God’s Intimacy with Us

Today I read Jeremiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” We can often read words quickly, and miss the full measure of those words. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. When God says, “Before I formed you…” he is claiming personal and intimate involvement in shaping us. That is profound.

In the modern age we understand biology and know how we as humans are made, but that can also cause us to lose sight of the why we are made. A painting is made by placing paint on a canvas. That describes the process in rough terms, ignoring the myriad of creative decisions the artist makes, and the skills with which they paint. What if God – in his infinite knowledge – knows who we will become as an individual and, like an artist creating a loved-masterpiece, decides which chromosomes should be switched on? What if we are not just a product of cell division; what if cell division was the tool by which God shapes us?

Of course that’s not the only place in the Bible where it talks about God creating us. Psalm 119:73 says, “Your hands formed me…” and in 139:13 David says of God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my master’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you… your eyes saw my unformed body.” The Psalms are poetic. In the same way songs express emotions, so too do the Psalms describe individual’s understanding and feelings toward God. They are therefore not necessarily fact more than a poetic expression of experiences. Jeremiah 1:5 however is God saying that he formed Jeremiah. And if Jeremiah, why not us too?

Jesus, when describing the care God has for us, and his knowledge of our circumstances, said in Matthew 10:29-30, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

And Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit saying, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Clearly, God is intimately involved in our creation and all that follows afterward.

You and I are not just clumps of cells that happened to win the primordial lottery. We were created by a loving God because he wants a relationship with every one of us.

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Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now I see it. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important to identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

A Real Miracle

This is a true story of a real-life miracle that happened a month or two ago. While I might paint the scenery around the foreground to make the blog post more interesting, the core of the story is entirely true and without exaggeration.

To comprehend the situation fully you first need to understand something about my wife and for that let me use an analogy: women are like vehicles. Some women are shiny, sleek racing cars; others are reliable SUV mini-people-movers; still others are utility vans. As different as the vehicles are, they all have their good qualities. Notwithstanding my wife’s beauty and lovely personality, she’s definitely an M1A2 Abrams Tank. She probably averages about 0.8 sick days a year. If you cut her arm off she’d stay home only long enough to cauterize the wound with the heated base of a fry pan and only let out a barely audible hiss of discomfort while doing it. Then she’d be at work without delay. Such is my wife; one tough unit.

So about a month or so back I told her I was experiencing some minor back pain. Not too uncommon for me, just enough to let make me uncomfortable and let me know I’d better not overdo it. I’d give it a 1/10 on the pain threshold. She said she too had a bit of back pain. Not unheard of, we’re both aging :). Throughout the week neither of us said much about it but we were both still dealing with it, without much in the way of visible signs.

On the Wednesday night she didn’t play basketball because of her sore back, which clued me in slightly that this was more than just discomfort. (I’m not the most observant man). I suggested we didn’t need to do a food shop this week. She replied we did have to because we were having dinner guests on Friday night. I offered to do the food shopping if she needed me too; she went ahead and did it herself anyway.

At work on the Friday I got an email in which she told me her back was really quite bad, and she’d just cancelled our dinner plans for the evening. Our outing for Saturday (adventure rooms) was also in jeopardy. For her to tell me she was in pain I knew it was bad. I offered to leave work early and catch a bus to her so I could drive her home. I suggested she leave work early. She declined both. Only later did I find out that “bad pain” actually translated to excruciating pain like:

  • I can’t stand up from my seat
  • I’ve been holding back tears all day

That’s my wife – a real unit of strength and tight-jaw suffering. I wasn’t sure what condition she’d be in when I got home. I certainly didn’t expect what I found.

I walked in the door to see her standing in the centre of the lounge room with tears of joy in her eyes and worship music blaring on the stereo. “Watch this,” she said as she lifted her knee up to her chin, and then the other one, followed by other displays of radical flexibility.

As she tells the story, she’d been suffering with the pain all day. As a colleague was leaving for the day she prayed with her for healing. Nothing overly special: just a prayer. A few minutes later my wife was driving in the car and realised she could lean forward without any pain. She tested it, moving around as much as she could and there was no pain. When she was at home she tested it fully: 100% movement, 0% discomfort. A miracle. Praise God.

Some might say it was just a fluke, some movement which cleared the pain. It’s possible, but unlikely. What’s the chances that after a week of pain, and a whole day of excruciating pain, it just happened to go within mere minutes of prayer? It could be a coincidence but once “coincidences” stack up continuously, then you have to believe it is something more.

We have faith and know that God can and does listen to our prayers. Why he answers some times, and not others, who can say… but what a wonderful example of God’s love demonstrated to my wife.

The Man in the Pit

That partly explains why I missed last weeks’ scheduled post. And almost again this week. I found myself in a deep pit and have had to climb out centimetre-by-centimetre. Which isn’t easy when you’re short and disabled. In some ways I’m not yet fully out of the pit but I’ve reached a height where the WIFI signal has returned.

How did I find myself in a pit? Part carelessness, part circumstance beyond my control and also just the part of the journey I’m on.

Work at the moment, and until December 2019, has intense timelines to meet. Every week there are deadlines. This leaves me feeling mentally exhausted by the time I get home. Compound that tiredness with my almost-routinely bad sleep and it’s a recipe for feeling like you’re being sucked down a whirlpool.

Most unusual for me, this resulted in me not even wanting to turn the computer on. Or if I did it seemed far easier to anesthetize myself with mindless games. The idea of programming or writing after a hard day was not on my schedule.

Publishing Vengeance Will Come made me super-excited. To see all of my hard my work in a format that others could read spurred me onward. I went from ‘I’m not sure I’m going to publish this’ to ‘I definitely have to write more’ within 24 hours. It was just thrilling to reach an endpoint on the project.

And yet as the weeks go by and the sales remain extremely humble (to use a phrase that is more palatable) it is disappointing. I never had expectations of making lots of money or generating a huge fan base. I was smart enough to realise that was unlikely. I just hoped that some readers would enjoy my story. A story teller doesn’t craft a story and then never tell another person: the joy is in the sharing. I’d assumed that Amazon being so large, and my books being low-priced, would give me at least a small audience. So far, that has not been my experience. Full disclosure: I have done no marketing. Still I had expected more.

God-stuff though is what put me in the pit in the first place. I’d been complacent and lazy and hadn’t been dealing well with a few things. Every time I tried to spend time with God, I’d end up thinking about other issues which would rile me up… Soon it became easier to not think about it. Except that didn’t solve anything.

Good spiritual disciplines were bent a little each day, and eventually began to buckle as less-helpful habits filled the void of easy distraction. My distance from God meant that I was no longer receiving his refreshing and the transforming of my mind. I wasn’t living out Jesus’ character but increasingly my own. Which has far less to commend it.

Thankfully, in the last week I realised the state I was in. I wasn’t just sliding down a a hill, I was actually in a pit that I didn’t know how to get out of. I’ve made more of a conscious effort to get my spiritual life back on track and there’s been a huge improvement, thank God. I knew he was always with me even through the difficult and painful times but I missed the sound of his voice.

And so now I’m working my way free of this pit. It’s dark, and I’m still feeling disorientated, but I’m taking directions from the Big Guy who has the Compass.


Who’s your god?

The bulk of today’s post is about Christianity. But if you follow me for writing, I highly recommend reading this long, but informative piece: Publishing’s Parallel Universe by Louise Merrington, which talks about her experience with both traditional and indie publishing.

Now onto faith… To highlight the point I’ll be making in this post, a passage from The Heavenly Man which I gushed about earlier. This is a section written by Deling, Yun’s husband:

God helped us greatly while my husband was in prison. There are two special miracles that I’d like to share with you from this time.

With only Yun’s mother and me left to run the farm, things were desperate! We had no clue what we were doing. We decided to plant sweet potatoes, but didn’t know how to do it. I found out later that we should have planted the roots about two feet apart. I had planted them just a few inches apart!

All summer long our neighbours who heard about my foolishness mocked us and made fun of us! The news spread rapidly and I was the butt of many jokes.

Then in autumn, all our neighbours started cursing because they had very poor yields from their harvest. Their sweet potatoes were only the size of tennis balls.

When we pulled up our sweet potatoes, we found they were almost the size of basketballs! It was a great miracle and everyone knew God had taken care of us. Our neighbours respected us more from that moment on and they didn’t view my husband as a cursed criminal any more, but as a man who’d been unjustly incarcerated.

Our neighbours saw “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:18.

The second miracle took place when Isaac was three. We had to exchange a portion of whatever crops we produced because we owned no animals or fertiliser. Therefore it was imperative we had a good harvest, or we would not be able to buy food to eat or the other items we needed to survive.

This time I didn’t know how to plant wheat seeds. I placed them so close together that they carpeted the soil!

Just a week before the wheat harvest, a severe hailstorm struck. Ice the size of tennis balls fell from the sky. I rushed outside when the hail started and could already see that some of our neighbours’ wheat fields had been completely flattened by the storm. Yun’s mother and I fell to our knees and cried out, “God, have mercy on us!”

A great miracle happened. Our field was the only one protected by the Lord. All our wheat was standing upright, untouched by the hail. Everyone else’s fields in the whole area had been obliterated.

People came out of their homes after the storm subsided and saw how the Lord Jesus Christ had protected us. It was another powerful testimony to them.

While we enjoyed thick, healthy wheat that year, our neighbours had no harvest and were forced to use what was left of their crops as food for their animals.

Looking back, despite the hard times, the Lord was faithful to us!

As most Christians understand, knowing God doesn’t mean your life is suddenly gold. It is fantastic in many ways, but it doesn’t spare you all of the hardships like some kind of mystical genie. As was the case for Deling above – her husband was still in prison, and she still struggled to survive. (The majority of us in the affluent West don’t understand what it means to literally be desperate. [Desperation is not waiting for your internet to buffer]).

Thinking that you’ll suddenly be prosperous and have everything you need is at the far end of the scale. But the other end of the scale is equally wrong: thinking of God with a little ‘g’. God doesn’t confer a small advantage in life, he’s the only advantage you’ll ever need.

It also shows that he’s a God who cares about the individual, and our earthly circumstances. Not only does he want to protect us from the ravages and consequences of sin (e.g. the woman caught in adultery), and pain but he knows us intimately even down to how many hairs are on our head.

Deling and her mother-in-law couldn’t just sit back and wait for rescue – they did what they can, and asked God to help. Note that God came through at the end which is so typically God. He didn’t have someone helpful come along and explain how to farm, but instead worked a miracle to show his power.

If we are being obedient to his call in our lives, then we can be confident that he will look after us. That doesn’t mean we will be saved from incredible hardship, but that he will help us through the hardship. It is, after all, what we’re called to do.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)