You probably know what I’m talking about. You’re sailing over relatively calm seas and suddenly your ship’s under water, capsized by a rogue wave from nowhere. It happened to me when my wife fell seriously ill recently and I found myself grasping for a lifeboat. Of course, I questioned God. “Was this part of your plan, Lord? Or is it just another episode of “Life on a Fallen Planet”? After hours of emotional panic I finally settled down to the business of seeing to my wife’s needs while praying for strength and patience. I reminded myself God’s in control and His master plan is proceeding on schedule. I don’t always understand His methods but then He never asked for my input, either. All I know to do when a tsunami hits is to trust Him, lean on Him and worship Him regardless. After Scottish minister Arthur Gossip’s wife passed away, his next sermon was entitled “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” in which he said, “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadows must believe it. We have nothing else.” While my beloved wife didn’t die, I know of what Gossip preached. The whole ER/surgery/hospital stay/painful recovery event was yet another confirmation that the old way of living (do A, get B) never has and never will work to our satisfaction. We can toe every line and maybe even approach sainthood status but it’s no guarantee the tidal waves of this earthly existence won’t arise and engulf us any instant. The new way Jesus provided 2,000 years ago is the only thing we can count on.
In the fourth book of C. S. Lewis’ heralded The Chronicles of Narnia saga, The Silver Chair, a child named Jill gets lost in a forest. She comes to a stream. Extremely thirsty, she runs toward it but stops when she sees a lion lying nearby. The lion is Aslan, the Christ figure in the series. He invites her to come and drink. The wary girl demands assurances she won’t be harmed. The mighty lion makes no promise she won’t suffer. He doesn’t promise her a rose garden. What he does offer her is the water she so desperately needs.
When sickness viciously intruded into my and my wife’s comfortable routine I felt like that scared youngster. I wanted God to fix what had gone wrong and make all the uncertainty go away. Because I’d been a good boy who reads his Bible every morning, goes to church every Sunday, never misses a Monday night Celebrate Recovery meeting and tithes dutifully I felt entitled to God’s blessings now. I wanted the doctors to conclude it was merely indigestion and send us back home with a bromide but that didn’t happen. The lion would only promise me His unwavering presence through the storm we were in. The seas have settled somewhat and our ship’s repairs are under way but a thorough restoration takes time. God didn’t shield us from what befell my wife but He never left us. We’ve been able to quench our thirst and drink from His healing waters. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Communicating through the prophet God implores, “Hey, all who are thirsty, come to the water! (Isaiah 55:1) and “Pay attention and come to me! Listen, so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you…” (Isaiah 55:3). Yet as I sat there chewing my nails in the waiting room I asked God what so many of us in dire straits ask Him – What, precisely, is that promise?
Now that I’ve been able to gain a modicum of perspective on that terrifying rogue wave that rolled through two weeks ago I find myself wondering what God’s trying to get me to learn in its aftermath. Yet if my motivation to learn is so I can ward off similar things occurring in the future then I’m fooling myself into thinking I can be in control. That’s the old way mindset insisting if I behave then God has to bless me. It doesn’t work like that because God’s plan isn’t to make me happy. It’s to draw me closer to Him via the New Covenant. Dr. Larry Crabb describes it as being a seven-chapter story. In the first chapter there’s only the triune I AM; the three divine persons of the Godhead existing as One in perfect harmony. (My tiny brain can’t fully wrap itself around that concept and absorb its profundity but that’s okay. He’s God. I’m not.) One of God’s titles is “Creator” so He created angels. In chapter two God was pleased with them. He and His angelic posse dwelt in paradise. They all worshiped Him and took immense delight in doing His bidding. But, as God knew it would, free will reared its selfish head and spoiled the party. In chapter three Lucifer, the most beautiful of angels, got the big head. Pride got the best of him, convincing him he oughta be getting a share of the glory God was receiving and evil came into being. (In essence, evil is idolizing something other than God.) Being amazingly charismatic, Lucifer managed to recruit a third of the angels into his rebellion. God wasn’t having any of it so He banished the ingrates and their self-centered leader from heaven.
In chapter four God created everything else, including the earth. On this unique planet He designed a magnificent garden called Eden, a word that means “delight.” It was here He created the first people. He’d see to their every need so their only desire would be to deepen their one-on-one relationship with Him. Crabb wrote, “Human beings were formed with the capacity not only to bow in awe before majesty and to serve the Master, but also to enjoy the depths of God’s heart. In that, we’re distinct from angels.” God adores Adam and Eve but He does put a single stipulation on their freedom. He points and says “Do anything you want but don’t eat that fruit.” They were fine with that rule for a while. After all, they had it made. No tears, no pain, no bills, no arguments. Who could ask for more? Well, evidently they could. The sly devil tempted them to disobey and they gave in. In chapter five sin infected not only Adam & Eve’s hearts but their DNA, too. Thus it spread to their offspring, instilling in the human race the idea there’s something better to seek than God. (Evidently knowing the Heavenly Father required far too much dedication.) Pleasure became the focus and God took a backseat to its pursuit. When fulfillment didn’t arrive they sought relief from the tidal waves of pain and disappointment any way they could. When God tried to show them where they’d gone off the rails they spat in His face and questioned His integrity. They asked, “If you love us so dang much, why don’t you give us what makes us happy? Otherwise, what good are you?” Little wonder God had regrets (See Genesis 6:6).
In chapter six God hit the reset button by opening the flood gates. Only Noah and his family survived. God made a deal with Noah. God said, “Check out what’s in the sky, man. It’s called a rainbow and it’s My pledge that, though I know perfectly well your descendants will dis Me and make a mess of things again, destroying the world in the way I just did will not be repeated.” In other words, God was saying He’d never again try to punish folks into cherishing Him above all other joys. Perhaps it hurt Him too much. Predictably, within a few centuries humans had reverted to thinking only of themselves. This time God picked out Abraham and made another agreement. God told him, “In faith go where I lead you and trust only in Me. Through your seed I’m going to raise up my own nation.” Abraham obeyed and, many years down the road, the Israelite throng was a reality. However, they got enslaved to Pharaoh. God singled out another man, Moses, to emancipate them and they escaped Egypt in no time at all. His chosen people free at last, God gathered them together and updated the contract He’d made with Abraham, this time calling it the “Mosaic Covenant.” In this arrangement God promised to take care of absolutely everything as long as the folks held up their end of the bargain by keeping His Law. Of course, they couldn’t do it. So God let them have it their way and things got ugly quick. Not one to give up, though, God waited a while and made another agreement with King David. God told him, “Because you have a heart for Me and you’ve gotten my people to follow your example I’m setting up a throne that’ll last forever. Forever because My Son will one day occupy it.” It happened. Yep, despite our wicked contrariness and cruel tendencies, God’s in control and His plan’s still moving forward.
Jesus was the difference-maker. Because of Him the law that came through Moses is now tattooed on our hearts. The old way has been rendered null and void. Grace is now in effect. It’s the new way. Because Christ showed us what real love looks/feels like, those who believe in Him have a hunger for righteousness. Plus obeying God’s laws has now become their hearts’ delight. Living the new way, we believers comply with God’s commands so we can grow closer to our Heavenly Father, not so our lives run smooth as silk. What God promised King David came to pass. It’s here now. Jesus is seated on the throne of God’s everlasting kingdom and salvation is available to all who’ll simply accept Him as their Lord and Savior. And this covenant is one we humans can’t screw up with our shameful shenanigans because Christ took it upon Himself to permanently seal the deal by shedding His precious blood on the cross. Jesus stepped in, paid the exorbitant price and tore down all the barriers between us and our Creator. As Crabb put it, “We now have direct access to God at any time, in any circumstance.” I found that to be true while I kneeled by my wife’s hospital bed, praying for her recovery. I felt God’s embrace. I felt His love. I felt His presence. Yes, I’m a sinner but I’m also saved. We who are His adopted children can’t be snatched out of His hand. Ever. I’ll gladly serve Him for all eternity.
And that leads us to chapter seven, the one that’s yet to unfold. It states there’s a time coming when we’ll no longer come to God for we’ll be with Him always. Look, Satan and his demons are defeated but they have yet to wave the white flag of surrender. The Bible tells us they never will. God’ll see to their uncompromised demise when He’s ready and on that day sin won’t just diminish, it’ll cease to exist. Those of us who can’t wait to see Jesus will see Him any time we want and we’ll want nothing else. Our greatest, most sublime joy will be to serve Him in any capacity we can anywhere in the universe. The future’s so bright we’ll need to wear welding helmets. Alas, we’re still wading through chapter six for now. But it can be a great place to be, no matter our current circumstances, if we live our lives the new way. I’m talking about the way of the Holy Spirit that eliminates all the stress, all the self-inflicted “pressure to perform.” Crabb wrote, “That’s the New Way to live. And it’s available to all whose supreme treasure is God, who bow before God and make no demands, who know He’s always doing us good…” We can have that assurance. Even when our spouse is undergoing emergency surgery and her life hangs in the balance. God wants us to trust Him. To yearn to know Him better. To live the new way.
“Well,” you may mumble, “That’s a nice story but is it Scriptural?” Glad you asked. I was just reading in Hebrews this morning and I came across this passage wherein it speaks of Christ being the High Priest of a new and vastly improved arrangement. The writer refers to the Mosaic Covenant and then notes, “But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. But showing its fault, God says to them…” and then he paraphrases part of Isaiah 31, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds, and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” Then the writer tosses in the clincher: “When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear” (Hebrews 8:6-13). (Think what you will, but it’s my humble opinion it’s no coincidence God has me reading through Hebrews right now. Just sayin’…)
God doesn’t always grant us the blessings we pray for. Especially when it’s for our will to be done over His. But in His own supernatural way He lets us know He’s right there alongside us, no matter what trial we’re experiencing at the moment. Author Frederick Buechner told of a dream he had about a friend who’d recently died. He called it a “very undreamlike dream” where his friend was standing in the room with him. He wrote, “…I said: ‘How nice to see you, I’ve missed you,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I know that,’ and I said: ‘Are you really there?’ and he said: ‘You bet I’m really here,’ and I said: ‘Can you prove it?’ and he said, ‘Of course I can prove it,’ and he threw me a little bit of blue string which I caught. It was so real that I woke up. I recounted the dream at breakfast the next morning with my wife and the widow of the man in the dream and my wife said, ‘My God, I saw that on the rug this morning,’ and I knew it wasn’t there last night, and I ran up and sure enough, there was a little squibble of blue thread. Well, again, that’s nothing – coincidence – or else it’s just a little glimpse of the fact that maybe when we talk about the resurrection of the body, there’s something to it!”
Brennan Manning wrote, “Resurrection power enables us to engage in the savage confrontation with untamed emotions, to accept the pain, receive it, take it on board, however acute it may be. And in the process we discover we’re not alone, that we can stand fast in the awareness of present risenness and so become fuller, deeper, richer disciples. We know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined. In the process we not only endure but are forced to expand the boundaries of who we think we really are.” Manning then cited Colossians 1:27; “The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory.” When we live life the old way we miss out on that marvelous mystery because we’re so preoccupied with doing things properly in order to earn God’s blessings. I found out last week that by dropping all pretentions of having power over situations beyond my control and, instead, praying for God to let me draw near to Him I live the new way and I’m able to experience the privilege of feeling the comforting caress of my Heavenly Father’s divine hand.