in the real Bible. This is the real good news, the real gospel, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners so that they can know Him and enjoy Him forever. Maybe like me, you were lied to and truth was twisted and taken out of context. Maybe Someone was missing from the “Christianity” you experienced. Here’s my suggestion: throw all the garbage away, but don’t throw away Jesus, instead look for the real one!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16, 18

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“‘You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14