Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Rock

Standing as a guardian over the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock of Gibraltar is a world-famous landmark. Its white limestone cliffs stand in stark contrast to the blue sea and sky around it. The Greeks called it a "Pillar of Hercules." The Phoenicians believed it marked the end of the known world. Its very name invokes an image of strength and endurance. A person who exhibits these characteristics will often be called "The Rock of Gibraltar."

Isaiah used a rock as a metaphor to describe the enduring faithfulness of God. He had just finished warning the people of impending crisis. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah would experience God's judgment for turning away from him. Assyria would sweep across the land and bring fierce destruction. Isaiah knew if the people chose to focus on the circumstances all hope would be lost. So he directed their attention back onto the Lord. "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you. Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock." (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

While judgment was necessary, God had not forgotten his promises to the nation of Israel. Isaiah described the man who has put his confidence in the promises of God as at perfect peace. If you translate that Hebrew phrase literally, it reads "Peace, peace." In Hebrew, word repetition is used to emphasize something. Even the word itself, shalom, embodies the idea of completeness. Every part of who we are is in total harmony with the will of God when we have shalom. Now think of this completeness times two: shalom, shalom. And that is what the man has who trusts in the Lord.

Until recent years, my airline travel was fairly limited. So I interpreted any turbulence, strange noises, even water vapor coming off the wings as possible indicators of impending doom. That all changed for me on a flight home from North Carolina. I was seated across from a uniformed pilot, apparently on the way to his next assignment. It was a particularly bumpy ride, and a few times the coffee actually leaped out of my cup. Normally this would have put me into a panic. But this time I watched the pilot. As long as he calmly continued to sip his coffee and read his paper, I knew all was well. So I kept my eyes on him and ignored the circumstances around me.

There will always be things in our lives that drive us to our knees. God deliberately places them there so that we will not become independent and abandon our relationship with Him. When we need Him, we seek Him. And as the winds of challenge pummel us, we hide ourselves in the cleft of the rock. Its solid surface reassures us and shelters us from the fury of the storm. He is the Rock who will not be moved. And the man who trusts in Him has perfect peace.

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Into the Light

She had never seen him before in her life. She saw by his clothing he was a Jew. As she moved toward the well, he startled her by striking up a conversation, requesting she give him a drink with the jug she carried. "You are asking me, a Samaritan woman, to give you a drink?" she blurted out, astonished by his willingness to converse with her.

"If you knew who I was," he told her, "You would be asking me for living water. Everyone who drinks the water I'm offering will never be thirsty again."

"Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, and not have to travel all the way here to draw water anymore," she said.

"Go," he said. "Call your husband and come here." She quickly informed him his assumption about her marital status was mistaken. "It's true you have no husband at present," he agreed. "For you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband."

Her mouth dropped open at his startling revelation. How could he know so much about her? And why so abruptly bring up her sordid history when thus far he had seemed only intent on kindness?

We, too, might puzzle at Jesus' blunt and seemingly confrontational words. How could these be spoken by a loving savior? His conversation with the Samaritan Woman is only understandable when read in light of Jesus' intent. He was leading her to a place where forgiveness and healing were possible. He knew she could never accept an offer of salvation if she thought her shameful past was not known in the offering. Bringing it out into the open would allow an honest relationship with God that would truly quench her thirsty soul.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me," David prayed. Our sin can keep us from intimacy with God, even after we are saved. Taking a good, honest look at ourselves can be a revealing exercise. But the Bible does not instruct us to do so alone. We are to take the Lord with us on our internal journey.

Why is this so important? Richard Foster cites two reasons. First, if we do the examination on our own, there might be a temptation to justify our actions, to rationalize away the blame and guilt. Involving the Lord will bring an integrity to our perception, forcing our evaluation to be made in light of His perfect holiness. Second, with the Lord's presence we avoid the converse trap of falling into despair as we realize how short we have fallen. Instead, knowledge of his great love and mercy brings hope, and our appreciation of the depths of the grace of God only grows.

It is not a comfortable process. Reality can be painful to view and even more painful to confess. Yet like a physical infection, only when sin is brought into the open can healing begin. As Foster assures us, "Under the searchlight of the Great Physician we can expect good always."

After months of freezing temperatures here in Maryland, we were recently blessed with a few days of balmy breezes. Snow, around since mid-January, quickly disappeared as the temperatures soared into the sixties. But I noticed, as Sasha and I walked one early morning, that patches of snow and ice still remained where evergreen trees shaded the ground, preventing the sun from doing its magic. Winter's icy grip remained where the sun failed to reach.

When we allow sin to remain hidden in our hearts, we deny ourselves the healing touch of God in those cold, hard places. Confession is good for the soul. It is time to rid ourselves of our shameful secrets and bring them out into the light and warmth of the saving grace of God.

"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Proverbs 28: 13