Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hyssop Connection

I am once again enthralled by the Scriptures.

The word hyssop came up in my reading of Psalm 51 and it caught my attention. 

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." verse 7

What exactly does it mean here and where have I seen it before?

I began with a little research on what hyssop is. I found out it's a plant that is difficult to identify exactly. It was common in biblical times, but there's uncertainty about its precise use. Some say it functioned as an early type of sponge. Others suggest it was a sort of wrapping to keep the liquid from splattering from a more spongey type of plant.

This information seemed to make sense with the historical perspective of David asking the LORD to use hyssop, whatever it looked like or literal purpose it served, to purify him from the blood guilt sin of having Uriah killed.

More significance about cleansing jumped out at me the next place I found the word.

"Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, 'Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.'" Exodus 12:21-23

In this setting God directed that hyssop be used to spread blood on Israelite doorways. The sign of the death of the sacrificial lamb would protect His faithful ones from the coming judgment and thereby bring them life in the face of death. 

So perhaps David's later request for hyssop in Psalm 51 implies a desire to be covered with a blood sacrifice. Maybe in addition to pleading for forgiveness David is crying out to God to protect him from judgment and extend his life as He did for the Israelites at Passover.

Leviticus also contains specific directions for washing with hyssop. It was to be an element in ceremonial cleansing - for a person from disease, and a house from mold. In both instances the blood of a bird sacrificed over water was required. Leviticus 4:4,6,49,51,52

In Numbers God gives instructions on using hyssop in cleansing rituals. First Eleazar the priest was to sprinkle the blood of a flawless heifer with its seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. Later a man who was "ceremonially clean" was to sprinkle fresh water with it over the tent and all its furnishings, the people who were there, and anyone who had been in contact with a dead person. Purification is once again the explained purpose. Numbers 19:6,18

Once again I saw hyssop being used to apply blood as the God-required sanitizing agent.

1 Kings 4:33 tells us about Solomon displaying his wisdom by explaining about the hyssop plant. He reported that it grew in walls. Didn't get much else from that mini-fact.

By appearance I was back to Psalm 51, but my curiosity was not satisfied. I was delighted to see that the final two passages with hyssop are found in the New Testament, the most touching perhaps found in John 19:28-30.

"Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus aid, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

God did not randomly throw together the Bible. He inspired each word with His own breath and preserved every one down through the ages. This passage implies that there was something specific about the hyssop that required its inclusion in the closing moments of the life of His Son, our Savior - "so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'

He expressed the need which led to the lifting of the hyssop branch. Why?

In this scene vinegar is delivered to Jesus, blood is not sprinkled. The use of hyssop could not be a coincidence. My mind began to review the various Old Testament, God-directed ceremonies; to affect purification, most often to smear the blood of a sacrificed animal, to cleanse from sin, to protect from death, and to bring life. Another faithful and meaningful foreshadowing thread from the Old into the New Testament materialized. 

The lack of blood on the branches in the Calvary passage suddenly made sense. 

The hyssop raised to Christ's lips is a powerful symbol or clue concerning the blood of the spotless Lamb being sacrificed to purify the stain of sin, to protect from the sting of death, to furnish complete forgiveness, to bring new life to those for whom He came as a ransom.

The power of the image carried me over to Hebrews 9:19-22.

"When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with the water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, 'This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.' In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin."

God declared through Moses that the hyssop was to be the applicator of the sacrificial blood according to His covenant promise. 

The sprinkling sanctified His Word, the meeting place for worship and everything connected with it, and anything else held holy to Him. The washing in shed blood was the specific pattern set down to grant forgiveness from God toward Man.

Eight different translations contain these same 12 references with the word hyssopThe continuity of understanding cannot be ignored. The application of Christ's sacrifice to relieve the debt before The Holy God follows the same Creator-ordained pattern. The sprinkling of the Savior's blood marks the believer, protecting us from death, providing forgiveness, and bringing us new life.   Hallelujah!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Czech Medical Care & Me, Sorta

The goal for my Thursday posts is to provide glimpses into life in a cross-cultural setting. God provided an interesting opportunity to share with you this week.

My Honey's been having some stomach issues the last couple of weeks. After 14 days of misery he decided it might be time to get some input from a medical type. 

We got on the bus and headed for the only hospital covered by the expat insurance plan we carry. 

The ladies at the Foreigners Reception were kind and efficient as they reviewed our paperwork and sent us along to the office where foreigners are triaged. We waited less than 15 minutes when we were welcomed and offered seats by a doctor and a nurse who both spoke fluent English. 

Curt shared his concerns and answered all their questions about symptoms and such. They were pleased to hear the details I added. 

The nurse was concerned that our insurance would not cover the care necessary; tests and appointments. She made a call that confirmed her suspicions. She wanted to be sure we were fully informed that though all the paperwork would be submitted, probably not much would be paid. We went ahead with what needed to be done anyway.  

The doctor examined Curt's belly and, without divulging TMI, wrote two prescriptions - one for an antibiotic in case there was an infection. Fasting blood work was ordered for the following morning. They couldn't give us a timetable as to when the results might be available, but they assured us that once they were in Curt would be assigned to a doctor to oversee his condition. His bout with cancer over 10 years ago was on their minds. 

The nurse provided a list of positive food choices and those to avoid over the next few days. She also gave clear directions about where and when Curt needed to arrive for the blood work. Both ladies were gracious in their manner as well as fluent in our language by which we were doubly blessed.

You know, we've heard many horror stories about . . . hmmmm, shall I say offbeat? . . . medical care in Prague and this hospital in particular. The bad reviews are easy to find on the internet. The reality is that no matter the reputation or past experience it's scary to walk into a medical facility when your health is fragile and you don't speak the local language. 

This go-round is not our first and it looks like it won't be our last. 

My response this time though is a first.

Maybe I was just too tired. Maybe I'm adapting. 
Whatever the specifics I didn't panic this time.

Right from the start I sensed a peace that I cannot explain. Before leaving home we bowed our heads and asked the Father to walk us through His plan for the hospital visit. At each turn I sensed Jesus beside us in the unfolding of the day. Again and again the Spirit delivered confidence in the divine hand and purpose over each event. 

Wherever we go. Whatever we do. However we feel. We are not simply another case or statistic. We belong to God, the great I am, the One and Only God. Therefore each of us is also a ONE. 

I am the ONE God created to be unique in all the world. 
I am the ONE the Father chose before the foundations of the world. 
I am the ONE Jesus cherished enough to enter and conquer this fallen world.
I am the ONE the Spirit celebrates with joy and peace, guidance and comfort as I walk through this world.
I am the ONE the LORD watches over with jealous intention to protect and nurture as He prepares me to spend eternity in His Presence.

And this is true for each of us who receive the claims of Christ as Truth.

That's why as we were preparing to leave the office, even though they were tending my sick Honey, I reached out in genuine gratitude and shook the hand of the doctor and the nurse. I thanked them for their attention and let them know God used them to bless us. I closed my remarks by saying, "May God bless you in return."

Yup, it’s true. Seeking medical care in another culture can feel death-defying. As I said to a friend, “It’s an excellent opportunity to rest in the Savior’s arms, listen to the Spirit’s leading, and trust in the Father’s plan for our lives.” 

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.”  Psalm 56:4  NIV’84

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sheep, Feelings, and Other Good Stuff

One of the things I adore about the Word of God is the way it hangs together and flows from Genesis 1:1 all the way through to Revelation 22:21. 

There's something beautiful and majestic about the consistency of the Almighty's message about Himself and His perfect plans. It inspires awe.

There are many illustrations of the extending and expounding richness of Scripture. Some may already be jumping to your mind. Others are a bit more obscure. I came across one example recently in my devotions.

The author of Psalm 44 compares God's actions to humble His people to turning them over "to be devoured like sheep" in verse 11. He continues the analogy in verse 22, 
"Yet for your sake we face death all day long; 
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 

These are pretty tough words. They certainly express the psalmist's feelings that God has utterly turned His back on those He calls His own. 

I label the description as feelings because they communicate an emotional response not the reality of the circumstances. The feelings of loneliness especially in suffering can be powerful even overwhelming, but the Truth is that God does not abandon those He loves.

This understanding is underscored in other portions of Scripture, but perhaps most compellingly in Romans 8.

Paul reminds the followers of Jesus throughout the chapter of the freedom and security we have in the Christ. You can't help but be encouraged and built up by reading about our extraordinary position as beloved children and co-heirs with the Son of God. 

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to address the feelings of being discarded found in Psalm 44 in the midst of communicating the Father's assurances to the contrary.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 

"'For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (verses 35-39)

The repetition of the Old Testament passage into the New Testament declaration affirms and intensifies the continuity of Scripture. There is significance in the comparison with Christ who appeared in flesh to become the sacrificial Lamb to redeem us sheep. Jesus was not led astray by the feelings of being separated and alone though He experienced them. Revelation 5:12, John 10:15, Luke 22:42, Matthew 27:46, Hebrews 4:15

Paul clarifies that such feelings are false

It is a glorious Truth that we can never be disconnected or isolated away from God. His love is an unbreakable bond. No matter the details. No matter the threat. No matter the reaction. Those who are in Christ are victorious for the great I AM is with those He loves at all times and in every situation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Abandonment, BIG TIME

One of the things about living cross culturally is that it's not easy to keep up with what's going on in my passport country.

I may hear bits and pieces of happenings here or there, but the stories often remain incomplete. 

Maybe it's the distance, the time zone difference, or the daily focus of my life that makes it hard to stay current. Whatever the cause it's a reality for me.

It's not something to complain about as far as I'm concerned, not in my case anyway. The news often disturbs my soul. To be honest, it was enough for me to hear about the 11 September 2012 attack without dwelling on all the surrounding details.

I was kept awake at night with thoughts of the brave and patriotic men who gave their lives in their duty to defend Americans under attack in Libya. 

My mind kept trying to take in the concept that a nation would abandon those they'd sent to serve at a diplomatic mission. 

I was haunted by even the possibility that a Commander-in-Chief could have been well aware of the threat and level of force and would order the troops under his command not to defend American lives. 

What must it have felt like to have been ABANDONED in the midst of a lethal firefight? 

Some of my life experiences gave me a bit of understanding in that realm. I bear the scars of being abandoned in various ways and times throughout my life. There are all kinds of reasons why people aren't there for us when we need them; in small and large ways, whether or not expected, with or without apologies.

But before I went too far down that empty road to nowhere the Holy Spirit brought the Truth to bear on my rambling thoughts.

The first whisper came through some of the final words of Moses. God inspired the message Joshua was to hear as Moses prepared him to receive the baton of leadership.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."  Deuteronomy 31:6

The message is so crucial as the Israelites were about to cross the river into enemy territory that God has Moses repeat its core two verses later.

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged."  
Deuteronomy 31:8

In case Joshua wasn't sure about the reliability of the words Moses delivered God Himself proclaims the same assurance directly to him in His first recorded directions for Joshua as the new leader of His chosen people.

"No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."  
Joshua 1:5

Lest we modern folk might come to think that those divine words were for only the one time in history, the Father saw fit to convey the same message hundreds of years later as confirmation of His ongoing commitment. 

The God of heaven and earth, the Alpha and the Omega, directed the author of Hebrews to record the promise of His loving presence with Abraham's posterity. 

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 
'Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.'"  Hebrews 13:5

Most days I am aware that I am in the midst of a lethal firefight. The battlefield is spiritual and the cost is blood. 

I don't know, as US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith, US Security Officers and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty did not, when my final firefight will unfold. 

BUT one thing I do know. 

I may be ABANDONED by a nation or a Commander-in-Chief.

I will never be ABANDONED by the One who holds my life in His hands.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Scariest Nightmare

Life isn't always fun and games for those of us who know God and have had our lives ransomed by the blood of His Son, Jesus the Christ.

There are times when we can experience troubling thoughts.

On occasion they even join together into what might best be described as a nightmare.

Maybe you know what I mean. 

The ordeal can come on me whether the moon or the sun are in the sky. The terror can steal over me whether I'm praying in heartfelt humility or singing in joyous abandon. 

My mind and heart are somehow convinced in an instant that I have failed and my greatest desire will never be met; the salvation of those I love. Fear tells me that it's my fault that our children or grandchildren, extended family or friends will never enter the heavenly gates.    

Has that ever happened to you?

I've spent a lot of years facing this threat myself and offering others the encouragement I've found in the Truth God provides in His Word. That's where I recently found what may be the strongest case for peace in the face of the horror of such a catastrophe.

I can sum it up through two brief references. 

For he [God] chose us [the redeemed] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.  
Ephesians 1:4-5

God is the One who decides who will be adopted as co-heirs with His Son Jesus. He did so before He even said the words, "Let there be light." in Genesis 1:3. His choices are based on His love and pleasure and will, and NOT on any human emotion or ideas or wishes.

For I [Jesus the Son] have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me [God the Father]. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  John 6:38-39

Jesus submitted Himself to the Father's pre-creation rescue plan. He left His throne of glory to walk out a perfect life in the dust of the earth to lay it down as the required appeasement for the wrath of His Father. The Son of God declares that He will reclaim every one of those the Father has entrusted to His care. 

Do you get it?

God the Father chose each of His adopted children and placed them in the hands of Jesus the Savior and not one will be lost

No amount of weakness on the part of any parent,

no character flaw on the part of any grandparent,

no rebellious sin on the part of any family member,

no thoughtless stupidity on the part of any friend

can take anyone off of the heavenly role, away from the Shepherd, nor out of the eternal presence of the Almighty King. 

Not even ME

Not even YOU.

Hallelujah and Sweet Dreams.

A little extra confirmation thrown in for good measure.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  
Romans 8:38-39

Monday, September 9, 2013

#1 Most Powerful Sentence EVER

Some people might think the prize winner is, "I love you."

I would agree that is a rich, meaningful, and life-changing sentence, but I suggest it's not the most powerful.

God introduced me to what I believe is the top competitor during my devotions this week.

I caught a glimpse of it in Psalm 40:7 and reading it took me over to Hebrews 10:7.

I've had my eye on this little three word sentence for years as I desire to embed its essence into my heart and life. 

I did some research and was surprised to find my nominee for the Most Powerful Sentence EVER appears more than 20 times in the NIV, 1984.

Most of the time my entry appears in a conversation between God or one of His angels and Man. There are other situations where people use it when talking to each other. 

Genesis 22 is the first passage where my contender appears in two of Abraham's responses in his interaction with God in the sacrifice of Isaac.

Exodus 3 is where Moses replies to God on Mount Horeb, another well-known appearance.

Isaiah's answer to God's call in Isaiah 6 is the occurrence that has driven my life for more than 30 years.

But in all my research it is when my suggested champion is attributed to God Himself that brought me to my knees.

Isaiah the Prophet declares, "Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."  Isaiah 58:9

"I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'"  Isaiah 65:1

The Almighty King of heaven and earth, the Living God, responds to the cries of base human beings. The Creator makes Himself available to His undeserving creatures when we had no time for Him.

"Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, 
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, 'Here I am, - it is written 
about me in the scroll -
I have come to do your will, O God.'"  
Hebrews 10:5-7, an echo of Psalm 40:6-8

The Old Testament sacrificial system was inadequate to appease the wrath of the Father. His Son, Jesus the Christ, offered Himself as the perfect, once-for-all, atoning sacrifice to take away the sins of the world and fulfill the Law. 

The Redeemer said, "Here I am." before the foundation of the world was laid. 

The Rescuer repeated "Here I am." as He came to earth dressed in flesh and blood.

The Shepherd repeated "Here I am." as He walked among those He would ransom.

The Savior repeated "Here I am." as He bowed to the Father's will in the Garden.

No matter when any of us stops and turns to bow in humble, loving, grateful submission to Jehovah He was the first to say, "Here I am."

The Risen King continues to proclaim His life-giving message as He reigns at the Father's side.

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."  Revelation 3:20

Will you cast your vote and make my candidate the #1 Most Powerful Sentence EVER?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Finding Our Way

We've been looking at this lovely building for almost two years. It's the focal point of the view from our balcony.

Nobody's been able to tell us what it is. Can't say how many times we said we need to go and find out for ourselves. 

Last week we loaded my Honey's backpack with water and snacks and headed in that direction. We rode a tram to the closest stop we could figure.

We found ourselves on the other side of the familiar spires, looking across low buildings, empty lots, and a highway. It was an interesting change in perspective. The tricky part was obviously going to be finding our way around the barriers with no idea of what route to take. 

Curt went into a business to ask directions. They were too busy to help. We were on our own.

We set off toward the corner that would turn us to a straight on view. We fixed our eyes on the towers and started walking right at them. 

Crossing the highway turned out to be a lot less scary than I thought. There were crosswalks and buttons to signal our desire to cross. Once we reached the other side we needed to choose a pathway even though we couldn't see where any of them led. 

There were other people making their way along, but we couldn't follow them because we didn't know if they were going to the same destination. We chose the most central sidewalk even though it looked short and started walking. 

I chattered as we made our way along various twists and turns - to keep up my courage. 

All of a sudden in the midst of the uphill trek we realized we couldn't see the towers any more. That's when the decision making process got really tricky. We've been in Prague long enough to know that streets go back and forth and connect with each other. We put that experience into practice as we continued to move in the general direction of our goal.

We came to a spot where we had no idea what was ahead. The wide steps were a relief from the uneven sidewalk and they went upward so we took them.

At the top we were able to see the towers again and confirm our direction.

The sight brought sweet relief.

A few minutes later we came to another stairwell, not quite so wide nor so pretty. 

The steps were also more difficult for me to climb. But we took them anyway because they led us upward where we needed to go.

Besides the previous stairs led toward success so we hoped these would too.

Thankfully it wasn't much longer before we were in full view of the towers and the way to reach them. 

We discovered that Svata Norberto, Saint Norbert church, was in the midst of a roof replacement project. 

We spent a few minutes resting from our hike and marvelling at the beauty of the architecture. 

There are delights like this waiting to be discovered all over Prague.

Then we stepped inside to see what else we might find. We were not disappointed.

The peace we felt was nearly palpable. 

The noise of the construction project as well as the outside traffic faded away. We were alone in a quiet sanctuary, separated from the hustle and bustle of the world. 

Peace and calm washed over us as we revelled in the joy of applying ourselves to a strenuous task and reaching our goal. 

Today I ponder this adventure.

I wonder how many times I've sat and considered a dream I'd like to attain, some character trait I'd like to develop. 

Did I wait for nearly two years as with this journey?

What delights and growth and fellowship and success and joys have I missed?

How about you? Are you looking off in the distance at a desire that's waiting for you to pursue it? 

Dear LORD, please cause each of us to stand up, to fix our eyes on You, and to persevere along the path You've laid out for us. Help us to ignore the fear and the hardships, to have right attitudes and actions as we labor toward the sanctuary of Your presence. Amen

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.  1 Chronicles 28:9

Monday, September 2, 2013

Greatest Deal in History

I was working on a Bible study this morning and came across an arrangement that seemed too good to believe. 

I thought it was a big deal, but my research told me otherwise.  

There was the 1983 comedy with Chevy about arms dealers.

This deal is much bigger than that.

There was the 1987 book by Steve Coll about the break up of AT&T.

This deal is much bigger than that.

There was an add for a super-de-duper battery-powered drill set in England.

This deal is much bigger than that.

There was a graphic for a price break of almost half off.

This deal is much bigger than that.

There was an image of the feeling that started to come over me the longer I thought about it.

This deal is much bigger than that.

This deal deserves way more celebration than a movie or book release, more than a good price on a special purchase, more than a sky full of fireworks.

This deal is set down in God's infallible Word,

This deal is offered and secured by Jesus the Christ.

This deal is based on personal decisions leading from the heart.

This deal is met with endless grief or rejoicing in this life and the next.

This deal is simple and straight forward:
1. Judge and condemn others to find myself judged and condemned.
2. Forgive and give to others to find myself forgiven and receiving an overflow of blessings.

Which are you choosing today?

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned, Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:36-37