Thick and Dreadful Darkness!

Thur., Jan. 27/22

Occasionally, when I am under great stress, overtired, or exposed to a sudden flash of light, I experience what is called an “opthalmic” or “ocular” migraine. Caused by blood vessel spasms in the retina, these episodes create a strange visual experience where one sees in fragmented, jumbled or partly missing pieces of imagery. They are not painful, though they are exhausting. But the worst thing about them is the most fearsome terror that accompanies them! I do not understand this terror. I know my distorted vision will clear within about 40 minutes, yet there remains this horrible terror, this dark dread! Others also have testified to this.

So when I read of Abraham’s experience in Genesis 15 I can well imagine the “thick and dreadful darkness” which flooded in upon him. How horrible to be roused from deep sleep to this! This horror of darkness and unexplained dread! But just what is going on here? — Why is this happening to Abraham?

Abraham was 75 years old when God said to him, “I will make you into a great nation… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3). He repeated the promise in 13:16 and again in 15:5. Abraham is now in his mid-80s yet “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6).

In Abraham’s day contracts were made by the parties to the agreement walking between the split carcasses of sacrificially slain animals. Abraham knew this practice well and the Almighty directs him to prepare for it. (Gen. 15:18; See also Jer. 34:18-20). Exhausted from all this and from chasing away the birds of prey which had other plans, Abraham falls into a deep, but interrupted, sleep: “When the sun was setting, a deep sleep overcame Abram, and a horror (a terror, a shuddering fear) of great darkness assailed and oppressed him.” (Gen. 15:12, Amplified Bible).

In Proverbs we learn that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge… the beginning of wisdom… [our] strong confidence” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 14:26). One function of the darkness and the horror Abram experienced, says Henry, was to strike awe and holy reverence in Abraham.

We see a similar thing in Exodus 20, in the giving of the Ten Commandments: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (v. 18-19)

But Moses understood and said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” And scripture records, “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” (v. 20 -21). Moses chose to be where God was. Moses pressed on into the darkness… “the thick darkness where God was.”

American author Annie Dillard has noted, “If…you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required.” Where do you prefer to be? Afar off, where you feel safe? Or in the present darkness, where God is? This is a question worthy of some very careful consideration.

Sometimes the darkness is a tragedy, a trial brought by the fallen state of this present world, a loss, a challenge. But with this darkness comes the deep and awesome Presence of God. He is in that darkness… with you. Do not run to flee the darkness. Run deeper into Him… into the thick darknesswhere God is.

Press on


Wed., Jan. 26/22

According to a recent survey by Grey Matter Research, and reported in the Jan.-Feb. 2022 issue of Faith Today magazine, only 13% of the 1,000 Evangelicals surveyed fully follow this teaching of scripture. A further 20% have not obeyed it at all, and 50% have given the command only a token obedience. The command originated in the Old Testament as did other commands such as those not to kill, not to commit adultery, and the command to be open-handed and lend sufficiently to a brother in need.

These commands not only continue through the church age but are added to in the teachings of Christ. Hatred of a brother becomes tantamount to murder, a lustful thought equates to the act of adultery, and to the one in need we are instructed to go the second mile, give the cloak as well, pay the Samaritan’s tab. The same is true of this one neglected duty. (See Exod. 20:13-14, Deut. 15:8).

Have you guessed what this unnamed obligation is? It is the Christian’s responsibility to tithe! “The tithe is the Lord’s,” says scripture (Lev. 27:30). When we refuse to let Him collect it, we sin. Through Malachi the Lord says to His people, “You have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them… You rob Me.” “How are we robbing you?” ask the people. “In tithes and offerings,” comes the Lord’s reply!

Now, God doesn’t need that tenth of our income. He both created and owns everything! But He knows we need to give it! We need to faithfully surrender from our resources and see that He faithfully provides from His. In fact, He promises to provide even more than we need: “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (see Malachi 3:6-9).

Abraham (Abram) is often cited as the first tither (Gen. 14:19-20), yet as far back as Cain and Abel, we see the practice of sacrificially giving back to God (Gen. 4:3-5). Jacob vowed to give God a tenth (Gen. 28:22), and Moses established the giving of a tenth (tithe) into law (Lev. 27:30-34). In Numbers 18 we see these tithes were given to the Levites who served as priests and had no inheritance as did the other tribes. They were to receive the tithes of the people instead. Then, they too paid a tithe from this – “a tithe of the tithe” (Num. 18:26).

The tithe is the Lord’s, so when we surrender it to Him we have not truly “given” Him anything – no more than an employer has “given” when he distributes the payroll. To truly give we must go beyond the tithe.

Jesus upheld the practice of tithing while emphasizing the inner attitudes of the heart. To the Pharisees who legalistically tithed every minute particle He said, “you… have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23). He taught that giving must be done in secret (Matt. 6:1-4), and that the sacrifice of the giver is more to be valued than the amount given (Mark 12:41-44).

A careful study of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 will show that Paul taught a regular, personal and joyful discipline of planned giving, and that this ought to be given to those in ministry (1 Tim. 5:17-18), and Jesus taught that in so doing we actually give to Him (Matt. 25:40). To give back to Him Who has “freely given us all things” ought be every believer’s chief-most joy!

”So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Press on…

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

While the cat sleeps…

Tues., Jan. 25/22

Every other day I clean out our cat’s litter box. She is never around when I do this. Often she’s sound asleep!

I wonder if our cat ever ponders where her litter goes every second day? Does she reason out the smallness of her litter box contrasted with the greatness over time of her daily deposits? Does she, being aware of the impenetrable plastic box floor her claws scratch upon, realize the limits of this depository? Does she figure that the one who feeds her and scratches her neck is also the one who mops up her fur balls, buys her toys, and must venture out to stock her stores of cat treats?

I doubt it.

Why? Because I take a lesson from the birds.

A bird doesn’t think of such things… Jesus once drew attention to this. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matt. 6:26). Birds just know their environmental needs will be met. They know Someone is looking out for them.

Likewise, a flower doesn’t think about looking beautiful to attract pollinators. Nope! It just knows that it’s beautiful already. It knows it’s Maker never makes junk! He even said, “Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these!” (Matt. 6:29).

When God discoursed with Job He asked, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?… when the doe bears her fawn?” (Job 39:1)… “Who let the wild donkey go free?” (v.5)… “Will the wild ox… serve you?” (v.9)… He asks if Job can explain the curious behavior of the ostrich or the stork, the strength of the horse, the soaring flight of the hawk and eagle (v.13-27). But no, Job cannot. Job realizes anew that God can, and God does. God has purposes and ways we do not understand, and He is vitally involved in His creation,. He is actively seeing to its every need — including yours!

I won’t say God wants us to take Him for granted, but I will say He would like us to trust Him more… and I’m no better at it than you some days. And whether or not our cat ever realizes or appreciates the care I give her, I know I won’t stop providing it. Sometimes my care involves a painful trip to the vet, or saying no to her begging for more treats. But I know I’m looking out for her just as God is looking out for me. How do I know? A little bird told me.

Press on

Doing Due Diligence

Mon., Jan. 24/22

Keep your heart with all diligence,” urges Solomon (Prov. 4:23). Watch over it… guard it… exercise watchful vigilance… guard what you think… your affections… “because out of it are the issues…” the outflowings… the shaping… “of your life.Thought -> Act -> Habit -> Destiny, someone once summarized. The musings of your heart can drag you down, or lift you high…

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15, NLT).
The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.” (Prov. 4:18).

It all depends on what you allow to enter your heart! — The rest is automatic…

A man scatters seed on the ground,” taught Christ. “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” (Mark 4:26-28).

All by itself the soil produces…. wheat or weeds, the progression is inbuilt within creation. It is inbuilt within you too. It is a principle… a law… The outcome depends upon what is allowed in under the surface.

“A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal. 7b-8).

This being true, our greatest scrutiny as to what we allow in is necessary! Oswald Chambers comments,

“You no more need a day off from spiritual concentration on matters in your life than your heart needs a day off from beating. As you cannot take a day off morally and remain moral, neither can you take a day off spiritually and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely His, and it requires paying close attention to keep yourself fit.” – My Utmost for His Highest, April 15 entry.

A believer is like an athlete in training. Paul noted this likeness and wrote, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27, NLT). He is like an aerialist perhaps who must maintain strict balance as he moves forward walking a very thin line…. like a lion tamer (1 Pet. 5:8)… a marathon runner (1 Cor. 9:24-26, Phil. 2:16, 2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Spiritual concentration, alertness, watchful vigilence regarding what is allowed entrance into one’s mind and heart: these are the disciplines of due diligence in keeping one’s heart.

Press on…

Ears to Hear

Fri., Jan. 21/22

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables…’” (Mark. 4:10-11).

Jesus had just told the crowds the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-9). Most left puzzled, but those who lingered, learned. The best rewards always go to those willing to exert effort… willing to chew the meaty things, not settle for the soup.

But beyond that, we must realize the grace of Jesus is not cheap! Jesus gives us eternal life… but we must put down the self-focused life we have in order to take it from Him. Only the sincere will do that. But he extends that gift to “whosoever will” (8:34-35, Rev. 22:17). There is a testimony in that extended arm: All see it, but few will take it. To sift through to the serious Jesus says, “…everything is said in parables so that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (v.12).

He quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10. Here Isaiah writes of his vision of the high and exalted Lord in Whose Presence he cries, “Woe to me! …I am ruined! For… my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (v.5). But the Lord removes his guilt and sends Isaiah on a mission: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving… Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Isaiah too was a testimony.

It’s not that God wishes to set souls up for damnation, but He wants to give the hard-hearted and self-righteous as much a fair shake at salvation as the meek and surrendered. So He uses parables. “He who has ears to hear,” He often prefaced.

Danish theologian, existentialist philosopher, social critic, and author Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) once commented, “Christians remind me of schoolboys who want to look up the answers to their math problems in the back of the book rather than work them through.”

The disciples studied and worked through their mysteries “when they were alone,” in quieter moments with their Lord and Tutor, by sincere questions, and with ears to hear.

So can you!

Press on…

Emulating Enoch

Thur., Jan. 20/22

Yesterday I wrote about Enoch and Elijah as ordinary men. Ordinary people with ordinary days peppered with a number of extraordinary episodes. We tend to define such persons by their extraordinary moments, but the real measure of a person is in what sort person that person is during the humdrum.

Oswald Chambers writes,

“The true test of a person’s spiritual life and character is not what he does in the extraordinary moments of life, but what he does during the ordinary times when there is nothing tremendous or exciting happening. A person’s worth is revealed in his attitude toward the ordinary things of life when he is not under the spotlight.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Oct. 12 entry.

It is during the ordinary, the off-stage buzz of a man’s life, when the applause has died, the theatre has emptied, and he is at home in his slippers, that his guard is down and we see the true character.

C.S. Lewis adds to this subject,

“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.164.

And it is this man… this woman… whom Christ sees and knows at all times. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Extraordinary episodes do not impress the Almighty! They impress people, and people often wrongly praise the performer. We must not be duped by this. We must be honest before our Maker. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12).

As the Almighty is not so much interested in what we do as He is in what we are – and are becoming. The ordinary moments of our ordinary lives are very important. It is in these that one’s character is made. As Jesus taught, “The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also unrighteous in much.” (Luke 16:10, NASB).

Faithfulness… this is in fact the true greatness of the man we considered yesterday: “Enoch walked faithfully with God…” (Gen. 5:24). “…he was commended as one who pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5-6).

Value your humdrum moments and days. Don’t look to others, look to Christ. As Paul writes, “Live as children of light… find out what pleases the Lord…. making the most of every opportunity…” (Eph. 5:8,9,16). In the Lord’s eyes you can be as Enoch!

Press on…

Photo by Danist Soh on Unsplash

Swept away…

Wed., Jan. 19/22

Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Gen. 5:24). If ever there’s a statement to hook a reader to read on that one most certainly qualifies! But… the thing is, there is no next statement! Well, there is, but it’s not about Enoch, it’s about his boy Methuselah’s virility and longevity. Just what happened with Enoch we can only guess.

It’s not till the book of Hebrews in the New Testament that we get a tidbit more, perhaps a hint at the reason for this divine abduction. In chapter 11 we read,

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5-6).

It seems the Almighty just liked Enoch so much that He snatched him up!

But Enoch was not the only one to leave this life uniquely. Elijah was another mystery man of ancient days. He too departed this earth in a most non-traditional manner! You can read his story in 2 Kings 2:1-18, but start back at 1 Kings 17 – this dude’s life story is amazing!.

Many believe these two men will reappear in the last days as the two prophets spoken of in Revelation 11:3-12.

But both of these men were born in the usual manner, both spent early years as children, both hungered, thirsted, loved, and bled. Both experienced temptations, struggled, learned, and grew. Of Elijah, James writes “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours [with the same physical, mental, and spiritual limitations and shortcomings]” (James 5:17, Amplified Bible). They too got wet when it rained, slept at night, and put their tunics on one foot at a time… er, well… you know what I mean.

Why am I going on about these guys? Well, my thought today is this: God uses ordinary people, folk like you and I, to do extraordinary things! Miracles even. Didn’t He say, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12).

Thing is, we must be humble. When we get to the point where we’re willing to just simply “walk faithfully with God,” not caring at all if anyone ever notices, then we will be, as Paul writes Timothy, “instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). To be swept away… swept away with God!

Why not make that your goal today?

Press on…

What to do when you can’t reach your itch!

Tues., Jan. 18/22

It burns, it tingles, it gets all crawly… sweaty. Your skin screams to be set free, to breathe again! But the calendar on the wall says “not yet,” two more weeks before the cast can be cast.

It’s an unbearable thing to have an unreachable itch! That spot dead center on your back, beneath that hardened cast, or deep inside, “under your skin,” tickling your mind or conscience. — Itches are very real. Just try ignoring one.

Its called Pruritus, not that it helps, and it is a sensation caused by the stimulation of nerve cells in your skin, not that that helps either! Scratching sends distracting signals to your brain… temporarily. You get a jolt of serotonin, feel that “Aaaah” good feeling, but then, a few moments later, the pruritis problem persists.

Dryness is the most common culprit of skin itch and the sources I consulted agree: scratching is not the solution. You may even need to visit your doctor.

Interestingly, dryness is very likely also the cause of your spiritual itch! Augustine’s oft-cited summary says it best: “Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and the heart of man is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” – St. Augustine (354-430 AD). Nothing else quite cuts it. When the itch is for God no other scratching spot will do. But of course not one of us can reach that spot! We are mortal, He is eternal. We are sinful, He is holy. We are finite, He is infinite!

Sometimes, when my wife’s back gets unbearably itchy she will come to me and say, “Please, could you scratch my back?” I am happy to do so. I know I can do what she cannot. I love her, and am pleased she has come to me instead of persisted in the frustration of trying to do it herself.

Turns out, this is exactly what we must do to alleviate our spiritual itch. We cannot reach God ourselves, but we can reach Christ. We can go to Him and say, “Please, will you occupy that empty, itching spot inside me, that I may rest in you and be restless no longer?” And He will be happy to do so, for only He can do what we cannot. He loves us, and is pleased when we come to Him instead of persisting in the frustration of trying to reach that unreachable spot by ourselves.

Press on…

My Rainbow

Mon., Jan. 17/22

Maybe you’re like me at the start of a new year, marking it as a time to go back to the beginning and read through your entire Bible again. I was in the midst of this one day last week at the account in Genesis 8 and 9 where, now just after the great flood, God calls Noah and his family, plus all the creatures great and small out from the ark. Noah builds an altar to the Lord and the Lord responds with a promise:

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Gen. 8:22).

A few verses later in chapter 9 God restates this promise, and then, for the first time ever in human history, the amazing miracle happens! And God says,

I have set My Rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.” (Gen. 9:13).

Right there, in that very spot, I stopped. ”My Rainbow,” God had said. He did not give us His rainbow; it remained His own. But He revealed it to Noah, his family, the birds and animals even fishes of the season. “…the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.” God was willing to give mankind a second chance.

Now, every time the conditions are right God reveals to us His great sign as well. Every time the conditions are right we ought to remember that one Great Deluge and the sin which precipitated it.  And every time the conditions are right we ought look to Him with thankfulness that He is willing still to give us a second chance. He promises it… with His Rainbow, not ours.

Grace and forgiveness are wholly works of His Hand.

You know, as I think about it, the Bible tells us of a LOT of things that really belong to God. “In the beginning God,” records Genesis (Gen. 1:1). “Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made,” records John (John 1:1-3). “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen. 1:2). God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit working together to create all things. Everything belongs to God — even your very soul rightfully belongs to Him.

To what have you been holding that really belongs to God?

Press on…

Take What You Need

Fri., Jan. 14/22

I’ve been going to the Lord for a lot of things in these recent days. Well O.K., maybe sometimes I’ve just been forwarding mail to Him. But the other times… the times when I really GO TO HIM… the times when I’m desperate or perhaps just intently persistent, persistent enough to know I’ve entered into this other place… this holy place… a place in which apart from Him I have no right to be, these are the times when I really RECEIVE from Him. I take what I need, and I THANK Him. But then, in a day or two, like that little tear off piece of paper you see posted on bulletin boards, the thing I got from Him seems somehow to go missing.

I rather suspect maybe you too have experienced this. Theologically you know Christ is the Answer, the Source, the Rock to which you turn. Yet still there are those dark times… those silent times… those times when faith seems small.

Well, welcome to the walk of faith! It is just such times as these which spawn those great passages from which we draw hope…

“…through the valley of the shadow of death..” (Ps. 23:4); “…under great pressure… beyond our ability to endure… despaired of life itself.” (2 Cor. 1:8b); “…tortured… faced jeers and flogging… chains and imprisonment... (Heb. 11:36); “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

No one said this walk of faith was easy — least of all Christ Jesus. No, in fact, He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Matt. 16:33). So go to Him in your times of need. Take from Him what you need, and if you lose it, go to Him again. Sometimes He’ll ask you to sit down and stay awhile and, if you are wise, you will.

Faith may not always be easy, but it is always simple.

Press on…

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