What’s in a face?

I was reading 2 Chronicles 7:14 one day, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

A phrase in the middle sort of “lit up” from the rest and stopped my reading. I thought I knew that verse by heart – after all, I often referred to it when asking the Lord to forgive our nation and send revival.

But that little phrase in the middle, how had I missed that? What did it mean exactly, “Seek my face?” I soon found several other verses containing that phrase:

  • “Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually.”  (1 Chron. 16:11)
  • “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” (Psalm 27:8)
  • “Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.”  (Psalm 105:4)

Other passages came to mind. Face to face is how God spoke to Moses, although cloaked in the pillar of cloud. The face of God is always on his people and his ears are always open to their prayers. The eyes of God run to and fro through the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are right towards him.

The meanings of the root words are pretty basic and easy to understand. Seek is from the Hebrew word darash, meaning “to resort to, seek, seek with care, inquire, require.” Face is from paniym, “face, presence, sight, countenance; i.e. the front of something, or in front of something. The surface.”

Since that day I’ve given that phrase a lot of thought. What is a face? What’s in a face? Here’s what I have thought, so far.

A way to communicate, one type of body language
Expressive; shows or hides emotions and physical feelings
Thoughts show on your face
Attentiveness, inattentiveness
Interest, boredom, curiosity
Attraction, repugnance, horror
Startle, surprise, fear, fright, terror
Concentration, determination, frustration, irritation, distraction
Meditation, thoughtfulness
Shyness, boldness
Embarrassment, shame
Anger, rage, wrath, anxiety, worry
Slyness

The mouth, ears, eyes, jaw, cheeks and nose; all the face is involved in expression, including the skin
Skin color changes, blushes, blanches
Eyebrows askew
Eyes wide open or squinting
Eyelids blinking; winking
Looking past, up, down, or direct; indicates attention level
Stare, ogle, glare
Wrinkled brow, raised brow
Wrinkled, raised nose
Pursed lips
Open mouth, closed mouth
Clinched teeth, clinched jaw
Smile, grin, or no smile
Frown, grimace
Twitching, tics

Indicates or hides direction of attention or focus
Eyes show focus of view, near or far; into the distance while meditating
Facade, fake face hiding real one
Intelligence personnel are trained to keep a stony face; comedians can tell jokes with a “straight” face

Slang terms / idioms in common usage
Face the facts
Face up to your responsibilities
Face up to it
Face it like a man
Face your fears
Face value
Face the consequences
On the face of it
Just a pretty face

So, “Seek my face.” What do you mean by that? I asked the Lord another night, after meditating on it a while. Here’s what he said:

My presence, my opinion, my feelings, my directions, my conversation, my fellowship, my purpose, my interests, my purposes, aims and goals.

My affection, my forgiveness, my mercy, my teaching, my training, my correction, my advice, my attention, my ear, my assistance, my mentoring, my example.

My face is not like your face. Vision, for instance, like X-ray vision. MRI. Ultrasound. Sonar. Infrared. Not bound by space or time or physics. Multidimensional, physical and/or spiritual, either or both at once.

He stopped speaking at that point and I started thinking about it again then, and often since then. Some of those thoughts, in no particular order, include

  • God has senses… well, of course he does.
  • Humans were created in his image; so were their senses, their computing and feeling abilities.
  • Any senses we have, God had first.
  • Sometimes there is a sweet smell like perfume, the aroma of his presence when you’ve been worshiping and praising him.
  • God has physical and spiritual hearing. Even the deepest thoughts of men are discerned by him.
  • The face of our thoughts is the surface of our soul.
  • But thoughts are not all on the surface. Thoughts are many levels deep, God’s and mine; they are similar in that way.
  • But God’s thoughts are countless levels deep and wide, not bound by time or distance.

There’s much more to learn, I know. More to search for, more to find. The Holy Spirit wants us all involved in that kind of search, I know. I don’t think we’ll ever finish finding out more about his face, his presence, his person.

The Prince of Peace painting is by Akiane Kramarik. It can be downloaded free of charge from https://art-soulworks.com/collections/prince-of-peace. 

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The train of his robe

TrainOfHisRobeIsPeopleJesus-teachingIf you’re a regular reader, you probably wonder if I’ve given up writing posts. No, but in recent weeks I’ve found myself spending more and more time interceding for people, reading and studying about prayer and intercession, as well as keeping in touch with folks here at home and around the world.

Here’s a new post about something that happened the other night…

As I was praying and thinking about various things last night (June 7, 2016), the scripture song “I saw the Lord, he was high and lifted up and his train filled the temple” kept running around in my mind. (Isaiah 6:1)

I thought about articles that I’d read (or written) about his train, i.e. the long trailing hem of his kingly robes, and the idea that it completely filled up the temple. Then the Lord quietly interrupted my thoughts as he is apt to do and said…

“Do you know what I consider my train?”

“What, I asked? Something other than your robe?” So he showed me.

I saw him dressed in ordinary clothes such as Jesus wore on the earth. He just looked sort of like a grandfather surrounded by happy, laughing grandchildren. Small kids were playing around his legs, running around him in circles and tugging on his clothes as he walked, taking careful steps. They were obviously headed somewhere. Outside to a garden, maybe?

Spread out on either side and behind him as far as the eye could see were people of all ages, all races. Young children were the nearest ones to him, but just outside their ranks were teens and pre-teens, young adults and mature adults, smiling, gesturing and chatting with each other as they all kept pace with him.

Strolling along he would reach out and touch first one and then another, pat someone’s head, hug a child close for a moment, shake a hand, always smiling, walking along in a casual but steady gait. Where were they all going? I couldn’t tell and he didn’t say. What he did say was,

“This is my train, really – my children.”

And I realized as I looked closer, there were generations going all the way back to Adam and Eve! While all were his spiritual children, many were the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – descendants of others in this tremendous throng.

It was amazing.

After a few moments I asked, “So you don’t actually wear robes with a long train, like a king on earth wears for ceremonial events? Like what Isaiah saw?”

“For formal occasions,” he answered with a chuckle, “but not for every day – it’s hard to get down on the ground to play with the kids, wearing all that…”

And with a wave as if saying “Later,” they continued on their stroll, the happy crowd keeping up with his steps.

As I drifted off to sleep, my mind drifted back many years. I recalled summer days playing outdoors with my own father, grandfather or uncles, several of us cousins laughing and grabbing them around the ankles by their pants legs, trying to pull them down to our level. And they always let us. They always let us.

Justice? I just don’t get it…

The Equalizer

“Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer!”

Leverage

“The rich and powerful take what they want. We steal it back for you.”

The Shadow

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

Superman

“The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Underdog

“Never fear, Underdog is here!”

Even Underdog! Then there’s the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Green Hornet, Red Rider, Zorro… not to mention my all-time favorite, the A-Team.

What do all these have in common? The demand for justice. Fairness. “What’s fair is fair.” Because people know what is right, what is fair, what is equitable.

From the very beginning, they knew that some things were wrong. Like killing, stealing, lying, destroying.

How did they know? They were created to know, and they were given to know. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Along the way (beginning in the Garden), God’s definitions of right and wrong were questioned, then perverted by some. And people still cry out for justice, as they have from the beginning. God himself said that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10). The perversion of justice demanded a penalty – death. (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23)

The oldest of civilizations devised codes of laws and systems of justice, attempting to get back to the beginning, to the Garden, perhaps.

Back in the 1980’s when Tim and I first got involved in politics, an irate woman shouted at us in a meeting, “You can’t legislate morality!” She was angry at our stances on various issues. Especially our pro-life stances. (We were actively, vocally opposed to removing the pro-life plank from the state and national Republican Party platforms.)

“Sure you can,” I answered, when I could get a word in. “That’s what legislation does.The question is, whose morality are you going to legislate?” I may not have persuaded her that day, but I hope she thought more about my question. Whose morality? Whose justice?

In the scriptures, the words justice and righteousness come from the same root word. Justice is a principle and a system of right and wrong as defined by the Creator. Righteousness is a state of being right in God’s eyes, in his opinion.

God gets to define “right,” and he gets to decide who is right. (When the word is translated justice, another word – judgment – is often found in that verse, meaning the decision and legal declaration of justice.)

Is justice always doing the right thing, never doing the wrong thing? But I couldn’t live up to that standard, no matter how hard I tried. So then, what is justice, to God? What is righteousness?

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) Hebrews 11 lists the “Heroes of Faith,” men and women who believed what God said to them and thus were considered righteous by God.

Now, I believe, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Cor. 5:21). Jesus took the penalty of sin, instead of me.

Consider:

  • Having their conscience seared as with a hot iron – I Timothy 4:2
  • Having their senses exercised to discern good and evil – Hebrews 5:14
  • Let justice roll – Amos 5:24
  • There is none good but God – Matthew 19:17
  • There is none righteous – Romans 3:10
  • Vengeance is mine, I will repay, said the Lord – Romans 12:19.

And he did. Jesus got the penalty in my place, satisfied God’s requirements of justice, and I get his grace instead.

Let justice roll on like a river! Is that your prayer? Really?

AmosMinor Prophets – not minor.

Some time ago I started reading the minor prophets. (Minor in this case indicates short, not of lesser importance.)

I was reading Mark’s gospel one morning when the Lord interrupted my reading.

“Have you considered Amos lately?”

Of course, he already knew that I hadn’t. So, I turned to that Old Testament book and started reading. It didn’t take long to finish, but it was serious reading.

When I had finished that book, he spoke again. “Habakkuk?” And so I read that next one.

Over the next few weeks came Joel, Jonah, Obadiah, Hosea, Nahum, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah.

It was a sobering process. There is such a disturbing similarity between the behavior patterns that led to the downfall of Israel and the behavior patterns – cultural, social and political – in the United States today.

Prophet after prophet warned the people to turn back to God; to repent, to get rid of false idols, to return to worshiping the only true God.

If they didn’t? Well, God’s patience was running out and disaster was going to happen when it did.

Foreign powers would invade, conquer and carry off the people of God into far-away lands. They would be enslaved. He would punish those invaders as well, but first he would use them to turn back the hearts of the people to God.

But the people didn’t listen. And so Israel was invaded, was conquered, and the people of God were carried off into far-away lands. Enslaved.

Here’s a passage from Amos Chapter 5 about The Day of the Lord:

  • Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light.
  • It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.
  • Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
  • I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
  • Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
  • Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
  • But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5:18-24)

Which truth do you believe?

Grapes of the Promised Land, Nicholas Poussin, Louvre.God told Moses to send 12 men, leaders of their tribes, to spy out the land of Canaan. They traveled from the Wilderness of Zin south of the Negev desert and southwest of the Dead Sea, north to Rehob, northeast of the  Sea of Galilee. (Numbers 13)

Their instructions were simple:

And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwell therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes. (13:18-20 KJV)

It took them 40 days. They collected a great branch of grapes that was so heavy it took two men to carry it, also pomegranates and figs. They returned to Moses with two separate reports:

  • And they (ten of them) told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. (13:27-29)
  • And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. (13:30)

But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. (13:31-33)

And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which flows with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not. (14:6-9)

Remember the story? All twelve saw the same things. All twelve reported what they saw. All twelve told the truth. But they contradicted each other – natural truth contradicted supernatural truth.

(1) We can’t do it. The enemy is stronger than us.
(2) We can do it. God is stronger than the enemy.

Which truth did the rest of the people believe? Well, they demanded that Caleb and Joshua be stoned, so there’s your answer.

What happened next? The doubters all died, the ten doubting spies immediately, the rest of them during their ensuing 40 year trek in the wilderness. Turns out they got what they believed. They couldn’t do it.

But the believing spies, Joshua and Caleb, also got what they believed. After 40 years they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, overcame and possessed it.

I’d much rather believe God in the beginning and not have to spend 40 years wandering around in a desert. Wouldn’t you?

Why was he surprised?

nehemiah-praysI’ve re-read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah recently, trying to get the timelines straight in my mind.

It started with curiosity about disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant. Exactly when did it vanish (about 587 BC), I wondered, and what was going on at that time? (Babylonian conquest, exile, etc.)

This post isn’t about that, though.

Sermons I’ve heard in the past have mentioned the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra’s project) or the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah’s project), though usually not in the same sermon.

Reading these books now, I realize that completion of the rebuilt Temple and restoration of the city wall were only 13 years apart. The people involved knew each other. Ezra and Nehemiah knew about each other’s work and they eventually worked together.

Why, then, was Nehemiah surprised?

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1:1-4)

It had only been a few years since the Temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, with the sacrifices and worship restored. A great deal of money and materials had been donated (and spent) to achieve this, but it was only the first step toward rebuilding the great city.

Surely 13 years later, all the work was finished – including repairing the wall – and the city well on its way back to prosperity, flourishing even. But it wasn’t.

Several generations had come and gone since Cyrus first allowed the Jews to return to their land. Most recently Ezra had led a large group back, had instructed them in the law, then led them in prayers of repentance and vows of obedience.

But people have short memories, don’t they? The same sins that had got them killed, captured, exiled and enslaved in the first place, were besetting them again.

Disobeying the plainly stated words of God, they thumbed their noses at the Lord like unruly children. It was like laughing in his face, shouting “na na na na na na” and not expecting that he would really respond. Inviting judgment.

What about all those past disasters? “Mere coincidences, nothing to do with us.” Sounds a lot like some folks today.

Nehemiah had expected good news from Jerusalem, news of wall-building, house-building, job-building, family-building, faith and worship and prosperity. He shouldn’t have been surprised to hear just the opposite, but he was. The bad news broke his heart. He was grief-stricken.

So he did then what the church should be doing today. He wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. Okay, some in the church have been doing those things…

But then Nehemiah went a step further. He confessed HIS sins, HIS wicked actions. He confessed for himself, for his family and for the nation.

“…I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Neh. 1:6-7)

Had he been an unrighteous, ungodly, unrepentant infidel? Most of us would say no, surely not. What exactly had he done wrong? Well, what had the Israelites been doing wrong?

Compromising the word of God.

Nehemiah took the situation personally. His failure to speak earlier, failure to act, failure to pray, had made him part of the problem too. Even if he himself had not married an idol-worshiper or worshiped a false god, he was guilty.

In those moments he recognized the enormity of Israel’s ongoing rebellion, and recognized the enormity of the consequences they were risking. He acknowledged it, took the guilt upon himself and confessed it. He followed that up with action.

Why is the church surprised by the state of society in America today? Entire denominations have compromised the word of God, risking enormous consequences as a result. Risking judgment.

“If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting.”

Cry havoc

JehovahSabaothCombinedAt 4:00 AM on the morning of September 13, 2014, a loud voice in my spirit woke me up from a sound sleep.

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”

I had been dreaming an ordinary, nonsense sort of dream – nothing about war, fighting or politics. No conflict of any kind. Suddenly, as if inserted from beyond the dream came that emphatic statement.

It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. It means, Declare war! Send forth the battle warriors. Marc Anthony was declaring vengeance for the murder of Caesar.

Is there a new war somewhere, I wondered? There are so many armed conflicts around the world already.

Wide awake and meditating on those words, I soon realized who had been speaking. The Spirit of God was letting me hear His declaration of war.

Humans were not declaring yet another war, God himself is declaring War. Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts is loosing his battle warriors across the earth.

(See Joshua 5:13-14)