Desperate for His Presence

The hot desert sun beats down on his back. Sand irritates skin because it has found its way inside his garment’s every wrinkle and fold. As far as the eye can see, there is no sign of vegetation….no water… land flowing with milk and honey. Without a doubt, Moses and the people that he was leading were in the middle of the desert. Egypt and the Red Sea lay behind them. It seems that they have been walking in circles around the same mountain for a very long time.

This has been no ordinary mountain that Israel has circled though. This is the Mountain of God. Mount Sinai. The place where God met with them, gave them His law, and promised blessings on the obedient. It was here that Moses spoke to God as though he was speaking with a friend. This was definitely no ordinary mountain.

But now it is time to leave Mount Sinai and continue the journey to the Promised Land that no one in Israel has ever seen. God speaks to Moses and says “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14, NASB) Israel is finally going to get out of the desert. After walking for so long through the hot sand, no promise could sound sweeter than that of “rest.” 

Moses’ response to God is unexpected, however. “If your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15) What in the world? Why would Moses want to continue camping around this mountain in the middle of the desert? The answer is actually quite simple. Moses had gotten a taste of what it was like to dwell in the Presence of God…..and he knew he would never be satisfied with anything less! “If your presence does not go with us,” then I do not want to leave. If I have to choose between rest and Your presence, I choose You! Milk and honey? I’d rather be in Your presence. A good prosperous land? I’ll gladly stay right here with the sand between my toes and deal with the constant sunburn if I can still live daily in Your presence!

When was the last time that you and I experienced so much of the holy presence of God that we knew we could not live without it? Are we willing to deal with inconveniences and give up some of our luxuries in order to spend time in His presence? Far too often, I fear that we are so desperate to escape our perceived “desert” that we don’t notice that His presence is sustaining us while we are in the desert. No amount of comfort or convenience is worth doing without His presence. I would rather be in the desert with the Presence of Jehovah than living in a perceived “land of promise” without having Him near.

What about you? Are you desperate for His presence in the midst of your current circumstance? Here’s the good news from James 4 – “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) We are never so far from His presence that we cannot return begin living “in His presence” once again. We simply have to be the one to make the first step. He has promised to meet us there as we draw near to Him.


Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Microchips are being installed in workers’ hands in Wisconsin. A total solar eclipse will darken large portions of the United States on August 21, 2017. Nuclear war with North Korea is a constant threat at the moment. Is it any wonder that many Christians find themselves thinking about the End Time events recorded in the book of Revelation? We don’t understand much of what we read there, but the implanting of microchips into human hands certainly grasped our attention since the chips are being used to make purchases in the business’ vending machines. My mind went to the prophecies of Revelation as I was reading in the book of Exodus this week as well. It wasn’t the Mark of the Beast that I began to think of though. It was the other “mark” referred to in Revelation – The Seal of God.

In Exodus 13, Moses speaks to the people about how the Feast of the Passover will be celebrated in the years to come. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “So it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:16, NASB) The image of having a sign — a marking, if you will — on the hand and the forehead immediately made me think of the similar images in Revelation. But the word “phylacteries” really got my attention. What are these phylacteries?

The term in the Hebrew is zikrown (Strong’s Concordance) and means “memorial, reminder, or remembrance.” According to the Pulpit Commentary, phylacteries are strips of paper that contain written Scriptures. These pieces of paper are placed in small boxes that are secured by leather straps and are either worn on the left arm or across the forehead. Over time, phylacteries came to be worn by Jewish men during times of prayer.

In my mind, wearing these reminders helped the newly-released Israelites to recognize that they have been “signed, sealed, and delivered!” Likewise, I think the seal of God found in Revelation will have a similar impact. What greater sense of being signed can there be than to have the very Words of God covering you — physically and spiritually. Scripture is the Father’s letter to humanity and, as believers, we can claim every promise that the Word contains. We have a Heavenly signed check!

The Israelites were sealed. Think about a sealed envelope containing a carefully crafted — and signed — letter. Once the envelope is sealed, the contents are settled. They cannot be amended. In Biblical times, a King would also affix his seal to the envelope, confirming His authorship and agreement to the letter’s contents. In a spiritual sense, the phylacteries on the hand and forehead would remind the Israelites that they were under the Lordship of Jehovah and that their future was secure. We have the same promise! As we bow to His Lordship, God assures us that our future is secure — despite what we may currently see around us.

Lastly, the physical seal would remind the Israelites that they had been delivered. That’s what Passover was all about — a reminder of how God brought them out of Egyptian bondage with a mighty hand. Since God had already delivered them….and since their future was sealed… was also certain that God would continue to deliver them from future oppression. What a great hope! For the Child of God, we have been delivered from sin….and since we have been sealed, our future is also secure. Our destination is Heaven — our Promised Land — and God will continue to deliver us from trouble and offer protection until He finally brings His people home to their eternal reward.

No matter what may happen in the world around us, we can look up with confidence and hope……because we too have been signed, sealed, and delivered!

Let the Children Come

In Mark 10:13-16, we find the familiar story of Jesus inviting the children to come to him. This has long been a favorite scene and one that has often encouraged me in my work with children. In my previous post, I shared my testimony of the events that developed my passion for reaching the hearts of children. While Mark’s passage is often examined to remind us that Jesus loves kids, I think we can also learn much by looking at the disciple’s initial reaction to the young distractions and Christ’s reprimand of His followers’ poor attitudes.

Why were children coming to Jesus in the first place? Shouldn’t they have been off running, jumping, and causing general havoc? Mark 10:13 (ESV) reveals that parents were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” Let’s take a short detour to first notice the important role parents play in pointing their children to Jesus. Without some direction from the adults in their lives, these children quite possibly would have missed an opportunity to encounter Jesus personally. When parents are not present in the child’s spiritual life, the responsibility falls to the adults of the church to see to the student’s spiritual development. What a great responsibility and privilege!

Children were not just brought to Jesus to have a short chat or hear a charming story. They were brought in order to be touched. Throughout the Old Testament, blessings were bestowed on children through physical touch. Think back to Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27 and the blessings given to Ephraim and Manasseh by a dying Jacob in Genesis 48. In the life and ministry of Jesus, we have witnessed that many of Christ’s miracles involved the touch of the Master’s hands, bringing healing and deliverance. Children desperately need to be touched by Jesus! They face problems that are just as debilitating and stressful as those faced by adults. The challenges in a child’s life require the same supernatural touch. Thankfully in this scene, Jesus clearly communicates to us that children matter to him and are worthy of his time and attention.

The remainder of verse 13 has always confused me: “the disciples rebuked them [the children].” My question has always been “Why?” We don’t really know. Perhaps the disciples knew what was on the day’s agenda and thought that taking the time to bless the children would hamper the day’s activities. Perhaps they were worried that the children’s rumpled clothing, skinned knees, and runny noses would offend the Master. What we can ascertain from Mark’s statement is that the disciples were discouraging the children from coming and detouring them away from Jesus.

I love the Savior’s response to the disciples in verse 14: “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (ESV) Before we explore Jesus’ statement, let’s notice his immediate response. Without words, Jesus gives the disciples a look of indignation. Indignant….what a great word! The KJV uses the phrase “much displeased” while the NLT says “angry,” but “indignant” is used in the majority of the translations that I have reviewed in this study. Since so many of the translators seemed to prefer this word, I thought it important to make sure that I have a clear understanding of the term.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines indignant as “feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.” It further states that the English word’s origin comes from the Latin verb indignari that means “regarding as unworthy.” With this definition in mind, we begin to see just how upset Jesus was with the disciples’ response. But there is something nagging in my spirit to look at the word “indignant” deeper.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is a valuable tool when searching for deeper meaning about specific words. The word translated “indignant” in Mark 10:14 is the Greek word aganakteo and it is defined as meaning “to be greatly afflicted; (figuratively) indignant; to be much (sorely) displeased; to have (be moved with ) indignation.” In the earlier version of the Concordance, Strong simplifies the meaning of aganakteo as “angry; incensed.” The Greek term is only used 7 times in the New Testament. All 7 occurrences are in the Gospels, but this is the only time when aganakteo is used in conjunction with Jesus’ response.  The 7 uses of the word are actually accounts of only 4 separate episodes.

  • Occurrences #1 (Matthew 20:24) and #2 (Mark 10:41) describe the disciples’ response to James and John’s request for preference in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The disciples are indignant.
  • Occurrence #3 (Matthew 21:15) tells that the priests and scribes were indignant because Jesus dared to perform a healing miracle in the temple. Similarly, Occurrence #4 (Luke 13:14) records that the synagogue officials were indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.
  • Occurrences #5 (Matthew 26:8) and #6 (Mark 14:4) once again point to the disciples’ indignation. This time, they are upset because of the cost of the perfume that a woman used to anoint the feet of Jesus.
  • Lastly, aganakteo is used in the passage we are currently exploring in the 7th Occurrence (Mark 10:14).

Now that we have a much more complete understanding of the meaning of aganakteo – defined by Bible translators as indignant – we begin to fully understand the level of Jesus’ anger and displeasure with the disciples over their unfair treatment of the children when they dared to treat them as unworthy of the Savior’s attention. OUCH! Does that trample our toes a little bit? I wonder if Jesus ever gives the same indignant stare at the Church today when she relegates students to needing nothing more than a little entertainment and a cute story? God, forgive us!

In light of Jesus’ indignant look and accompanying feelings, reconsider his statement in the second half of Mark 10:14 – “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them….” That’s pretty crystal clear in my mind! Notice it is not couched as a request…..”If it’s not too inconvenient, let the children come…..” No way! That is a clearly formed command from the Master. Obedience to the command to provide a pathway for children to come to the Savior to be touched and blessed is not optional!

After Jesus has rebuked the disciples for their response to those they perceived as unworthy, Jesus then commends the children’s faith in verse 15. What is most beautiful to me, however, is found in the commonly overlooked words of verse 16: “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Jesus did not simply teach the disciples — the adults — a lesson and ask them to repent. Jesus’ focus remained on the youngest that had gathered that day and he ministered to them by giving them his undivided attention.


Why I’m Passionate about Ministry to Children

Anyone who knows my story should not be surprised that I am passionate about Children’s Ministry. It was during those formative years that my faith was grounded and I began to understand that God intimately cared about my needs and concerns. You see, I received Christ as Savior in a summer Bible School at the tender age of 7. I knew that there was a divine call on my life that would include ministry through both music and teaching children at 10 — even though I had no idea what it would look like.

My childhood looked wonderful to those who chose to glance into my world. I was raised in a loving Christian home and had all that I needed and wanted. I excelled in school and was a gifted pianist. Things looked perfect. What those outside of my immediate family did not know was that I was living in torment. Nights were sleepless as I faced attacks from the very depths of Hell itself. I feared that I would die nightly. I sensed evil in my bedroom, hovering over me and intending to bring me harm. Some that heard of the nights in my childhood home attributed my nightmares to an over-active imagination and a child who was simply afraid of the dark. My parents, on the other hand, knew that my fear was very real and not simply in my imagination. My mother posted Scriptures of hope and peace around my bedroom so I would have something to easily use when spiritual attacks came. Many nights, I would make my way to my parents’ bedroom in the dead of night in tears as a child of 9, 10, and 11 — desperately needing to be rescued from the torment and panic that had gripped me. I am so thankful for the many long nights that my parents spent, fervently praying at my bedside that peace and rest would come into the darkness that I was experiencing.

I thought I was doomed to deal with this trauma for the rest of my life. I was convinced that deliverance was not in my future. Thankfully, my local church was led by a Godly pastor who saw my suffering and sought God for direction to bring healing to my situation. This man who had a heart for children left his sermon preparation on a busy afternoon to come to my home. He arrived that afternoon and chatted briefly with my parents before he asked if I would come out into the back yard with him for a few minutes. The two of us sat on the back porch for what seemed like hours as he asked about my night time struggles and listened — really listened to what I was saying. I never felt as though I was intruding on his valuable time. I never thought that my struggles were unimportant in his eyes or that he was simply visiting me out of some obligation. This visit made all the difference in the world to me because I suddenly knew that someone cared! Then in the backyard of that shotgun house, Bro. Marlow effectively ministered to me as a child. He taught me from the Scriptures. He equipped me to overcome. He prayed with me until there was peace. Then he got down on his knees and looked me directly in the eye and told me that he would come back as many times as it took until the torment ended….even if he had to spend the night praying over me.

Did I find victory immediately? No…..but I had a new level of faith because I knew I was not facing this nightmare alone any more. There was a man that I respected and trusted who took the time to show me that my problems mattered to him and to my Heavenly Father. On that afternoon, James Marlow became “Jesus in the flesh” for me when I needed someone to stand with me the most.

So that’s why I’m so passionate about effective ministry to children. I was a child who desperately needed someone to take me seriously and minister to my needs — without declaring them foolish or a waste of time — and speak words of life and hope into my spirit. Whenever I have the privilege to minister to children, it is often this personal experience that fills my heart and reminds me just how important the time is that we spend with a child as we lovingly point them to Jesus. It is also the reason that righteous indignation rises up within me when I see a young person shunned or pushed aside by leadership or congregations that tell them with words or actions that their problems are not significant enough for the church to invest her resources or time. Whenever I see such actions, I will speak up loudly as an advocate for those who are often unable to speak up for themselves.

Now that you know my story, it should be no surprise that Mark 10:13-16 has been a favorite passage of Scripture for me for many years. It reminds us that Jesus cared deeply for children and called them to come to Him without fear or inhibition. What a precious treasure that story is! This week as I revisited this familiar passage in my personal Bible study, however, I observed some things that I had not noticed before. In the following post, I will share my new insights into the passage.  I hope you’ll join me on the pages of the Word and consider what God might have to teach us there.


Encountering Jesus (Mark 5)

In Mark 5, we encounter three familiar characters: Legion, the woman with the issue of blood, and Jarius’ daughter. All three are in hopeless situations that can only be handled by the Savior. All three see their circumstances change in an instant. All three experience total, complete deliverance from the things that held them in bondage. All three of them had an encounter with Jesus!

The chapter opens with a demon-possessed man living among the graves. He was living in the very place of death. His physical and emotional torment was constant. Mark tells us that he was “crying out and cutting himself with stones” (verse 5) night and day. He was unrestrained among the tombs because no one had the strength to subdue him and he broke the chains and shackles that tried to hold him. Despite his physical ability to move about freely, he was spiritually bound — subject to the whim of the many demons that possessed him. (Notice that the herd of pigs that the demons enter in verse 13 numbered about 2,000. No wonder this poor soul was in constant torment!) His future seemed hopeless; without a major change, he would forever be living — if this can be called “living” — among these monuments to death and defeat.

A nameless woman had suffered from a malady that caused her to bleed for 12 years. Can you imagine how weak she must have been from all of that blood loss? Living in a Jewish society, her perpetual bleeding would have meant that she was unclean — an outcast from society. She was undesirable, untouchable, and alone. She had sought treatment repeatedly that had brought her to financial ruin according to verse 26. The verse goes on to say that her condition was growing worse. After 12 years of blood loss, it is not too great a stretch to suppose that death was possibly imminent for her. She had no more money to spend…..she was broke! She had no more energy to invest…..her body was broken! After seeking help from so many specialists who offered no help, she was at the end of her rope and completely hopeless.

Jarius was a ruler of the synagogue, a religious leader. Surely help must be available for him. His 12-year-old daughter lay sick at home, close to death. Jarius was so desperate that he sought out the help of a Jewish teacher whose reputation and teachings were at best questionable to many of Jarius’ colleagues. When he finally found the Teacher and asked for help for his precious little girl, Jarius received the news that she had finally died. It was too late. All hope was gone. There was no reason to bother the Teacher any further.

But in an instant, their hopeless situations changed because they encountered the Giver of Hope! When Legion saw Jesus in the distance, he ran to him and fell at his feet (verse 6). Jesus would not simply settle for being acknowledged as the Son of God by a multitude of demons; He would bring hope and life back to this man who had dwelt among the dead for far too long. On this day, Jesus immediately brought deliverance and sent the demons into a doomed herd of pigs (verse 13). The nameless woman attracted very little attention to herself as she pushed through the crowd so she could simply touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Through that simple act of faith-filled contact with the Creator of the Universe, the illness that had baffled doctors and plagued her for far too long was immediately cured (verse 29). With just a couple of words whispered to a child now cold and dead, life and laughter replaced the hopelessness that had filled a darkened room of grief (verse 42). 

These individuals were precious in the sight of their Heavenly Father. His desire was to bring them hope, life and liberty in an instant….and that’s what happened! Legion encountered Jesus and found deliverance and hope offered to replace his grave clothes. An inconsequential woman stumbled into the path of the Great Physician and received healing and restoration. A father sought out Heaven’s Hope so that his daughter might be restored and Jesus brought life and hope for the future where tears and sadness had once been. These encounters were brief, but the effects were lasting!

In today’s church, those with the greatest needs can sometimes have difficulty encountering the Hope Giver. Why? Because the church doesn’t always want to allow for the interruption to the service agenda. The worship hour is so packed that there is no room for adjustment. Our modern society is so time-sensitive that there is no option to extend beyond the scheduled dismissal — even if people need to hear from God. The three healings recorded in Mark 5 were not on the Savior’s agenda that fateful day. Jesus and the disciples had just come through a massive storm on the water (Mark 4:35-41) and I’m certain that they would have appreciated an easy day, free of any interruptions and inconveniences. But the needs of these individuals mattered…..and Jesus stopped to meet their need at the moment and place of encounter; it didn’t matter if he found them among the white-washed graves, along the dirt-strewn streets or on their death bed, He met them at their point of need and offered them deliverance and hope. The Church of the Savior could do well to learn a lesson from the One whose name we carry.

Wait Patiently (Genesis 8)

This week, my heart has been drawn to the familiar story of Noah found in Genesis 6-9. The account for many of us can be recalled in great detail from our childhood. The earth became extremely wicked, but Noah remained faithful. God gave directions for building an enormous boat that would save Noah and his family (as well as a couple of each animal created). The rains came….and came….and came…..until every imaginable inch of land was completely covered. Noah and his family exited the ark as they received God’s promise to never destroy the earth again by flood. The rainbow in the clouds will be a reminder of this promise for all time. 

We know the story, but what caught my heart this week is what happened between the ark resting on the mountain and Noah’s ultimate safe exit from the boat. Genesis 8 tells of how the waters began to slowly subside until the ark was safely perched on the mountain. I’m sure Noah and his family began to think that they were safe at last! But they would still have to wait some 40 days before Noah would open the window and release a raven (Genesis 8:6). The raven found no place to land, so Noah released a dove in verse 8.  Verse 10 tells us that “He [Noah] waited another seven days….” before sending the dove out again. This time the bird returned with an olive leaf in her beak. Verse 12 follows a similar pattern: “Then he waited another seven days….” The released dove did not return and Noah knew it was time to leave the ark.

Can you imagine? Noah and his family had been in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights of rain. Then they floated around for another 150 days! Once they landed on Ararat, they waited another 40 days before opening the window! Have you done the math yet? That’s approximately 7 or 8 months on the boat. I don’t know about you, but I would be going stir crazy. I would want to get away from the smelly animals. I would want to see something other than water. I would want to hear less of my complaining family members. I would want off of this boat! Noah was probably no different either.

Can you imagine the temptation Noah faced when he felt the ark hit dry ground? “Since we’ve settled on the top of this mountain, SURELY God is telling me it is okay to open the door and escape the dark confines of the ark. After all, God gave the plan for our salvation and protected us through the storm. He would not bring us this far to allow us to be hurt.” What would have happened if Noah had left the ark when it seemed the danger was over in his own opinion? SPLASH!!! Noah would have gotten very wet and found himself surrounded by rapidly moving water just as dangerous as the situation from which God had already delivered him.

Sound familiar? How many times in our own lives do we experience God’s provision of protection from a storm that threatens to bring us harm? The storm may be a literal weather occurance or a personal attack from a trusted companion. While we are so thankful for God’s care and love for us while the storm is at its height, we cannot wait to once again feel as though we alone are the master of our own destiny….so we begin to take control again right away rather than waiting for God to declare that the storm has completely passed and it is safe for us to move forward. We trust our own limited vision of the situation rather than continuing to depend on God’s perfect view of our lives. If you are anything like me, you have found yourself splashing around in some dangerous waters of life on a few occasions because you didn’t want to wait any longer. You had weathered the storm with God’s help and now it was time to move on.

I’m so thankful for the reminder from Noah’s story that when the lightning from the storms of life stops flashing, it is still in my best interest to remain safely in the ark until God tells me it is safe to move! The ark was a place of safety, protection, and rest for Noah. While the ark’s passengers were patiently waiting week after week for God to give the ultimate ok to exit the ark, they were getting their land legs back. In other words, God knew that they would face a new situation as soon as they left the ark’s safety; He was lovingly using the extra time in the ark to prepare them for what was ahead. When God provides safe passage for us through life’s storms, He provides us with the same safety, protection, and rest. That’s a loving God who knows what is best for His children in every situation because He knows exactly what lies ahead! We are wise when we don’t fight against His protection as soon as we think we are ready to leave the ark. Wait patiently for Him to bring you safely through the flood to a place of worship and life.

Lord, thank you for the protection you provide from life’s storms. Help me not to rush out of the ark that you provide, but to linger there with you as you prepare me for what is ahead while keeping me from drowning in the uncertain currents that continue to swirl outside of your protection.

Word of God, Speak…

This is my prayer, purely and simply! Word of God, speak truth into the darkest corners of my life. Word of God, speak wisdom when I don’t know what to do. Word of God, speak healing to wounds that have hurt far too long. Word of God, speak clearly and directly to me as I encounter the God of the Universe on the pages of the Written Word.

I’m not a Biblical scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just an average man who wants to hear from God in an intimate and personal way. As I study and explore the Bible, I want to share my findings with you – the Reader – because I believe that what we learn in Bible study is not meant to be kept to ourselves. We are to share Good News with those we encounter.

At this point, I don’t know where this adventure will lead. I don’t know where my personal faith journey through the pages of Scripture will take me. Right now, I anticipate posting once each week and following a topic through the month….but we will simply have to see how long that follows.

I invite you to join me on the journey. Let’s discuss what God has to say to us as we read His Word and invite His Spirit to teach us. I believe that we will be forever changed if we come to Scripture with an open heart and a willingness to follow the directions He provides.