…And Then God Showed Up

Story time again! We often romanticize the prophets and the heroes of the Bible, making them larger than life. But the Bible says they were people just like us (James 5:17). Flawed people. Unworthy people. Hurting people. Just like us. Just like me. Just like you. Here’s a dramatization I hope blesses you that puts some skin on this idea that God calls the people you or I wouldn’t have chosen. Even us.

 

Izzy was having a bad day. It wasn’t easy running a household in 8th century BC. He’d just had to fire his “best” servants for covertly fleecing him and his sheep. Then he discovered one of his cows had bloated and died in the field overnight—what a mess. Then it started to rain. He had to walk a mile back to his tent in the pouring rain, slipping often in the mud. He was looking forward to changing robes into his favorite comfy wool robe—it would feel so good on this cold, wet day. 

He finally got back inside his tent, just in time to see his 5-year-old son playing swords with a burning fire brand. “What are you doing?!?” Izzy screamed at his son. When he heard his father yell, the boy started, and dropped the fire brand. Right onto a pile of laundry. Right onto Izzy’s favorite comfy wool robe he’d been looking forward to wearing for that whole last, wet mile.

“Are you trying to burn the whole tent down?!? How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t play with fire in the tent! What do I always say? What’s the worst thing that can happen in a tent?” he demanded of his son as he stamped the fire out.

“A fire,” his son responded, in a very small voice. “I’m sorry, daddy!” He started to cry.

“Yes, a fire! And what do you do? Start a fire! And why? So you could play! You burn down our whole tent, everything I’ve worked so hard for, but, hey, you had fun, so what the heck?!?” Izzy was way out of control, yelling at his son like this, and he knew it. But he didn’t care. Shooting off his mouth, swearing and ranting was how he dealt with stress, and this had been a very stressful morning. And besides, they were just words. So what?

His wife came in at that moment. “Oh, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” she said as she scooped up the boy and comforted him.

“Where were you? Our son almost burns the tent down, and where were you?!?”

“Making your meal. Your favorite hot lentil soup is ready,” she answered Izzy. Then she said to their son, “It’s alright now, honey.  But you learned something today, huh?” The boy nodded vigorously. “Now go run along play with something that’s not burning, ok?” she laughed.

Her total acceptance and love of him made it all better. He hugged her neck and ran off to find something to play with that wasn’t smoking.

“Look at this! Just look at this!” Izzy wailed, holding up his favorite comfy wool robe. It had a hole in it two feet in diameter. “Ruined!! Scrabble!” he swore.

“Had a tough morning?” she asked lovingly. “You look terrible.”

“I had to fire freakin’ Jonus this morning! And a gal-darn cow bloated in the field last night! Dag-nab-it, do you have any idea how much wealth I’ve lost today?!? No, you wouldn’t…”

“Please don’t be hurtful,” she asked, ignoring yet another insult. She saw something in this rough, brash man that no one else could. The Lord had shown her years ago that He was going to unlock her husband’s heart. Early this morning He had told her today was the day. She had gotten up two hours early to pray for him. She was ready; she couldn’t take much more of this.

“Why do I even talk to you?” was the kindest, more correctly, the least cruel, thing he could find to say. He hated himself for it. While they were talking he had changed into something dry. “Stupid woman. Stupid kid. Stupid cow.  Stupid servants. Stupid rain,” he complained at the air as he wandered off to eat his lentil soup. It would probably be cold by now.

He hated his wife for the same reason he loved her. Everything could be a mess, their whole life upside-down, and she’d find something to laugh about. He hated it. It was really, really annoying when you were trying to have a bad day. And yet he loved it. It warmed him inside. But he couldn’t tell her.

Not for lack of trying, though. His words were just dark and heavy and vile and… and… well, just unclean. But so what? They were just words. He’d told himself that enough times he almost believed it. Almost. At least he pretended he believed it.

“Isaiah.” Someone said his real name. And it was the freakiest voice he had ever heard. It sounded like a giant water fall making words. He spun around and the tent was gone, or it wasn’t, he didn’t know, care, or even think about it. All he could do was focus, fixated, on what he saw in front of him. Oh snap I am undone, was his only thought.

In front of him he saw something language does not have words to describe. He saw the Lord, high and lifted up on a throne, with the train of his robe filling the temple. The Lord was blazing white with every color all at once, yet every color individually distinguishable and always changing. When the colors shined on him, a different part of him sprang to life with each different color and pattern and shade and hue. The colors were living fabric, and each one reflecting a different attribute of the character of God. The patterns and colors were never the same, they were constantly changing. Yet the Lord Himself was totally constant—as if He wasn’t changing per se but just displaying a different part of himself at each moment.

There were angels flying about. Each time the colors changed, they would sing to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!” As if they’d just seen another attribute of God they’d never known about before. As if they’d been staring at him for all eternity, and every moment they were still seeing new parts of his character that blew their minds. And all they could do was respond, “Holy, Holy, Holy,…” At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the whole temple was filled with smoke.

Isaiah took in all this in a moment. Sound involuntarily came from his mouth. “Woe to me!” he cried aloud in terror. “I am undone! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!” They weren’t just words. They mattered. How could he possibly have thought any differently. Oh, no, the pain he’d caused by his words to the precious ones he loved. He saw himself for the first time.

Quick as lightening, one of the angels flew to the altar, grabbed a burning coal with tongs, flew over to Isaiah, and touched his mouth with it. He screamed and quickly touched the place where he was sure his lips had just burned off. Only his mouth was fine. In fact, it felt… well, free! As if, for the first time, he didn’t have to say something ugly. He could choose, for the first time, to speak either death or life.

“See, this has touched your lips,” the angel told him, holding up the burning coal with the tongs. “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” And then the freakiest thing happened. The angel smiled at Isaiah.

At that moment the Lord spoke from his throne. “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

Before Isaiah knew what he was doing, before his head could catch up, he answered from his heart, “Here I am! Send me!”

The Lord smiled and nodded. “Very well then. Go to this people, and tell them…”

And the Lord gave Isaiah a message to speak to the people of Judah in His name. It was the first of many prophetic messages Isaiah was given to speak for God.

The vision faded but not the change. He was back in his tent, eating his lentil soup that was still hot. How had he gotten to the table with the spoon in his hand? He looked very disoriented. His wife and son were looking at him strangely. “Izzy? Are you all right?” she asked. “You zoned out for a moment there. You look like you’ve been to another planet. 

“You have no idea,” was he all he could say, and then he started to cry. Something he had never done in front of them before. He felt pain, but not just because he was hurting or feeling guilty like always. This was different. He felt their pain; the pain he caused. And he was sorry for their sake, not for his.

He was sobbing now, and couldn’t stop. The rainstorm was inside the tent, flowing down his cheeks. He expressed to his wife and his son things bottled up inside for years that he wanted to say but couldn’t before now. He told them about the vision and they believed him. Then he did something he hadn’t done in way too long. He laughed. And they laughed together. And played. And sang. And lived. Something tangible changed in the tent that day and never changed back.

For decades following, the Lord gave Isaiah some of the most powerful prophetic words He’s ever given a prophet. They are still favorites today and bring healing to wounded people thousands of years later. And it all started with an experience with the Living God. An experience that changed everything.

– Based on Isaiah 6:1-13.

 

How about you? Have you been undone? I was undone by God’s love a long time ago. One can never go back afterwards. And who would want to? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share this on Facebook if it blessed you.

Knowing Means Experience

It’s story time again. As Saul of Taurus found out one sunny day outside Damascus, one experience can trash years of theoretical study. In the Hebrew culture and hence in the Bible, “knowing” means “experiencing.” The ivory tower head-knowledge-only that we’ve come to value so much is from the Greeks and Aristotle. The Hebrews had a word for someone with academic and theoretical knowledge only without experience, and it’s used all over the book of Proverbs. The word is “fool.” (No wonder so much of what Aristotle taught was just flat out wrong!) Anyway, I hope you enjoy this story.

 

“How dare they? How dare they claim this dead heretic Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee of all places, is the Messiah?!? I have no patience or kindness for them. I dragged them out of their beds from their houses in Jerusalem and into prison, and I will do the same to them in Damascus. I have letters from the chief priests in Jerusalem, giving me the authority. We ride there now!

“I am envious of their confidence, even to the point of their death, in their false Messiah, and I hate them all the more for it. But what do they know? Taught by a bunch of unrighteous fisherman and tax collectors!

“But I, Saul of Tarsus, will boast of my own faultless legal righteousness as I have good reason for such confidence! An Israelite of Israelites, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law of Moses, a Hebrew of Hebrews, and a Pharisee of Pharisees! Of this I have a right to be proud,” I exhort my companions as we ride along. My righteousness will certainly encourage their zeal!

Nathan interrupts me, “Look, Saul, we’re almost to the city gate!”

“Quiet, Nathan, I’m monologuing!” I retort. How rude!

“You don’t have to rude,” Nathan mumbles under his breath.

I continue to inspire them: “I have sought hard my own advancement among the Pharisees, and have advanced further than any of my contemporaries! My anger was easily aroused by these heretics, and I shall keep a record of every one of their wrongs! I delight in seeing them arrested, and will never rejoice in their heresy.”

“Alas, that we cannot always protect our people from such heretics! Our trust in our Sadducee leaders fades, and our hope diminishes under every stroke of the Roman lash. We cannot always persevere, and sometimes we fail, but always …”

Right in the middle of my big finale, a most inconvenient thing happens. Lightening appears all around us, on a perfectly clear and sunny day! The thunder booms simultaneously and my horse throws me to the ground and bolts. I land flat and hard with a thud that knocks the wind out of me. And still this light is everywhere, even when I close my eyes! I can’t see anything else!

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” says a voice from all around me. A voice like I’d never heard before – like a mighty waterfall or rushing river – the sound of many waters.

“Who are you, Lord?” I ask rather sheepishly.

“I am Jesus, who you are persecuting,” replies the voice. Now this is awkward.

“Get up and go into the city, and I will tell you what to do,” the voice continued. “I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and my witness to what I have shown you and will show you.”

I find my companions, or rather they find me. The light never goes away and it’s all I can see. I always thought blind people saw just blackness, and maybe they do. But my blindness is different. All I can see is white light everywhere, even when I close my eyes! My companions lead me by the hand into the city. 

 

It’s been three days here in Damascus, at the house of Judas on Straight Street. Nathan is trying to encourage me to eat. Again. “Saul, here, smell this fresh hot bread! You have to eat something!” But I just push it away. “At least drink something, it’s been three days, you’re weak, and you look terrible. Come get your strength back.” He puts a cup of clear, cold water to my lips, but I turn my head and refuse to drink.

“Nathan, thank you for all you’ve done for me, and all you’re trying to do. You’re a good friend,” I tell him. “But I can’t eat or drink until the Lord Jesus restores my sight. He me told so.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says in frustration, as he continues in his Australian accent, “and some guy we don’t even know named Ananias is going to come, somehow find us, pray for you, and restore your sight. Right. You’ve been telling us that for three bloody days, mate!”

“The Lord Jesus showed me in a vision,” I remind him gently.

“In a vision!” He throws up his hands in frustration. “And will you stop talking about ‘the Lord Jesus’ for Heaven’s sake? Those nut jobs are the bad guys, remember? Dead heretic from Nazareth in Galilee of all places, letters from the chief priests, going to drag them back to Jerusalem to stand trial… Any of this ringing a bell?”

I pray silently for Nathan, that the Lord Jesus would open his eyes as well.

“Ok, look,” Nathan continues, “you had a nasty fall there off your horse, and you landed really hard. It’s understandable you’re shaken up a bit. It was just some really bright lightening… on a completely… clear… sunny day…” he trails off. “Ok, I admit that bit’s a bit hard to explain, alright? Maybe it was just a reflection off the Roman shields up on the city wall or something. But, look, we don’t know anyone here in this whole city named Ananias.”

“The Lord Jesus will bring him here,” I say softly but confidently.

“Well apparently ‘the Lord Jesus’ has trouble reading a map. It’s been three bloody days, mate! He could have walked here from Jerusalem by now! Where is this Ananias bloke anyway?”

There’s a loud knock at the door. “Judas,” calls Nathan, “get the door, will ya?!? I’m trying to talk some sense into him.”

After a moment, Judas comes in with a stranger, and says in his southern drawl, “Um, Nathan, this here’s somewhat awkward. This here fella’s name is Ananias, and he’s here to pray for Saul, to restore his sight.”

I would give anything to not be blind and see Nathan’s face at this moment… Priceless!

 

After Ananias prays for me, and scales or something fall off my eyes and I can see normally again, he tells me, “Saul, I must admit I was more than a little afraid of coming here and seeing you, after everything I heard about in Jerusalem. But the Lord Jesus told me, and I think you should know, that you are his chosen instrument to carry his name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. And he said he will show you how much you must suffer for his name.”

I thank and embrace Ananias. We part as friends, no, as dear brothers – I, who rode here with hatred in my heart for him and all the brothers, and he, who knows this and still extends the hand of friendship and brotherhood to me.

How shall I respond to my Lord, who in love revealed himself to me, took off all my hate, and now in love calls me to share in his sufferings?

Now I understand love. Now I know love. Now I’ve experienced love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

How shall I respond to love? By loving him back, serving the one I love, and the ones he loves. It is an honor that I don’t deserve, chief of sinners as I am. But I will gladly, expectantly, suffer for the sake of the Name of Jesus, and the loving relationship he started with me through this experience.

How about you? 

– Based on Acts 8:3, Acts 9:1-19, 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, Galatians 1:13-14, Philippians 3:4-6, and 1 Timothy 1:15.

 

Experience is not an end in itself, it needs to be consistent with scripture (i.e., the exact experience doesn’t have to necessarily be found in scripture, but it can’t contradict it). But if we only know about God without actually experiencing him, then we don’t really know Jesus.

How about you? Any of this resonate? If so, please share on social media (convenient share buttons below) and leave us a comment. We’ve love to hear your story of experiencing God!

Mountaintops and Valleys

I’m trying a new blog format today. Let me know how you like it (or not) in the comments. I may do this every 6 weeks or so if it blesses the community. This post is longer than normal, but it’s a story I wrote that I think will bless you and make you think.

 

Mountaintops and valleys. The terrain of life, he mused.

Sometimes you were on a mountaintop, where the air was clear and cold, and just breathing was exhilarating. Everything was crisp; everything seemed fresh and new and exciting. And you could see for miles.  For miles. You could see your whole life mapped out before you. God’s Divine Plan, and it all seemed so obvious and so simple. From the mountaintop.

But most of life was spent in the valleys. In the humid, dense, sweltering air, where just breathing seemed like so much work. You couldn’t see very far at all from down there, barely to the next mountain, and sometimes the daily haze blotted that out. The confusion and the noise drowned out the Divine Plan, and you had to follow it from memory and by faith because you sure couldn’t see it.

These were his musings, as he sat in a prison cell in Rome waiting to die. Today he was going to be crucified upside down. He didn’t feel worthy to die the way his Savior died, so he asked them to put the cross in the ground upside down. This definitely counted as a valley. But Peter smiled wide and laughed to himself as he remembered a mountaintop experience with Jesus decades before that only two others shared…

 

It was almost the end of Jesus’ ministry, but the disciples didn’t know that. He had just begun to teach them about his upcoming death and resurrection, but as usual they didn’t get it at the time. He was talking to them through a time-warp; he knew they wouldn’t understand at the time, but the Holy Spirit would bring his words back to them in the future when they needed them. Much the same way parents talk to children.

So, knowing he would die in Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus began an informal farewell tour, visiting everywhere he’d been one last time, although the disciples didn’t know it. Caesarea Philippi. Capernaum. Galilee. Samaria. Judea. Bethany. And finally Jerusalem. It was early in this Final Farewell Tour, in a remote place between Caesarea Philippi and Caperaum.

About a week earlier, Peter had just been highly praised and then severely rebuked by Jesus. Highly praised when he confessed Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, when Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Jesus said the Father had revealed this to Peter, and changed his name on the spot from Simon to Peter, The Rock, and said that on this rock he would built his church. Peter was flying high.

For about 10 minutes. Then Peter was severely rebuked when he tried to convince Jesus he really didn’t have to do this whole suffer and die thing. Didn’t fit with the Savior persona. Jesus actually yelled at him, “Get behind me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!”

So Peter’s his head was still reeling trying to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory experiences, when Jesus called him, and James and John, to take a walk with him up a mountain. Just the four of them.

When they reached the top, Jesus got all white and shiny. He and his clothes and face and all became white as light. And suddenly, Moses and Elijah, just as shiny, were standing there talking with Jesus about the salvation he was about to accomplish when he got back to Jerusalem.

Score! They had arrived! Experiencing Jesus in all his glory. Oh. My. Word. This was it. No need to go any further. Just stay right here. In this experience. Forever.

So Peter, recovering quicker than the others and his own brain, walked right up and said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s great to be here! Let’s put up three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, and we’ll all just stay right here. Yes!”

But while he was still speaking, a cloud suddenly covered them all, and the voice of Father God said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Needless to say, Peter, James, and John hit the deck in terror. Nobody got in a cloud with God that close and lived to tell about it.

But Jesus tapped them on the shoulder. “It’s alright, don’t be afraid. Get up, let’s head back down.” When they looked up, they saw only Jesus, looking normal again. No Moses, no Elijah, no cloud, no voice. And then, on the way down, Jesus told them not to tell anybody.

“Ah, man,” thought Peter. “We can’t tell anybody! I was so looking forward to rubbing this is in Andrew’s face. What is the deal, anyway? Why couldn’t we stay on the mountaintop? We had it made up there – Jesus in his glory! What’s better than that? Everything else will seem rather dull now in comparison.”

When they got back down to the valley, they discovered the other 9 disciples had got themselves into a bit of a pickle. They were trying to cast a particularly stubborn demon out of a little boy, and they just couldn’t get it. Jesus, of course, did it easily.

That night, Peter couldn’t sleep. He was chewing on all this. He still wished they hadn’t come down the mountain. I mean, my gosh, after what we just saw, how could Jesus possibly expect us to return to the ordinary? But on the other hand, if they hadn’t, that precious little boy would still be tortured by that nasty demon.

Then a thought occurred to him that he’d never thought before. What if it wasn’t about him? I mean, what about Jesus? If that’s the glory he had with his Father before he came here, how could he ever lay that all down to come to live with us—the poorest of the poor, in an oppressed, occupied little country? But Jesus did leave it all, all the glory, the ultimate mountaintop, and here he is with us. So what if the purpose of the mountaintop experience wasn’t to stay on the mountaintop? What if the purpose of the mountaintop experience was to enable mountaintop living in the valley, and to pass it on to other valley-dwellers? After all, isn’t that what Jesus spent the last two and half years doing?

 

That day so many years ago had rocked his world. Hanging out with Jesus had a way of doing that, but That Day more than usual.

Peter remembered everything he’d seen and been part of since that day. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Starting the church in Jerusalem. Seeing it spread like wildfire, through persecution of all things, across the whole Roman world. Led out of prison by an angel. Turning the leadership of the Jerusalem church over to James. Miracles beyond count. Decades of leading precious little ones, young and old, out of the darkness and into the light.

Peter wasn’t sad or afraid about dying today. He was actually kind of excited. And awed at his Lord all over again, that Jesus had considered him, this little fisherman from Galilee, worthy of the privilege of participating in his sufferings.

He’d never understood why Jesus loved him so much, but each day he was floored more and more by how much He did. And even now, on the last day of his life, he knew he still didn’t understand the breadth of how much and how intensely Jesus loved him. That knowledge floored him all over again.

He’d finished the race, like Paul used to say. He knew the darkest valleys led to the highest mountaintops. Like King David sang, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” He hummed the melody; it was one of Jesus’ favorites. Today, the deepest valley would lead to the highest mountaintop, the one that you never had to leave. He would see Jesus again like He looked on that one special day so long ago. And Peter would be shiny, too.

– Based on Matthew 16:15 – 17:18.

 

So what about us? Do we get stuck on the mountaintop? Or try to? Do we hoard it? Are we stuck in the valley? Has the valley swamp made us forget our citizenship on the mountaintop? Let’s pledge today, in the middle of the sweltering valley humidity, as mountaintop citizens, to point other valley-dwellers the way up the hill, where our precious Savior awaits them.

Did this story bless you? Tell us what you think in the comments.