The Glass and The Mountain

The Glass and The Mountain

Welcome to Children’s Church! No. We’re not going to start by singing Father Abraham. That song gives me a headache. Too much nodding your head and turning around. But, since my lesson on Sunday was postponed, I thought I would share a little with you.

I should probably start with some backstory. We’ve been studying Exodus 20 and the giving of the Ten Commandments. This week we were scheduled to finish up commands 6-10. The verses following the Ten Commandments, however, were the ones most on my heart.

In addition to this, the Sunday School class that I teach has been memorizing 1 Corinthians 13. Sunday we were working on verse 12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known.”

To illustrate this verse we made our own pane of “glass” using page protectors and card stock. As we say the first part of the verse, we hold our “glass” up in front of our faces. The milky, double layers of the page protector present a blurred vision of everything out in front of us, not to mention of our own faces to anyone who might wish to see us. For the next phrase of the verse, we drop the “glass” down and turn to look at our neighbor—face to face. Keep this “glass” in mind.

 

Before God gave the Ten Commandments, the relationship between Him and Moses was very evident. God was up on the mountain, speaking with the sound of a trumpet, causing the mountain to quake, setting it to smoke and flames, and essentially putting His glory on display for His chosen people. The sound of the trumpet got louder and louder—until Moses spoke.

 

While the people stood in the background shaking in their boots, Moses dared to approach God, but not because he was proud or brash. On the contrary, Moses was a very meek man. Moses could approach God in all of His thunderings and lightings and earthquakes and smoke and flames, not because He was foolish or had no respect or fear for God, but because He KNEW God. He knew that His God would not change. He knew God’s character well-enough to know that even in this full display of power and glory God could be trusted to be ever the same as He always had been. And when Moses had the courage to speak to God, God answered. He answered him, not with the sound of trumpets, but with a voice.

 

Fast-forward to the end of the Ten Commandments. The people have heard what God has to say. He has laid out His law. What is their response? They crawl behind Moses and shrivel up. They stand as far back from the mountain as they can, and, instead of affirming their desire to obey God, they say, “Please, Moses, don’t let Him talk to us again.”

 

Think about that for a moment. They literally said, “Moses, speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

 

Moses’ fatherly ways seem to come out in his answer. He didn’t scold. He sought to comfort them, when he said, “Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.”

 

In response, the people, like a child cowering behind its mother’s skirts, continued to stand afar off. Moses, on the other hand, drew closer. In fact, the Bible says that he “drew near the thick darkness where God was.”

 

God is a God of light, but that day on the mountain the clouds and the smoke and overwhelming awe of His power, holiness, judgment, and glory cast a deep shadow that only one man was willing to approach—the man who knew God.

 

As I think about these verses in Exodus and the verse in 1 Corinthians, I realize that there is a sad similarity between the two Scriptures as well as a similarity between us and the children of Israel. 1 Corinthians 13 says that we see through a glass darkly. We have a great deal revealed to us through the Scriptures, through nature, and through God’s working in our lives, but our knowledge is not perfect. We still have that “glass” between us and God.

 

In Israel’s case, they were standing at the foot of a mountain upon which God Himself had descended. And yet, rather than hear Him speak, rather than look upon Him—they chose the glass. Just like the children in my Sunday School class lifting their homemade panes of glass over their faces, the Israelites chose to put something up between them and God. Yes, they would still get His message, but it wouldn’t come directly from Him. It would go through a third party. Why? Because they were afraid.

 

It is easy for us to do the same. We want to know what God has to say, but something holds us back from pursuing His face. We set a glass, or perhaps a host of window panes, up between Him and us. Those glasses are often good things: pastors, teachers, mentors, authors, even bloggers.

 

Why do we do this? Maybe, like the Israelites, we’re afraid. Afraid He will make us do something we don’t want to do if we interact directly with Him. Afraid He will convict us of our pet sin. Afraid He will show us sins and failures we didn’t know we had in our lives. Afraid He will kill us (or some part of us) in some way.

 

Maybe we don’t know how to approach Him. Maybe we’ve never learned how to pray or how to study His Word. That’s a problem easily solved.

 

Maybe we’re simply lazy. We say we’re too busy, but really we’d rather be fed than feed ourselves. We’d rather let someone else put in the effort of seeking God’s face and then just have them give us a synopsis. We want an instant-oatmeal relationship with God rather than a breakfast-from-scratch experience. We might fight for our Eggo, but we won’t make our own waffles.

 

There is nothing wrong with sitting under good teachers. In fact, we should—often! But no matter how good the message, no matter how solid the teaching—it’s still secondhand. So what is the consequence of secondhand conversations with God? It is a darkening of that glass, a distancing of ourselves from the mountain. It is forfeiture of the joy Moses possessed—knowing God.

 

Saturday night, my family gathered at my sister’s house and had a nice fire out on their newly constructed patio. As I sat there with a glass of water in my hands, enjoying the last few minutes of the evening, I noticed something about the glass, the water, the light, and the fire. By itself, the glass of water barely reflected any light. But when I held the glass up to the fire, it took on the glow of the fire, in fact, it magnified the effect of the light.

 

We have been given the Word of God and the Holy Spirit—that glass and that water—when we dare to draw close to the fire of God’s glory, when we dare to seek His face, they will ensure that He is magnified. He will prove us to see whether we will fear Him and obey him, but by His mercies we will not be consumed. We will not know as we are known until that day when we see Him face to face. But we will come to know, as Moses did, that our awesome, amazing, astonishing God can be trusted to be ever the same, to do powerful things, to work in line with His character, and to draw nigh to us when we lay ourselves aside and dare to draw nigh to Him.

So, my friend, tonight I challenge you: Stop setting murky window panes between you and God, draw near to the mountain, hold up the Word, let the Spirit work, and let God be magnified in, through, and to you.

Version 3

 

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The Dreadful Place

The Dreadful Place

I just finished Genesis 28:10-22 in my Walking in His Promises Devotional Journal, which happens to be the story of Jacob and his dream at Beth-el. I’ve sort of digested it over the course of the last week, and have been amazed at the beauty of the simple truths found in the answers to the questions in the devotional. It occurred to me for the first time that, even though it was Jacob’s own fault that he had to run and even though he was on a mission to find a wife, Jacob was leaving everything, including his dying father and all the blessings he’d managed to scheme away from his brother. He was headed into a world about which he knew nothing. And that’s where God met him—in that land of uncertainty.

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God’s promise to Jacob (vs. 15) was not based on anything Jacob had done. In fact, Jacob had been a bit of a rascal, swindling his brother out of both his birthright and his blessing. God’s promise was based on the promises He had made to Abraham and Isaac. His promise was based on His grace, mercy, justice, and love. God chose to be faithful to Jacob because He is always faithful to keep His promises.

The significance of who God declared Himself to be also struck me. In verse thirteen He says, “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac…” Instantly, I remembered the verses I had covered with my Sunday School class just two days prior. When talking to the Sadducees about the resurrection, Jesus said, “…have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)

Jacob probably felt like life was coming to an end, at least life as he knew it. He was leaving everything behind. He may have felt that his hopes and dreams were dying. But God is the God of the resurrection. He can restore that which has not just been lost, but what seems to have died.

God also revealed Himself to be the ever-present God, who finishes what He has started: “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (vs. 15) God does what is necessary to bring about His promises and purposes. It may require a long detour (and sometimes that detour is of our own making), but He will finish the work He has begun in us. (Philippians 1:6)

When Jacob awoke from the dream (probably sweating and trembling) he shuddered, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not…How dreadful is this place!” These two phrases all but knocked me out of my chair. In a sense, this is no new revelation. I know that God is in every situation, every circumstance, that comes up in our lives…but this week it hit home. God is in all our situations—even when we’re running from murderous brothers and sleeping on the ground with a rock for a pillow—even when we don’t know He’s there.

Sometimes life throws us situations, which seem dreadful—in our sense of the word. They are overwhelming. They introduce us to a whole new understanding of injustice. They reveal the pain of betrayal, or teach us the anguish of loss. But this is not what Jacob was talking about. When Jacob said that place was dreadful, He meant it was a place to be revered. It was dreadful, not because of the pain of leaving his family, not because of the sorrow of never seeing his father alive again, not because of the unknown future that lay out in front of him—but because God was there.

Maybe you are passing through a similar situation. Maybe you have been grappling with where you are supposed to be, who you are supposed to be, or even how to transition from a life of purpose to a life of simply collecting a paycheck. Maybe you are facing loss, the anniversary of a loss, heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment, or failures that seem to overwhelm you as the waves upon the shore. Remember, God is faithful to His promises and His purposes. He is present in this place and situation. He will finish what He has started.

Maybe your heart feels as though it has been ripped in two and spilled out. Maybe your dreams, your passions and your purposes seem not to have simply died but to have been murdered. Remember, God is the God of the resurrection. He can restore what has been lost—bring it back to life—perhaps making it far better than it was before.

When we are in the dreadful place it is tempting to run, but that is because we are looking only at the pain. There is much pain in the world today: in Nepal, in Baltimore, in other places where lives have been ruined seemingly forever. Perhaps, even in your home. Don’t run. This is a place to be revered. Staying isn’t easy. It means patient waiting. It means prayer. It means resting when we feel the urge to fight. It hurts. But this is a place of promise. So stay—because this is where God is.

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ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the Walking in His Promises Devotional Journal. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.

 

To Infomercial or Not To Infomercial

IMG_2513Launching a new book and then disappearing from the internet for a week is not generally considered a good idea, but that is what I have done. It was a timing thing and couldn’t be helped. It was also very important. Now I’m back, and I’d like to tell you a little about my new devotional journal In All Thy Ways.

The other day I was joking with a friend about whether or not I should “go all infomercial” with the journal. The question came out of the process of writing the book description. Writing a book description can sometimes seem harder than writing the book itself. How do you tell what the book is about without giving too much, or too little, away? And how do you do it in a 100 words or less? In the process of trying to write the description, I decided I would do a little investigating. I wanted to know how other authors describe their devotional journals. So, I did the most logical thing I could do—a web search.

I went to Amazon.com and entered the search term “devotional journal”. It brought up 1,254 results. Obviously, I didn’t read the descriptions for all of them, especially since it was midnight, but I did read through 251 of them. As I went through the results, something became very clear to me: I was about to publish something that was just about as close to being “one of a kind” as you can get. The journals I was seeing were all topical: The leadership journal, the gratefulness journal, the insecurity journal, a journal about faith, a journal about hope, a journal about God’s promises, a journal for teens, for children, for men, for women, for pregnancies; the list goes on. There is nothing wrong with a topical journal. In fact, I would have bought a couple of them on the spot if I could have. But I saw a disturbing trend. Fewer than five of the 251 journals that I looked at were designed to take you through the process of personally gleaning something from your own Bible reading. The others all offered up a pre-cooked meal.

This was my infomercial moment. I could just see it: A heavy set, balding guy with a beard and a big grin steps out and says, “We’ve compared 251 journals and none of them offer what this journal offers!” I hate infomercials, so I quickly switched that guy off in my head. The instant I did, another picture came to mind: A gaunt, hollow-eyed Christian in blue-grey prison garb, standing alone in the rain in the middle of a muddy, Siberian prison camp. With that image came two questions: What if he had always been spiritually spoon-fed? How would he survive? My heart ached. What emptiness that would bring!

We live in a frozen dinner and microwave society: Push a button—get dinner. It’s convenient, but it isn’t the healthiest lifestyle. Sometimes we tend to approach our spiritual lives in the same way: Read a devotional, pray the prayer at the end and go on with our day. It’s satisfying for the moment, but doesn’t always stick with us.

The other problem with microwavable devotions—we don’t learn how to cook for ourselves.

Here’s a question: What if you suddenly found yourself all alone in a new place with no microwave and no frozen dinners, only fresh products, and you didn’t know how to cook? The first few days, or even weeks, could be a little stressful…And you could get a little hungry.

Now ask yourself this: What if you found yourself in a place with no spiritual fellowship, no teachers, no preachers, no devotional journals—just you and your Bible—and you didn’t know how to study on your own? What a sad day that would be.

You may be saying, “That could never happen. I have nothing to worry about.” But I wonder how many of the men and women who have been imprisoned for their faith over the centuries, or have moved to a place where there was no church, never thought it would happen. We have no guarantee that we will always have access to a spiritual buffet. God wants us to grow, to move from milk to meat. We won’t do that if we’re always depending on others to feed us. It’s important to learn to study God’s Word for ourselves, to meditate on it, and to apply it to our lives.

In All Thy Ways gives you that chance. It offers eight weeks of devotional pages, which are designed to assist you in your personal study. By the time you’ve gone through the process that many times, you should be well on your way to doing it on your own.

I first designed this journal in 2003, by that point I had been in Russia for nearly eight years. Over those years, I had led Bible studies, taught Bible lessons, had my own quiet times morning and evening, in which I had faithfully spent time digging into God’s Word as deeply as I could. I knew how to study the Bible. But I was also at a point of exhaustion. I needed something new, and I needed something relatively simple that would bring focus to my quiet times. This is what God sent my way. I look forward to sharing more about it with you in the days to come. It was an enormous blessing to me, and I hope it will be to you as well.

Wondering how that book description turned out? You can check it out here! 🙂