Beliefnet
Safe Place with Ruth Graham

Often we hear someone use the expression, “It’s in God’s hands.” concerning a certain situation they are facing. Or they may say, “It was the hand of God.” after a terrible accident was avoided. Or, a preacher may say, “The hand of God was heavy on me.” We understand what we mean when we say those things.

Jonathan Edwards, a powerful preacher in the 16th Century in New England had a very famous sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

And certainly the Bible talks about God’s right hand. Moses in his song said, “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power. Your right hand, O Lord, smashes the enemy.” (Exodus 15:6 NLT)  God’s hand shielded Moses from the overpowering of God’s glory as God passed by Moses. Moses could see God’s back but not His face.

The Psalmist recounts that it was God’s right hand and His arm and the light of His presence that led the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt. His hand is a source of judgment and blessing. The prophet Daniel told of a time when he fell into a deep sleep, “then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.” (Daniel 10:10 NASB) Jesus is seated, now, at God’s right hand. It is a place of honor.

There are many references to God’s powerful right hand.

Certainly Jesus’ hands healed the sick, touched the leper, held the children on His lap, lifted the cup and bread at the Last Supper, and were pierced in the cruel crucifixion.

But there are only 4 references to God’s finger. In Exodus as Pharaoh’s magicians tried to duplicate the plague of gnats to that God sent on Egypt and they couldn’t do it they said, “This is the finger of God.”

But the other 3 references are quite interesting and are the Gospel. The first mention of the finger of God is in Deuteronomy 9:10. Moses wrote, “And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God…” The law was written by God’s own finger. Laws that the Hebrew children broke over and over and over again. Just like we do. We are guilty.

Then again, God’s fingers wrote on great King Belshazzar’s palace wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” which means, “You have been weighed in the balances and found deficient.” Judgment for sin. We are all under judgment. Deficient before a holy God. No hope. Yet…there is another instance where God’s finger wrote…in the dust.

In John’s Gospel, chapter 8, a woman is brought and tossed in front of Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery. Guilty. The law of Moses said she had to be stoned. The religious leaders were trying to trick Jesus. Quietly, He bent down in the dust and began writing something. Maybe the names of the men in the crowd who had been with is woman themselves. Maybe the Law.

When He finally spoke He said, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Grace!

Law. Judgement. Grace.

Our only hope is in Jesus.

 

Watching a relay race is always exciting – especially as the runners get ready for the handoff…the first runner has done his best, put all his energy an effort into it, he has practiced for this moment. There were long days of training. Aching muscles. Injuries too numerous to count. The coach’s words. So much sweat. So much aching. So much training. Now it comes to just a few seconds. The second runner sees his teammate heading down the stretch, he remembers what he is to do, his body tenses, he is full of adrenalin, he’s been well-trained for this moment, he partners with his teammate’s pace and then his teammate passes the baton to him. It’s his turn now to carry the baton for the next leg of the race.

I was in New England this past weekend for the Vision New England “Go Conference”. I was blessed by each event – from the music, to the teaching, to the interaction with other conferees… It was a great weekend!

A lot has been said about the younger generation. “Generation X”, “The Me Generation”,”Snow flakes”… And I have certainly seen some “flakes” – young people who seem to have no direction in life, who have an entitlement attitude, who are sloppy in manners and discipline. They are easily influenced by the media and their peers. But I remind myself that the story of their lives is not yet finished.

God has a plan! This weekend I saw sharp, committed, intelligent, articulate, fun, attractive young leaders and I am excited about the future.

It was exciting to see the younger generation taking leadership. I was so impressed with their dedication, transparency, love for Jesus and commitment to the Gospel. We have a great group of young leaders at the grassroots level who are charged and ready! I saw the beginning of the fulfillment of what the prophet said in 3:28, “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters with prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

I know I saw only a small number but I believe they are indicative of what’s happening all over the world. God is pouring His Spirit out on young leaders willing to step out courageously to carry the Name of Jesus to the dying and broken world. The Gospel in in good hands.

The devil will do His best to ensnare them. We have already seen some of our younger leaders fall in spectacular ways…let them serve as warnings not discouragement. As part of the “older” generation (Boy! that’s hard to say!) my job is to pray for these young leaders, encourage them and share with them my journey of faith with transparency and grace.

Let’s run the race with them and then hand the baton off. It’s in good hands.

 

Mercy. It’s a word we all know and use. But what does it mean?

I am to speak on that subject in February so I have been thinking a lot about it.

Perhaps the most-often used definition is that it means compassion. Compassion is not pity. Compassion is a lot stronger than pity – compassion has muscle and action. You can sit in a chair and have pity for someone but to have compassion means you get up from your chair and do something to help.

So mercy has to do with action toward another that is kind when you have it in your power not to. For instance, a criminal might appear before a judge who was kind but not merciful. The guilty verdict would be read and the sentence given. The judge would not yell, or bang his gavel or demean the criminal. He may use a soft tone of voice when he sentences him to 30 years in prison. He was not particularly merciful. He was doing his job.

On the other hand a criminal comes to stand before a merciful judge. The guilty verdict is read, the sentence give. But the merciful judge grants the criminal a merciful sentence by having the handcuffs unlocked and the criminal is set free through no merit of his own. It was the judge’s own mercy that set him free.

Obviously, that is an oversimplified example but you get my point! (I hope!)

Where does forgiveness come into play with mercy? Perhaps I would say that justice comes first – one has to speak the truth. The forgiveness comes in to release the person from the debt. Then mercy can be granted or not. But a critical step in mercy is repentance.

When we come to God we repent of our sin. We turn from it. We agree with God that we are flawed sinners and have no merit on our own and ask Him to forgive us. He shows His mercy in forgiving us and He exchanges our good works, which are really “filthy rags”, for Christ’s righteousness which is perfectly holy. “The great exchange”, as I call it.

I was thinking of mercy this week after Manning’s sentence was commuted by former President Obama. Was Mr. Obama being merciful? You know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Mercy requires repentance and justice. If repentance has not been shown and justice has not been established then mercy is watered down and made weak.

Repentance takes time for verification. Not for God – He knows our hearts. But in a human interaction, we need to be able to see the fruit of repentance to manifest itself. Is the life changed and different? Or is it an act?

There was a certain justice in Manning’s sentence – 35 years in prison for passing classified governmental documents to Wikileaks. To some it was too lenient to others, it was too harsh. I guess I would argue that to break the nation’s confidence placed in him as an officer and leak sensitive, classified documents is a VERY serious thing. Manning served 6 years of the sentence.

Mr. Obama has not explained his decision so we can only guess and conjecture.

I have no guess. I cannot imagine the former President’s rationale for doing so over the advice of his military advisors and his Secretary of Defense. Did he do it just because he could? Did he do it as a favor for a donor? Did he do it out of the goodness of his heart? Did he do it to spite someone? I just don’t know. Maybe he heard evidence of deep, life-changing repentance. I don’t know.

Manning will live the rest of his life knowing he sold his country, his unit, his integrity to the enemy. He may be ostracized by some of his countrymen or heralded by others. Or perhaps his conscience is so seared, he doesn’t care.

The court decided justice was 35 years in prison. It would be nice to see repentance. As a nation and individuals we can forgive him for his deed and mercy is part of that forgiveness. But I am not sure justice has yet been served.

I am still puzzling over this – I do not believe this commutation was merciful. What do you think?

“Behold” is sort of an old-fashioned word; we don’t use it much. And it is a word that needs some sort of explanation. If you tell someone to “behold”, they are going to ask you, “Behold what”? Same if we were to say “Look”. We’d have to tell the person what to look at or where to look or when. If not using language, you’d just point at the object or direction they are to look.

To me, “Behold” is more dramatic than “Look”. It’s like it is saying, “This is important. Pay attention.”

This Christmas season I heard a whole message on “Behold”. It is used in Luke 2:10  – the story of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people…”(Luke 2:10 KJV)

When someone tells you not to be afraid they usually add some sort of explanation as to why you shouldn’t fear. In this case the angel said it was because the angel had good news – great news for everyone – no one was going to be left out. Then the angel said what the good news was: a savior was born that very day in Bethlehem. Not just any savior but “a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

The country of Judea, where Bethlehem was, was an occupied land – the Romans were hard and often brutal in their rule of the little country and its Jewish people. The Jews had been looking for a savior for centuries – always hoping God would rescue them. They prayed for it. God had promised the Messiah. They had listened to the prophets but it had been 400 years since the last prophet – had God forgotten? Were they truly abandoned by God? But the prayers and hopes continued.

On an ordinary night as the shepherds guarded their sheep a very extraordinary, startling thing happened. An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared – just one angel. But with it came the brilliant, dazzling, shining of the glory of God. This was the Shechinah glory, “the visible token of the presence of the eternal”. It was God’s glory. Any time it appeared the natural response was awe and fear. (Moses at the burning bush, the Hebrews traveling in the desert, in the tabernacle…)

These shepherds were simple, hard-working, ordinary people; they were held in low esteem, not necessarily thought to be important enough for any honor or recognition much less a visit from an angel. The Talmud says that the sacrificial sheep were pastured in Bethlehem so these sheep were probably ones intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple.

The Good News of a savior – at last  –  was given first to ordinary, hard-working men who showed up faithfully to do their job tending the sacrificial sheep. They weren’t special. They didn’t earn it. They simply showed up for work that night. And their lives were forever changed.

God shows up in the ordinary, mundane-ness of life.

It was overwhelming, unexpected, frightening. The angel knew and anticipated their fear so the angel said “Do not be afraid.” before he said anything else. (God knows our penchant for fear.) And said “behold” then told them why they need not fear – he was bringing good news of joy for everyone – not just a select few – everyone, all peoples. And the joy was going to be in the fact that that very night a Savior was born. He was right at that very moment, indeed, lying in a manger wrapped in rags.

Then suddenly heaven opened and a host of angels were praising God. That’s a whole bunch of angels!! Not just a church choir. Not even the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – much, much larger.

These shepherds tended the sheep of the sacrifices. They knew what the law required – a blood sacrifice. No doubt, they knew some of the prophecies and perhaps had even heard the whispers of a promised, coming Messiah. After the host of angels went back into heaven they wanted to see what the angel talked about. They didn’t wait. They didn’t take a vote. They didn’t discuss the theological ramifications. They went. They moved their feet “in haste”.

What they discovered was the angel told the truth! This extraordinary thing was not a dream or hallucination – it was real – they saw Mary and Joseph and the baby. The Messiah!

What a thing to behold!