On Our Shoulders, Over Our Hearts: Our Royal Priesthood

RockCitySkyBut you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Peter 2:9

Saying “Yes”

I think we sometimes forget our authority in Christ, we don’t fully grasp what it means to stand before the throne of a Holy God to advocate on behalf of someone else, maybe sometimes we offer up a prayer and don’t realize the weight that it holds. But I’d like to challenge you to begin to see prayer–your prayers–for the power that they possess, and realize, too who it is we are representing when we enter into the presence of our Creator God. I hope that by sharing a little of what I’ve learned about the Old Testament priesthood, I can show you what depth and power those prayers have.

This past week’s study brought us further into Leviticus (8-10), examining what it meant for a priest to advocate on behalf of the nation of Israel, this priesthood began with the person of Aaron.

Did Aaron know what he was stepping into? No, but I think this is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the whole story of the Isrealites’ journey. Aaron, from the beginning, was simply doing what God needed him to do. He began by speaking on behalf of a stuttering, uncertain man named Moses who was called in the middle of the desert while on sheep duty. It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t even conceivable that this man would one day lead an entire nation of people. But Aaron was available and he was willing to be a mouth piece, there had to be a great deal of trust in God that he heard from, initially, second-hand but couldn’t deny once He began to show his power in the signs they were to present before Pharaoh.

In following Aaron’s transition to priesthood, it is necessary to note exactly how human Aaron really was. It was he that built the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain, it was he, along with Miriam who complained that God was speaking to him too, so, just like us, he gave into the calls of jealousy, judgment, and giving into peer pressure. But over time, God transformed Aaron, just as he is transforming us today, he loves us, and just as Aaron served as a high priest, we too are a royal priesthood. We don’t have to feel worthy, we just have to be willing. Say “yes, ” it’s ok if you cringe a little, or even if you’re a bit scared–it’s the best yes you’re ever going to say.

Preparing Ourselves

Clearly, Aaron was flawed, we are reminded of this when we see the requirement of him having to sacrifice for himself first, even before he could advocate for the people (Leviticus 29:1-3). But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and take a quick look at the priestly cleansing process in Leviticus 8:

1) v. 3-4: Gathering the entire assembly to the tent of meeting

2) v. 6 Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water

3) v. 7-9 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him, fastening the ephod with a decorative waistband

4) v. 10-11 Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar 7 times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand to consecrate them

5) v. 12 He poured anointing oil on Aaron’s head to consecrate him

If we, as followers of Christ are a part of this royal priesthood, then like Aaron and his sons, we must be suited up: with the breastpiece, ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, sash. To me, all bear a significant correlation to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18: the breastplate (righteousness), the shoes (peace), the sword (God’s word), helmet (salvation), the shield (faith). We too, must be dressed.

Who Are We Representing?

Exodus 28: 12, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth–six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord.

“There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (21) Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continual memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummin in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. (29)

 What are the names of the people that are engraved on your shoulders and over your heart? Your sons, your daughters, your immediate family and friends? We shouldn’t be weighted down with this responsibility, but like Aaron, we must be aware who we are representing with we enter the presence of God, atoning first for our own sins, through the blood of Jesus Christ, then coming unwaveringly to present our requests.

The Lord, indeed, is our portion.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 

 

 

The Sheep Know My Voice

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John 4:1-18

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Yesterday was a hiking day, my first D5, rated so for elevation gain, speed and distance, 13.7 miles to be exact. There were 11 in in our group. Our trip leaders were a husband and wife team, Margaret and Paul*. I rode with them to the trail along with two others and we got to know eachother a little bit on the way there. It was a gorgeous morning, a perfect day to be in the North Georgia mountains. Mid-40’s, clear, breathtaking. Early on in the hike we split naturally, the die-hards in the front and the slightly-slowers in the back. For a good 4 miles or so I was right in the middle between the two groups, a little lonely at times, but maybe I spared a few people the sound of my heavy panting. It was during the second half of our trip, after about mile 9, did Paul and I start talking. He and Margaret both had two grown children each and had originally met hiking when they took it back up after their children were grown. For three weekends in a row, part of three different hiking clubs, they ran into eachother. The run-ins blossomed initially into a friendship and the rest is history.

The two of them had nicknames for the other, it was pretty sweet.  When close on the trail, they would occasionally yell, “Marco, Polo” to one another.

The trail was difficult, but for the most part clearly marked, however, around mile 11 we reached some tricky water, the forging of some streams, and really the only part of the hike where I had a very brief chance to stop and take a few pictures (that came out badly anyway), fortunately, I was able to keep up with the slightly-slowers–thank God I did. We reached tail of our lollipop route at around 4:30. We were done. And grateful. The first group was hanging out leisurely by their car changing shoes, while the second group took a pit stop and changed as well, but we were missing someone: Paul. We had someone check the bathrooms, there were multiple calls to his cell phone that went directly to voicemail. No sign. No word.

We waited at the trail head for several minutes and I went with Margaret to speak with the park ranger, about five minutes after that, they dispatched a small atv and Margaret geared back up to go find Paul. It was getting darker, colder. Three of us stayed in the car and waited, watched, and prayed. Twenty minutes ticked by, with the sun setting, temps were dropping quickly and I didn’t want to assume to the worst, just concerned that there might have been a fall. Thirty minutes…forty minutes, a camp volunteer offered a warm place for us to wait at his mobile home, we thanked him for the offer, but said that we would wait another 10-15 minutes.

Five minutes later, we spotted the two of them and I let out a cheer. Paul looked flustered and exhausted, but thankfully, was in one piece. It wasn’t until we were on our way home that we heard the full rescue story:

Margaret went back to the tricky water part and started yelling, really, really loudly. Paul had indeed taken a wrong turn at the water and dropped his phone, that quickly disappeared in the brush. Paul responded with a whistle from his back pack, she yelled again, went up on a ridge, away from the rushing sound of the water and continued to yell. She heard the whistle again, but now further and further away, she bushwacked, and yelled , bushwacked, yelled, he whistled and eventually she found her husband. I was blown away. She didn’t give up, she didn’t let the cold, and the threat of darkness and her own safety deter her.

She. Kept. Yelling.

He kept whistling. It struck me to the heart, #1 because God and I had been speaking to eachother all day, especially around the various falls that cascaded through the valleys. I can’t even describe the beauty of these falls, I was in awe, a natural response would have been to drop to my knees in gratitude, but at one point, I felt Him saying, “Rachel, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. This beauty is NOTHING compared to the beauty I have in store for you.”

And when Margaret told us that when she first started yelling and heard a whistled response, she wondered if it was really Paul or someone playing a trick on her. But she kept going anyway, what else did she have?

And #2, this passage from John 4 immediately came to mind…the sheep listen to his voice…But we’ve got to be on the same frequency, we’ve got to know how to hone in, to focus on the shepherd. So many things creep into our conscious that threaten this communication, that bump us to a different wavelength and move us off track. So what can we do to stay on track?

1) Read his word, frequently, carefully, and expectantly.

2) Pray. This is a direct form of communication with the father, anything He says will be confirmed by scripture.

3) Weed out the noise. Media, friends, etc. All fine things in and of themselves, but we should not let them trump our final authority.

The result? Greater peace, clearer direction and full surrender to Him means that there is much less on our own shoulders.

We have no idea the beauty He has in store.

*names changed

Daniel’s Prayer for the Nation

USflagIt was now the first year of the reign of King Darius, the son of Shasuerus.  (Darius was a Mede but became king of the Chaldeans.) In that first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from the book of Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years.  So I earnestly  pleaded with the Lord God [to end our captivity and send us back to our own land].

As I prayed, I fasted, and wore rough sackcloth, and sprinkled myself with ashes, and confessed my sins and those of my people.

“O Lord,” I prayed, “you are a great and awesome God; you always fulfill your promises of mercy to those who love you and keep your laws.  But we have sinned so much; we have rebelled against you and scorned your commands.  We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, whom you sent again and again down through the years, with your messages to our kings and princes and to all the people.

O Lord, you are righteous; but as for us, we are always shamefaced with sin, just as you see us now; yes, all of us–the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, and all Israel, scattered near and far wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you.  O Lord, we and our kings and princes and fathers are weighted down with shame because of all our sins.

But the Lord our God is merciful, and pardons even those who have rebelled against him.

O Lord our God, we have disobeyed you; we have flouted all the laws you gave us through your servants, the prophets.  All Israel has disobeyed; we have turned away from you and haven’t listened to your voice.  And so the awesome curse of God has crushed us–the curse written in the law of Moses your servant.  And you have done exactly as you warned us you would do, for never in all history has there been a disaster like what happened at Jerusalem to us and our rulers.  Every curse against us written in the law of Moses has come true; all the evils he predicted–all have come.  But even so we still refuse to satisfy the Lord our God by turning from our sins and doing right.

And so the Lord deliberately crushed us with the calamity he prepared; he is fair in everything he does, but we would not obey.  O Lord our God,  you brought lasting honor to your name by removing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. LORD, DO IT AGAIN! Though we have sinned so much and are full of wickedness, yet because of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn away your furious anger from Jerusalem, your own city, your holy mountain.  For the heathen mock at you because your city lies in ruins for our sins.

O our God, hear your servant’s  prayer!  Listen as I plead! Let your face shine again with peace and joy upon your desolate sanctuary–for your own glory, Lord.

O my God, bend down your ear and listen to my plea.  Open your eyes and see our wretchedness, how your city lies in ruins–for everyone knows that it is yours.  We don’t ask because we merit help, but because you are so merciful despite our grievous sins.

O Lord, hear, O Lord, forgive.  O Lord, listen to me and act!  Don’t delay–for your own sake, O my God, because your people and your city bear your name.”

Contentment Found In The Strangest Places

It was just this past Sunday evening when it hit me, square between the eyeballs while I was kneeling on the floor of Little A’s room.  Sometimes she is awake for these prayers and other times not, but after we close the Bible, I’ll plant my knees on the carpet beside her bed and say a prayer, no matter how tired I am, how done, how ready I am to go to bed myself, I do this, and if you think about it, He was not to weary to kneel for us (Luke 22: 39-46).
I’m not going to kid you, I’ve been struggling with contentment, because after five years, things are a bit lonely, and no matter how many books you read by Elisabeth Elliot, you still want to slip your hand into someone else’s and look across the room and see them looking at you and have that conversation in bed at night before you fall asleep, it’s ok to be brave, but I think it’s even more ok to admit when you want somebody there, but this brings me back to the prayer, the one that Little A is awake for this time, and I just start thanking God for that particular day, a day to:
worship in His place
to serve
to be with friends
to be in nature
to spend time with family
With my thick skull planted into the short nap, I realized just how wonderful God is, it was pretty much the perfect day without me planning it or even realizing it at the time, it was amazing and I didn’t even know it until I started this prayer of thanks, so I’m pretty sure Ms. Voskamp’s got something going on here.
Go ahead, if it’s the end of the day where you are, get out a sheet of paper and write down all the things you did today, the things you were most thankful for and you’ll find that, no matter what you’re going through right now, God is still, very muchamazing.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.  He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.  He remembers this covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.  He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: to you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.  When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another.  He allowed no man to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.  Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.  Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.  Tremble before him, all the earth!  The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.  Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!  The the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.  Give thanks to the Lord, for his is good; his love endures forever.  Cry out, “Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise.” Praise be to the Lord the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.”
I Chron. 16: 8-36

Have Mercy On Us

A young man has been shot dead and millions of mother’s hearts break with the news and the images and we are angry and we ask why as tears well up and we bow our heads low and ask for some kind of comfort for Micahael Brown’s family, and we ask why again and our hands come up empty, because for them, it’s what was is in their hands and for us, it is what’s left in our hearts, and for this one mother in Missouri, it is now what is missing in her heart, a boy that she held and kissed and read to and fed and probably spanked and hoped, how she hoped that he would grow up to be this man who made an impact, who cared for his children, who loved his wife and would occasionally call back home.  But that was cut short by gunfire, but hate, by anger and by power and rage that was out of control.  What have we done?  What can we do? 
I don’t have a single answer.  I’m sorry.  I wish I did.
But I do know what we can do with our hearts, like the tax collector, we can hang our head low and beat our breast and we can say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
We can, like the blind man, ask, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
We can, like Zacchaeus, put down our pride and our position, do anything to see Jesus and when he sees us back, accept him into our homes, our lives.
We can ask him to change us.  We can ask him to use us.
Heavenly Father, we don’t know how to pray, except to ask for your mercy.  Hoping that this will encompass it all, the prejudice, the hate, the self-righteousness and the pride that resides in our own heart.   Give us strength to keep your greatest commandment.  Amen.
You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me. Luke 18:22

When Your BFF Goes MIA

I just wanted to spend one more day in the book of Daniel to share a couple of final thoughts–for now…

At the end of chapter 2 in the book that bears his name, Daniel is promoted to a high position–as ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed in charge of all its wise men.
And while things seem to end on a positive note, chapter 3 starts with a test:  Nebuchadnezzar is commanding everyone in his kingdom to bow down to a huge image he had made out of gold.
Reading back over the story of the three young Hebrew slaves, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego sacrificing themselves to the flames to stand up for the One True God, the overarching question I come away with is:
Where was Daniel?
You see, these three young men had been led in a mighty and courageous way by their best friend, Daniel, one, who like them, decided to set himself apart, to live differently, to lead a life worthy of the calling that God had placed upon him, but why did he suddenly disappear in chapter 3 of this book? 
Why had God removed this pillar of faith from these three young men’s lives at such a critical moment?
Sometimes, without realizing it, we make our friend’s faith our own, I think especially as teenagers and young adults when all that matters to us is the opinions of our friends, we let that override a true, personal relationship that God desires to have with each one of us.  We see Johnny or Betty or Jill’s victories and claim them as our own and we forget that God has amazing things in store for us as well. 
I love that He is a personal God, don’t you?
 He singles us out, calls us by name and makes all sorts of amazing promises to us, that are just as applicable today as they were for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, promises like this:
Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
You see, there are no promises in the Bible that God will exempt us from these flames, the verse says when–three times.  We are not immune to trial, heartache, struggle, and pressure. 
Why does God allow this? 
1) For His glory to be revealed in an even bigger, truer way.
2) For Him to allow Himself to speak, sometimes our world can get so cluttered, so distracted with our own self-speak that we miss what he is trying to say and what he is trying to do in a specific instance
3) For our trust to grow and grow and grow.  Jeremiah 17:8  They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
4) For our faith to become personal.  Without personal testimony, our faith becomes flabby.  We lack the sincere belief that all things are possible with God unless we’ve experienced it for ourselves. 
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossibleto please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
God is Mighty, He is Sovereign and He is Good, my prayer for you is that He reveals himself to you in each one of these areas.
Personally, I had to face one of the biggest testings of trust in my own life without family or friends to surround me, the stakes were high, and for about 10 months, I woke up every morning and immediately put my face to the ground, asking God for his help and strength. 
God showed up in my flames and He will show up for you, too.
Have you personally been through an almost overwhelming trial like this without good friends or family to surround you?  When geography or circumstance kept you from physically having someone next to you that you knew could be your strength?  If so, how did God show himself faithful in those times when you felt like an island? 

Please Give Me a Toy Sword and Make Me Faster, God

Creative Commons by Wesley Fryer
So, this was the phrase uttered by one of the little boys in our Wednesday night prayer time in class.  After our mission’s story, we give each kid a turn at talking with God.  This was the little boy that chose to hit himself on his forehead whenever he got embarrassed for being the new kid in class.

This was also the same kid who took my hands tenderly in his own and told me that he had a four-wheeler at his house–and then explained, “I’m faster than my four-wheeler.”

Awesome.

Somehow as we age, we get all formal in our prayers and act pious and sometimes was are downright pious–we’ve spent more than 10 minutes reading our Bible this morning, we even prayed for other people and so we come to God with the extremely flowery details of our perfectly formulated request–cut the pretense, God knows us anyway.  He doesn’t need the details.

My point is, I think it’s ok to be brutally honest with God in our prayers with phrases like, “I’m selfish and this is why I’m asking you for this…” or, “God, this is soooo completely messed up and unfair.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be a Christian tomorrow because of how this person has treated me.”

The other day, I picked up Jesus Calling in the bookstore (I know, I’m the last person on earth who does not own this book), and it, of course, is Jesus talking, saying that we are wasting our time, dwelling in our sorrows and our desires when what he wants is for us is to praise him.  And this is what the psalmist does, he begs the Lord not to be silent, he points to the craftiness of his enemies (Psalm 83) and then moving on to the next chapter (84:1), he is praising God, saying, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…and then there is this conclusion, this beautiful conclusion to it all:

For the Lord is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good  thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.  O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you. 
Psalm 84:11-12

Somehow, when we desire his presence more than anything else, everything else–the toy sword, the speed–all comes into perspective.

Let Us Not Become Like Tofu-Part II of II OR Lessons from King Hezekiah


Photo: Creative Commons by Andrea Nguyen 


[Hezekiah] was successful in whatever he undertook.  He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.  From the watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory. (II Kings 18:7-8) Hezekiah was going forward in the power of the Lord almighty, defeating enemies, claiming land, purposing success for the nation of Judah.

But he hits a snag.
Throughout his reign, he witnessed the King of Assyria begin to snatch up land all around him, in Samaria, deporting Israel to Assyria and settling them in various towns, but the scripture was specific in why God had allowed this , “This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant–all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded.  They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.”
And unfortunately, the next big target for the King of Assyria was Judah…“Sennacherib King of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.”  This is where, I believe, the story gets sticky.
Because Hezekiah allows himself to be intimidated and begins to back down saying to Sennacherib, “I have done wrong.  Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.”  Not only does Hezekiah hand over all the silver in the temple, but he raids the treasuries of the royal palace, going so far as to strip the doors and posts of the temple of their gold.
Wait a minute…didn’t scripture say in II Kings 18: 6 that Hezekiah “held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him.”??  Why was he backing down?
Proverbs 29:25a “The fear of man will prove to be snare…”
We cannot back down. 
That is why God gives us his spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:13), promises his angel armies (Psalm 91:11) and declares throughout Scripture, “Never will I leave you, Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  Yes, our enemy the devil is prowling BUT that is why we are commanded to remain self-controlled and alert. (I Peter 5:8)
Continuing on with the story: “The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander…with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.”  They called for the King and he sent out his palace administrator, secretary and recorder. 
Isn’t it just easier to get other people to do our dirty work? 🙂
Assyria’s field commander tried to intimidate King Hezekiah’s men with phrases like: “You say you have strategy and military strength–but you speak only empty words.  On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?”
And if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”–isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem?”
The enemy begins to bargain with them:
“Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses–if you can put riders in them!”
And then he resorts to just plain lies:
“The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.”
He turns to Hezekiah’s people, switching his language from Aramaic to Hebrew so that they can understand [I can just see the sweat trickling down his face.]
“Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you.  He cannot deliver you from my hand.  Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 
He then showers them with empty promises (I can’t help but think about the first liar in the garden…)
“Make peace with me and come out to me.  Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey.”
Stand firm, brothers and sisters.
This man has got to be red in the face by now, asking,
“Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?”
But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply because the King has commanded, “Do not answer him.”
After this passionate speech, Hezekiah’s messengers were scared, intimidated, tore their clothes and came back to Hezekiah, telling him what was said.
Guess what?
Hezekiah was scared too, he tore his clothes and asked for his men to go to Isaiah the prophet and have him plead their case before God.
And Isaiah relays this message from the Lord: “Do not be afraid–those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.  Listen!  I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.”
The King of Assyria sent a second message to Hezekiah.  Same scare and intimidation tactics…
Hezekiah is broken, he is frightened. He is fearful for an entire kingdom that he had carefully grown for fourteen years.  So this is where the story catches in my throat.  We know God’s promises.  Hezekiah knew God’s promises–it was going to be ok, but he did the only thing he knew to do.  He took it to God, face down, fingers clutched around the King’s letter and laid it before the Lord of Hosts, the Lord Mighty in Battle.  He says, “It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”
God wants us to come to him like this.  Whether we are pleading or crying or just submissive, he wants us to lay it out before him–and Hezekiah’s words and actions are reminiscent of another’s, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”(I Chron. 20:12)  Nothing we can conjure up will make it go away, so we lay it submissively, painfully, frightfully at his feet and we remember the promises.
Isaiah sends this message from the Lord, “I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria…He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here.  He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it.  By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord.  I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”
And we serve a God who is true to His Word:
That very night, the angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp.  So Sennacherib broke camp, returned to Nineveh and stayed there…he was later killed with the sword by his two sons.
This is a powerful story and there are so many elements that we must be mindful of in our own lives.  Maybe you are hearing these very threats of intimidation right now, I know I have personally, but here is the important part:
Cling to God with the last ounce of strength that you have, rely on others to intercede in prayer for you, take it before the father, just like Hezekiah did and admit that you have nothing left except for a promise.  Find that one verse that God has revealed to you in all this mess, memorize it, repeat it, put it up places where you will see it several times a day and finally, worship God in advancefor the victory that He will bring you. 
You need only be still.

If Gloves Could Talk

Photo by Creative Commons rickpilot_2000

I think it  goes without saying that this has been an unusually cold winter all over this hemisphere, so it shouldn’t surprise me that they are lots extremities out there that needs some warming.  I have a tupperware container full of scarfs, hats, gloves, weird ear warmer thingies for runners–all things cozy and ready to brave the elements.

I also had a pretty awesome pair of Thinsulate gloves perfect for hiking, yes, slightly big and man-ish looking, but oh so warm.  And, not coincidentally, I’d been reading the words of John the Baptist in Luke 11,  addressing the crowd who were coming to be baptized by him:

“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘ We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, ”The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

Pretty straightforward.

As I was coming out of our local farmer’s market a few weeks ago on a chilly day that was quickly getting colder, I passed this guy on his cell phone, God said, “Give that guy your gloves.”

Musta been hearing things.

I kept walking.  I was in a hurry, I had to pick up Little A from school.

For me, the issue wasn’t about me giving up a pair of gloves, it was about me looking weird.

So, I made the excuse to God immediately after getting into the car: “I’ve gotta pick up Little A from school.  I can’t be late over some silly pair of gloves.”

Don’t you love it how we try to reason with the Creator of the Universe?

So I turned on the ignition and found that I had ten minutes to spare.  And I thought of Beth Moore and this lovely woman of God brushing a stranger’s hair…  Grrr.  I reluctantly retraced my path, looking for cell phone man outside, went back into the market and did a visual scan and,  of course, he was nowhere to be found.  I hadn’t memorized his facial features, I knew generally what he looked like and that he was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt.  My focus shifted then, there was a guy, somewhere in here who needed a pair of gloves, it didn’t matter exactly who, so I stopped the next person whom I knew worked there and who vaguely fit my mental picture and asked, “Were you just outside talking on a cell phone?”

Confusion.

Translation problems.

Time running out.

Attracting strangers’ attention.

So I asked, “Could you use a pair of gloves?”

Yes, he nodded.  Bingo.

Truthfully, I don’t think it was necessarily about the guy, I think it was about me (albeit reluctantly, embarrassingly, being obedient to God).  The guy was grateful and smiled and said thank you several times so it seemed like he could have really used the gloves, but the point was for us to just do what God says.  I wonder if there was any embarrassment on the boy’s part who offered the five loaves and two small fish, if the thought ever crossed his mind, “This is a little bit crazy.” Or, if he thought, “God told me to give my little lunch, so I’m just gonna do it.”  Either way, I think 5,000 people were thankful for his obedience.

Offering Parts to Serve the Whole

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. Romans 6: 11-14.

Father, let my hands be instruments to hold the young, to embrace the elderly, to wash dishes, vacuum floors for your glory.

Keep my back strong so I can lift boxes for the poor and bend low before you in humility.

Strengthen my legs to go into places where other fear to go.

Give my mouth the ability to speak the word of truth to a crooked generation.

Keep my eyes from those things that act to distract me from the Beauty of your Face.